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Wall Street Will Be Back for More
Posted on Jan 10, 2010
By Chris Hedges
“There are always internal conversations about taking credit for certain trades and deals,” Prins said of her time at Goldman Sachs. “It is childish, except there is so much money at stake and so much power within the firm at stake. Power in the firm allows you to make money, but it also provides a certain status that everyone looks up to and covets. There can be a period of a month or two at the end of the year where closed-door conversations occur between managers and people who work for them about compensation. In these conversations they go something like: ‘My group did that trade.’ ‘I did that trade.’ ‘No, that was my money.’ ‘No, that was my profit and loss.’ ‘That’s my client.’ ‘I know the other group said that it was their client but actually I had the relationship first.’ A lot of these petty conversations go back and forth. All of it to attain money and acquire power and influence within the firm.”
Those who advance in these institutions master the art of looking like they are doing more than they are actually doing. It does not matter who does the most. It matters who can take credit for doing the most. And that often means poaching someone else’s work. Friendship becomes a meaningless word. So does compassion. So does honesty. So does truth. By any standard comprehensible within the tradition of Western civilization these people are illiterate. They cannot recognize the vital relationship between power and morality. They have forgotten, or never knew, that moral traditions are the product of civilization. Existence, for them, boils down to one overriding imperative—me, me, me.
“The people who get the higher bonuses are not getting them because they are quietly doing whatever work they are supposed to do,” said Prins, who also ran the international analytics group at Bear Stearns in London. “They are getting that money because they are constantly able to promote themselves.”
“The environment is very insular,” Prins said. “It is all about what is happening in the firm. Who said what. Who is doing what. What did they say about you. How does it affect you. How does it affect your group. How does it affect the people above you and below you. It destroys individuality. You learn there is a certain way you are supposed to act to be successful. If you are not doing that, if you are fighting too hard to do something you believe is right, but your managers don’t want to do, you defer. Or you fight and it gets marked as a stripe against you. You don’t discuss interests that are counter to the firm’s interests or the firm’s positions.”
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“When you are living, competing and winning in an environment where it is all about the money and the power, it creates a dividing line between you and the rest of the world,” Prins said. “You do not bother to look over the dividing line. Your world is on your side of it and the rest of the world is on their side of it. You are not looking at people being kicked out of their homes and being foreclosed. You do not see the crying, the anger and the children in the street because [those in government] decided to give money to bail out Wall Street firms as opposed to renegotiate mortgage principals so people can continue to live their lives. You can be callous about it because it does not impact you. It is not something you notice. You might read about it. But you don’t feel it, watch it or go through it. You are detached.”
Banks are continuing to have hemorrhaging in consumer portfolios including mortgage loans, auto loans, credit card loans and other loans. Bankruptcies are endemic. Toxic assets if properly assessed would mean that many of our largest banks are insolvent. But the profits from the trading revenues and bonuses have climbed back to near-record highs. The sick mentality of the game, the one that created the first worldwide meltdown, dominates the nervous systems of our elite the way cravings overtake heroin addicts. They can’t think of anything else. They do not know how. No one goes to Wall Street to further the common good. People go to make money. And money, like power, is a potent narcotic.
“You don’t think you are doing anything wrong,” Prins said. “You are working. You are making money. You are trying to have your bosses like you and pay you. You run things by legal [the company’s legal department]. You run things by compliance. You don’t believe you are committing a crime. You are just doing what you are doing.”
“We will have another crisis,” she lamented. “I don’t know when, but it is brewing. If you don’t fundamentally change the foundation of the banking system you are piling on capital and time into something that is faulty. This does not result in decades of stability. They are banking on trading. Nothing has changed. The rest of the consumer economy is continuing to deteriorate. These losses go into banks. You gain on trading and lose on more solid practices. The foundation has not changed. The regulations are bullshit. The old assets are still crap. The new assets created off the old assets are still crap. The banks are still levering them and still doing the same practices they did before. We will have another liquidity crunch. Banks will again stop trusting their assets and each other. … The buying of complex assets will stop, although this time more quickly. People will remember what happened before. You will have a repeat of credit constricting between financial institutions. It is already constricted on the consumer side. The banking system will use up this federal capital and then go back for more.”
Chris Hedges, a former Middle East bureau chief of The New York Times, shared the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism. He has written nine books, including “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009). His column appears on Truthdig every Monday.
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