In The Spirit Of Fairness: Wall Street CEOs Stink

This just might qualify as the toughest column I’ve ever had to write. I mean, blasting billionaires? This is difficult work. But I have to say, I feel up to the challenge, so here goes...

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece titled “An Open Letter to Mr. and Ms. Taxpayer,” in which I argued that, because of our credit/consumer culture and our collective greed, we all share at least some responsibility for the current economic crisis (HYR, Oct. 6, 2008).

Well, apparently, Wall Street’s CEOs and various other financial hotshots took my passionate appeal to the average American as proof of their own vindication. (Oh do not underestimate my influence over these guys; me and Blankfein, we’re like this. And Dimon calls me for advice, like, once a week.)

Which I have to say I plan to withhold until he and his buddies apologize for their shocking refusal of accountability. It was bad enough when Dick Fuld played the blame game at the congressional hearings.

But now I read in The Wall Street Journal that a group of banking and private equity guys have decided they don’t much like the idea of taking responsibility either. Apparently, Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein, JPMorgan’s James Dimon, Blackstone Group’s Stephen Schwarzman, BlackRock’s Larry Fink and Silver Lake’s Glenn Hutchins recently gathered for a panel session at the New York Stock Exchange, organized in part by the Journal.

And during their discussion, these guys advocated both Wall Street tax breaks and the repeal of Sarbanes-Oxley, while happening to mention what a distraction those pesky class-action lawsuits have become. According to the Journal piece, Schwarzman took on a wounded look, saying that none of the people on the panel had done anything wrong.

“I don’t see corruption in this room... Every bad actor in this drama has washed away,” he said. “There’s no one left in place.”

Okay I’ll give him this much: It is possible that using “corrupt” as an adjective for these particular individuals is inaccurate. I cannot speak to whether their actions (or again, inactions) qualify as “corrupt.”

But greedy? Yes. And should they take responsibility for the current economic crisis, step up to the plate and do everything they can to help pull their country out of it? Hell yes.

They have amassed great wealth through our capitalist system, and their quest for that wealth, along with that of their friends and colleagues, is a big part of the current problem. And if they do not choose to see themselves as part of the problem, how will we ever begin to fix it?

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