Our Unethical Financial Elite

Writing on Jewish involvement in the ongoing financial disaster is not something I relish. It’s not really my cup of tea because financial issues are not my area of expertise. But I do think the issues should be discussed at TOO.

When the meltdown began, the Internet was full of angry comments blaming Jews, much to the chagrin of the ADL. This is because it is common knowledge that Jews are vastly overrepresented among Wall Street executives. In the 1990s, Benjamin Ginsberg noted that 50% of Wall Street executives were Jewish, and it’s doubtless at least that high now.

As Kevin Phillips has pointed out, since the 1990s, economic expansions have not benefited the middle class; rather, they have benefited the financial elite. Financial services and complex financial products have assumed an ever larger percentage of the American economy, while manufacturing has steadily declined to the point where their relative percentages of the American economy have reversed.

And the entire pyramid is erected on a house of cards. Phillips writes:

My summation is that American financial capitalism, at a pivotal period in the nation’s history, cavalierly ventured a multiple gamble: first, financializing a hitherto more diversified U.S. economy; second, using massive quantities of debt and leverage to do so; third, following up a stock market bubble with an even larger housing and mortgage credit bubble; fourth, roughly quadrupling U.S. credit-market debt between 1987 and 2007, a scale of excess that historically unwinds; and fifth, consummating these events with a mixed fireworks of dishonesty, incompetence and quantitative negligence.

In the public mind, the firm most closely associated with Jewish financial power is Goldman Sachs. Ever since the financial meltdown, GS has been defending itself (e.g., here) against an avalanche of charges focused not only on financial improprieties but also on its ties to the government (e.g., Matt Taibbi and a series of articles in the New York Times, e.g., here.)

A document placed into the Congressional Record by Rep. Darryl Issa (R-CA), described in an article on Bloomberg.com strongly suggests corruption at the pinnacle of the financial profession. GS underwrote $17.2 billion of the $62.1 billion in the Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO’s) that were insured by AIG — more than any other firm. Essentially, banks underwrote toxic securities and then bet against them. An observer notes, “It sounds to me a little bit like selling a car with faulty brakes and then buying an insurance policy on the buyer of those cars.”

Even worse, according to the article, they knew the car had faulty brakes. Managers of the CDO’s were substituting bundles of mortgages that they knew full well were deeply troubled. Unethical behavior is strongly implicated. An observer notes that the banks should have to explain how they managed to buy protection from AIG primarily on securities that fell so sharply in value. “If these banks had insight into the underlying loans because they had relationships with banks, originators or servicers, that’s at the least unethical.”

GS received $14 billion from the government when AIG was bailed out; the New York Times also reportedthat GS also received substantially more money from the AIG bailout as a result of a prior agreement with Societe Generale, a French bank that also received AIG bailout money from the US government. Finally, the New York Fed promoted a cover-up that prevented this information from coming out sooner.

The article makes clear that there are still many details that remain unknown about these transactions.

David Brooks noted in the NYTimes,

Fifty years ago, the financial world was dominated by well-connected blue bloods who drank at lunch and played golf in the afternoons. Now financial firms recruit from the cream of the Ivy League. In 2007, 47 percent of Harvard grads went into finance or consulting. Yet would we say that banks are performing more ably than they were a half-century ago?

Quite clearly they are not. The rise of a Jewish elite in the US is problematic for a great many reasons — most obviously because the Jewish elite remains motivated by ethnic paranoia and hostility toward Western cultural traditions, particularly Christianity. However, the behavior of the financial elite in the case of the recent meltdown is not something one would expect to see in a healthy society. Quite a few of the details remain unknown, so that it is difficult to get a clear image of how individual Jews and Jewish networking contributed to the meltdown. (By all accounts [e.g., here], Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, and Alan Greenspan were instrumental in getting rid of regulations on trading derivatives that would have prevented the meltdown.) The indications that Goldman Sachs was at the center of the meltdown strongly suggests that the Jewish role was important. GS has not commented on Issa’s document or the Bloomberg article.

Nevertheless, at this point there is a strong suggestion that the financial elite behaved much more like an organized crime syndicate than as an elite with a sense of civic responsibility or commitment to the long term viability of the society. Whereas organized crime stems from the lower levels of society, this meltdown was accomplished at the very pinnacle of society — the Ivy League grads mentioned by Brooks, the wealthy financial firms and investment rating agencies, the strong connections with government that facilitated the bailout and failed to provide scrutiny while it was happening. It seems highly doubtful that all this would have happened with the former elite — the people whom Brooks disdainfully describes as “well-connected blue bloods who drank at lunch and played golf in the afternoons.”

Phillips concludes with a quotation from British colonial secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, made in 1904 to a gathering of his country’s financiers:

Granted that you are the clearinghouse of the world, [but] are you entirely beyond anxiety as to the permanence of your great position? . . . Banking is not the creator of our prosperity but is the creation of it. It is not the cause of our wealth, but it is the consequence of our wealth.

That is the problem going ahead. The US has sacrificed wealth-production in favor of finance, and this has doubtless resulted in huge financial rewards to a few people at the very top. But it’s really hard to see how most of us are going to benefit from this transformation in the long run. A society without a healthy, civic-minded elite is doomed.

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