Putting Shylock to Shame: The Moneylender Portrayed as Hero

There is a certain threshold beyond which the sociopathy of a Jewish intellectual like Yaron Brook achieves an almost alien quality. It is one thing to be a sociopath; quite another to extoll the total untethering of the individual from any kind of higher morality as the greatest cause to which one can devote their life. Hearing Brook talk about how the Allied bombing campaign against Germany should serve as a guidepost for American foreign policy gives readers the feeling they’re in the presence of something not made of flesh, as in a recent meme that presents Mark Zuckerberg as Star Trek’s Data intent on collecting the personal information of users of Facebook in order to learn what it means to be human.

Brook outdoes himself in a piece entitled “The Morality of Moneylending: A Short History.” The title is misleading, since its author does not dispassionately present a history, but rather presents a historiography with Jews (from Shakespeare’s Shylock to California’s Michael Milken) depicted as misunderstood and falsely persecuted heroes who are unfairly punished for their enterprise, industry, and value creation (all contrary to economic, philosophical, and theological arguments that lambast “barren metal” and extol those things which hold an intrinsic value).

“It seems,” Brook starts his article, “that every generation has its Shylock—a despised financier blamed for the economic problems of his day. A couple of decades ago it was Michael Milken and his ‘junk’ bonds” (Brook). And just as Shylock and the other Venetian Jews were forced to live in ghettos, wear red caps, and endure myriad other slanders from ungrateful goyim (Al Pacino gets spit on quite a bit in Michael Radford’s 2004 adaptation of The Merchant of Venice), our modern-day persecuted bankers must endure similar slings and arrows such as “investigations, criminal prosecutions, and heavier regulations.”

The ethnic fear and loathing — Shylock’s “ancient grudge” (Shakespeare 362) which he “feeds fat” in the famous play’s aside — is front and center in Brook’s article, as he bemoans the fact that moneylenders have served as “the primary scapegoats for practically every economic problem.” His laundry list of slights includes having “their property confiscated to compensate their ‘victims’” [the scare quotes are Brook’s] as well as “pogroms and the vilification of the House of Rothschild” and the jailing of American financiers.

Brook would presumably have us glorify the Rothschilds, as did former inside trader Ivan Boesky, the son of Jewish immigrants who claimed he aspired to be a “latter-day Rothschild” (as noted in James B Stewart’s Den of Thieves, 226) and proceeded to do his best to make good on his ambition. Before the law eventually caught up with him, Ivan Boesky would engage in a series of insider trades that made him and a small cadre of fellow conspirators rich beyond dreams of avarice. In the aftermath of the era of merger mania and hostile takeovers he helped initiate, individual lives and companies were ruined, and trust in markets was eroded, if not shattered. Boesky of course has enjoyed a rather large pop culture footprint thanks to a speech given to a graduating class at the University of California in 1985, in which he assured the young audience that “Greed is all right.” That would eventually morph into the famous credo “Greed is good,” uttered by Michael Douglas in his Oscar-winning turn as Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.

Boesky’s hubris outdid that of his onscreen incarnation. To cite just one example, on the night before he agreed to become an undercover agent for the Department of Justice, Boesky made a special appearance on the deck of the Queen Elizabeth II, a luxury ship that had been rented by “Gerald Guterman, a real estate developer and owner of the Stanhope Hotel, to celebrate the September 1986 bar mitzvah of his 13-year-old son, Jason” (264).

The nearly $1 million spent on the Bar Mitzvah (and belated Bat Mitzvahs for two of Guterman’s daughters from a previous marriage) was overshadowed by Boesky’s impromptu landing of a helicopter on the QEII’s deck. The friend from whom “the Russian” (as Boesky was known in the insider trading ring) had borrowed the helicopter was less than amused and berated him shortly thereafter on the phone: “‘Don’t ever use my helicopter again for a stunt like this … Are you fucking out of your mind? Revolutions are made of this. People get put in gas ovens’” (264).

Racially-conscious Whites are obviously divided in their economic outlooks, ranging from the libertarian-inclined to the populist-nationalist oriented. It’s clear, though, from the last two greatest scandals which have shaken American and world markets to their core that the turning of what is arguably a necessary evil into something that should be celebrated or lionized as heroism has unpleasant consequences.

Yaron Brook’s pose as a rational egoist/Randian objectivist cannot explain his desire for a full-throated, cultic extolling of moneylending. It does not explain why it should be considered an “ethically praiseworthy” exercise nor does it explain his paranoid belief that critique and/or enforcement of existing law is persecution of those treated as “villains rather than heralded as the heroes they in fact are.”

Since Brook is familiar with The Merchant of Venice, he should recall the admonition given by gentle Portia, that “to offend and judge, are distinct offices and of opposed natures” (1191). He appears to conflate prosecution of crimes with religious persecution of Jews.

This highlights the primary fault not just in Yaron Brook’s specific arguments, but in his entire Weltanschauung. Rational Egoism holds that the individual and their pursuit of their own interest are the fulcrum upon which all intelligent decisions are made, and ultimately the basis for living a virtuous life (at least in its Randian permutation, to which Brook adheres). Altruism is toxic in this view, and undermines productive activity.

The problem with this is that no institution or society or social unit, least of all Wall-Street, is free from nepotism or natural proclivities toward tribal-oriented thinking and helping friends (especially by sharing hot tips). Yaron Brook at some level knows this (since his work is peppered with references that give a window onto his neuroses that mark him as part of a collective) and for him to suggest further loosening regulation or less monitoring of those involved in the economic activity that affects all our lives is ridiculous.

It is also beyond naïve (and perhaps misanthropic) for Brook to think that any philosophy (least of all his and Ayn Rand’s) can regulate the human emotions that affect people who make financial decisions daily. The malefactors prosecuted in the 1980s were very much aware of their outsider status as Jewish upstarts operating (initially) on the fringes of the “white shoe” Boston Brahman/WASP culture that regarded hard-sell artists in mergers and acquisitions as distasteful. Junk bond traders like Michael Milken and Donald Engel “referred facetiously to the wealthy establishment as ‘the white guys’” (120).

Drexel, Burnham, and Lambert (run into the ground by Michael Milken due to insider trading) had a special strategy for identifying its ideal clients. The procurement of prostitutes was part of it. Miami financier Victor Posner had a “distasteful appetite for teenage girls,” (120) but “client-getter … Donald ‘Donnie’ Engel …wasn’t judgmental. On the contrary, he shared many of their appetites. Among Drexel’s important clients, Engel was given credit for landing Ronald Perelman, Nelson Peltz, Jerome Kohlberg, Gerald Tsai, Irwin Jacobs, and the Haft and Pritzker families” (120).

In addition to having a penchant for prostitutes, Drexel’s ideal clients were those like Herb Haft, preferably “short, unhappily married, and insecure. This was his profile of the ideal raider client. Engel and Milken knew how to manipulate egos and insecurities of this particular type, born losers who were always looking to go their rivals one better” (120).

The clannishness and hostility of the newly-minted Jewish establishment (represented by the “Sun King” Michael Milken headquartered in California with prominent but smaller players like Dennis Levine and Martin Siegel operating on the East Coast) are impossible to ignore when one examines the scandal with any kind of diligence.

Reading Stewart’s book, based on “over four years of reporting, including scores of interviews, a review of voluminous documentary records, grand jury and other transcripts, [and] lawyers interview notes” it becomes equally impossible to pretend that the insane profits reaped by the Boesky-Milken cartel were based on anything more complex than friends helping friends (and usually sharing information to fellow tribe-members), the very antithesis of the result Yaron Brook claims unfettering the financial class would produce. No one should begrudge a man the profits he wins making calculated risks betting against the house. It’s quite another thing for the dealer and one player to be in on the same rigged game while fleecing everyone else at the table. At one point in the 80s Dennis Levine, after establishing a Swiss bank account under his wife’s maiden name of Diamond, confesses to his friend the investment banker Robert Wilkis that “I knew after I was bar mitzvahed that there was an inside track and information was the key” (71).

It wasn’t very much more complicated than that, and it remained a blood-simple network of favor-trading into the 90s when some of the players left over from the 80s managed to consolidate their power with a Wall Street coup in which White House policy was shaped (and regulations loosened) by  “Robert Rubin… one of the heirs apparent to [Goldman Sachs chairman] John Weinberg” (385).

Yaron Brook can rail against the abiding belief in intrinsic value, altruism, and the weighing of barren metal on one scale against other virtues on the other as proof that “fundamentally 21st-century ethics [are] no different from the ethics of the Middle Ages,” but even if he is not swayed by moral arguments, the math also puts the lie to the “value-creation” myth perpetuated by Milken’s PR surrogates and echoed in sympathetic publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal:

Milken’s oft-repeated premise that ‘investors obtained better returns on low-grade issues than on high grades’ was false. It was the criminals who earned astronomical returns. During the decade ending in 1990, Lipper Analytical Services reported, money invested in the average junk-bond fund grew 145%. That was, in fact, worse than returns on the same amount of money invested in stocks (207%); investment-grade corporate bonds, so often ridiculed by Milken (202%); U.S. Treasury bonds (177%); and equal to returns from low-risk money market funds. During the decade’s last year, junk-bonds returned a negative 11.2%. With benefit of hindsight, Milken’s ‘genius’ seemed his ability to make so many believe his gospel of high returns at low risk … (504)

Public relations firm Robinson, Lake wasn’t quite as superlative in their assessment of Milken as Yaron Brook, but their constant refrain (and $4 million ad campaign) that claimed Drexel-backed bonds had helped the little guy was disproved by data showing that “Of the 104 small firms involved in public issues of non-convertible Drexel junk bonds since 1977, 24% had defaulted on their debt or were bankrupt by mid-1990 — five times the default rate of comparable firms, according to Dun & Bradstreet” (504).

Not even Alan Dershowitz’s public campaign of damage control “contending that Milken is a victim of anti-Semitism” (519) and was “never motivated by money” could put the genie back in the bottle. Although the “South Sea Bubble” (138) popping was the greatest rupture to be felt on Wall-Street in history up until that time, it was dwarfed by the explosion of the housing market bubble (helped in part by Goldman Sachs defrauding investors), which could potentially be eclipsed by eruption of the student debt bubble whenever it happens to pop.

Because of the technological interconnection of markets, computers (which might actually be more ideal vessels for Yaron Brook’s philosophy than fleshy, altruism-prone gentiles) can actually exacerbate and even exponentially amplify market trends and distortions caused by human emotions like greed and panic that trigger massive sell orders.

Compounding the problem is that the chairman or chairwoman of the Federal Reserve in charge of setting monetary policy may in fact harbor his or her own grudges, agenda, and political axe to grind, as suggested by author and social critic James Howard Kunstler in his yearly forecast.* With Wall-Street and the Fed sharing a similar tribal makeup (there hasn’t been a gentile fed chairman in three decades), malefactors may not only go unpunished, but may have a literal license to print money and are as likely find themselves rewarded with positions of power as to be prosecuted for crimes.

There are many ways to address financial malfeasance and lawlessness that lead to catastrophe as surely as night follows day (which is why the oft-cited Black Swan is fallacious or at least of limited use in this context). For starters, I would suggest doing the opposite of whatever Yaron Brook advises, which in this case would be to “free moneylenders from the shackles of Dante’s Inferno” and to embrace a moral code that allows “moneylenders [to] be completely free to charge whatever rates their customers will pay and to reap the rewards righteously and proudly. … Given what these heroes have achieved while scorned and shackled, it is hard to imagine what their productive achievements would be if they were revered and freed.”

One shudders to think what kind of further havoc a deregulated, unshackled, and morally rudderless financial class might wreak if we were to not only cease the meager efforts to keep them honest by at the very least monitoring their doings, but also started worshipping those who obviously bear us a grudge as ancient and fatted as Shylock’s.

It should also go without saying that the wisdom of the ages and of the ancients (slandered relentlessly by Yaron Brook in his piece) should be held in higher regard than the barren coin meted by someone who extols the usury of a moneylender as if the moneylender was a genuine hero. In trying to make his case against those who speak against history’s Shylocks and Milkens, Yaron Brook selectively quotes or merely name-drops Adam Smith, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Plato, and Aristotle, to name only a few. I suggest that you read these men in full if you already haven’t, rather than hearing them speak in vacuo through Yaron Brook, for he hath not ears fit to hear their music, nor eyes to read their words.

*From James Howard Kunstler’s yearly forecast: “By springtime, the markets appeared to be bouncing back, so the Fed started talking about more rate hikes again. They talked it up all year without acting, an impressive act of fakery. The surprise Brexit vote gave them the heebie jeebies. They laid low. Meanwhile, the US election season was on. The Fed denies this, but they did not raise interest rates for eleven months in 2016 solely because they wanted to make the Democratic administration look good heading into the November vote, and they knew the economy was fragile. Once Hillary was nominated they were determined to usher her into the White House on a high tide of fake good economic news.” [my emphasis- J.W.]

Brook, Yaron. “The Morality of Moneylending: A Short History.” The Objective Standard, Volume 2, No. 3, Fall 2007, https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2007-fall/morality-of-moneylending/. Accessed 1 June, 2017.

Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice (Annotated). Independently Published. 2017.

Stewart, James B. Den of Thieves. Touchstone, 1992.






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