Nobility in finance: are they kidding?

This morning I shared a chuckle with my friend Rita over the hypocrisy of finance executives who are expressing dismay over today’s lack of morality in their ‘once noble profession’. Rita agreed when I said, “What they guys do was never good, but when they were able to strut around acting like they were taking care of people by taking everyone’s money and no one knew enough to challenge that image effectively, they could fool themselves into believing they were helping people. Things have become so polarized in our society that it’s become very clear what’s been really going on and now these guys are being called out on it. Naturally, they don’t like that: it’s uncomfortable for them.”

Former Citigroup Chairman John Reed has some awareness of how wrong things are. He told Bill Moyers

“I’m quite surprised the political establishment would listen to groups that have been so discredited,” Reed tells Moyers. “It wasn’t that there was one or two or institutions that, you know, got carried away and did stupid things. It was, we all did… And then the whole system came down.”

Greg Smith sees it too, and says as much in his op-ed piece on March 14 in the New York Times, Why I Am Leaving Goldman-Sachs:

The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.

Unfortunately, these guys are delusional. It gives me an ache in the pit of my stomach to watch these men hypocritically attempt to whitewash their actions by blaming the rape of the 99% by themselves and their colleagues on an imaginary downgrade in the supposed, earlier, nobility of their profession. “Noblesse oblige,” Rita says. It’s clear that neither of them wishes to recognize any responsibility for the systematic exploitation of the vulnerable – and of society as a whole – by the powerful for purely personal gain. They certainly don’t wish to admit that they happily acted in this role as highly compensated representatives of an extremely lucrative profession, as long as they could see themselves as shining lights of corporate goodness instead of what they really were. This reminds me too much of Nazi officers who claimed they were just doing their jobs when they followed orders to effect and oversee the slaughter of millions of people during the European Holocaust.

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