In the Arena

Financial Sanity

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I’ve always been a fan of Joe Nocera’s business writing–it’s crisp, clear, hype-resistant and moral–and today he gets to the human heart of what’s flagrantly wrong with our finance system with a column about Robert Wilmers, a regional banker in Buffalo, New York, who represents banking at its best.

Wilmers points out that the Too Big To Fail banks are making the lion’s share of their money on private stock- and derivatives-trading rather than the old-fashioned way: lending money to people who want to build their companies, introduce new products, expand the economy. This is the disaster at the heart of the financial crisis. It is part of the reason why we’re so slow emerging from it.

And here’s another part: Far too many of our brightest young people are going into finance rather than industry–the rewards on Wall Street are embarrassingly out of whack with the money you can earn by building a better refrigerator.

Again, I’d like to see the financiers who act as if they care about the greater good–people like Pete Peterson, Roger Altman, Larry Summers (not a financier, but close) and Bob Rubin–to devote a lot more attention to getting their own house in order than in worrying about the effect of middle-class pensions and health care on the long-term deficit. The deficit is a problem, to be sure, but there are plenty of people focused on it….What I want to know is why all these financial geniuses can’t turn their attention to redressing the imbalance between the rewards of Wall Street and the rewards of working for Boeing, General Electric or your neighborhood photovoltaic cell start-up?

Actually, I do have a pretty good idea about the answer to that one: Who wants to stop the Madoffian casino game gravy train? This should be the biggest domestic political issue in the coming election. Somehow, I don’t think it will be. How appalling.