Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winning the Battle at Princeton?

Michael Lewis, author of my favorite book on Wall Street, wrote an interesting comment for Bloomberg, Princeton Brews Trouble for Us 1 Percenters:

To: The Upper Ones, From: The Strategy Committee, Re: The Alarming Behavior of College Students

The committee has been reconvened in haste to respond to a disturbing new trend: the uprisings by students on elite college campuses.

Across the Ivy League the young people whom our Wall Street division once subjugated with ease are becoming troublesome. Our good friends at Goldman Sachs, to cite one example, have been forced to cancel their recruiting trips to Harvard and Brown. At Princeton, 30 students masquerading as job applicants entered a pair of Wall Street informational sessions, asked many obnoxious questions (“How do I get a job lobbying the U.S. government to protect Wall Street interests?”), rose and chanted a list of charges at bankers from JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, and, finally, posted videos of their outrageous behavior on YouTube.

The committee views this latter incident as a sure sign of trouble to come. The whole point of going to Princeton for the past several decades has been to get a job at Goldman Sachs or, failing that, JPMorgan. That Princeton students are now identifying their interests with the Lower 99 percenters is, in its way, as ominous as the return of the Jews to Jerusalem.

Having fully investigated the incidents in question, we are now prepared to offer strategic recommendations. Going forward all big Wall Street banks, when visiting college campuses, should adopt the following tactics.

No. 1. Send only women. You may not have fully understood why you hired them in the first place, but now is their moment to shine. For some time now the standard recruiting mission has included at least one woman and one person of color, to “season” the sauce. But typically, in the interests of keeping it “real,” there has been on the scene at least one white male recruiter.

Anyone who studies the Princeton-JPMorgan video will see that we can no longer afford to keep it real. The camera passes forgivingly over the JPMorgan women -- the viewer feels sorry for them, for some reason -- and comes to rest on the lone white Morgan man. The viewer doesn’t feel sorry for him. Get him out of there. Now.

No. 2. Having identified your female employees, gather them together to explain that they have no obligation to justify your behavior, even to themselves. They shouldn’t give college students the satisfaction of thinking that you have devoted so much as a passing thought to the following subjects: Why it is OK for Wall Street banks to create securities designed to fail; why it is OK for them to game the ratings companies; why it is OK to get paid huge sums of money while working for companies rescued, and still implicitly backed, by the U.S. government; why it is OK to subvert attempts by politicians to reform the financial system?

Avoid taking questions from college students. For that matter, avoid engaging them in substantive conversation of any sort. Your women need to shift the conversation from content to form. They must say things like, “I don’t mind what you are saying, I just mind how you are saying it.” And “I don’t understand why you can’t treat other people with respect.”

They must cast themselves not as extensions of a global financial empire but as guests. Everyone at Princeton can agree that it is wrong to be rude to ladies on a visit.

Happily, many Princeton students, hiding behind aliases, have already taken up this cry on campus websites. Encourage those who still want to work for big Wall Street banks to blog and post our new defense. Don’t offer jobs to these students who agree to help, however. They are better suited to being Wall Street customers than Wall Street bankers.

No. 3. Focus on what actually angers these angry young people, rather than what they say angers them. The character of Princeton students didn’t change overnight; what changed is their circumstances. They think they are pissed off at us because of what we did. They are actually pissed off at us because we can no longer afford to hire them all. To that end ...

No. 4. Engage, quietly, with the ringleaders. Of course, all variations of the Occupy movement claim to be leaderless. We on the committee aren’t buying this. With the possible exception of Bank of America, there is no such thing as a leaderless organization, only organizations in which the leaders operate in the shadows.

Sources inside inform us that one of the leaders of the Princeton-JPMorgan protest -- the young man who led the so- called “mic check” -- is a comparative literature major named Derek Gideon. Sources further indicate that for his senior thesis Mr. Gideon is writing -- get this -- a poem.

This poem of his apparently leaves him with a great deal of time and energy to stir up trouble.

“My goal is to change the dominant campus culture,” he has been quoted saying, “the culture that assumes that going to work for Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan is the most prestigious thing you can do, without having any critical sense of their current role in society. We’re very privileged to be here. We’re getting an incredible education. All just for us to be sending 30 percent, 40 percent of our graduates to the finance sector?”

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Gideon doesn’t know precisely what he is going to do with his life after he graduates. This young man strikes the committee as an ideal candidate for a job at Goldman Sachs. Yes, in our experience, even the Gideons of this world can be persuaded. After all, what better way for him to improve our behavior than to become one of us? Put that way, he almost has an obligation to take his natural resting place among us.

As awkward as it is to find ourselves in a war with students inside our own trade schools, we cannot simply cease to deal with them. After all, many are our own children. Disinheritance is messy. And, anyway, what’s the point of winning the estate-tax battle if we have no heirs?

More important, the students at Ivy League schools are our most devastating ammunition in this looming cultural war. They show the Lower 99 that today’s economic inequality isn’t some horrible injustice but a financial expression of the natural order of man. The sort of people who become Upper Ones are inherently different from the sort of people who become Lower 99s. The clearest sign of this inherent difference is that we begin our adult life by getting into places like Princeton.

Win the battle at Princeton and we might still win this war.

When I was studying economics at McGill University, I joined McGill's United Nations Club. We traveled to Princeton, Harvard, Yale, UPenn and Columbia to debate these Ivy Leaguers. It was fun, especially when we kicked ass. We saw firsthand the privileges of being part of the top 1%.

I remember bunking at dorms, sleeping on couches in our sleeping bags. If we were lucky, we got beds. It didn't really matter, it was the experience of traveling to these campuses and meeting and debating with their best and brightest that we loved. I'll never forget how some of the students proudly displayed pictures of them shaking hands with Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan.

This is what being part of the top 1% means; it gives you access to the top political and financial power brokers. At the time, I was very impressed, but later in life I realized these poor Ivy Leaguers were being indoctrinated into a corrupt system of power and deception. A lot of them probably ended up lobbying Congress, serving their money masters. I can assure you, differential accumulation was never part of their curriculum, and still isn't.

But perhaps a great awakening is finally taking place at these prestigious universities. Maybe students are realizing that there is more to life than wearing pinstripe suits, collecting outrageous bonuses, snorting cocaine, sleeping with prostitutes, drinking themselves into oblivion to ease their emotional distress as they shamelessly scam the system and wreak havoc on the real economy. I am of course, somewhat facetious, but the reality is working on Wall Street isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Take it from my humble father, a psychiatrist with over 40 years experience, when it comes to money and sex, "only too much is enough" (famous quote from John Updike).

The battle at Princeton will be a long and arduous one, but one that will hopefully knock some sense into banksters who take reckless risks, profiting from money for nothing and risk for free. Below, I leave you with the video of Princeton students disrupting a JP Morgan recruiting session (h/t, Embargo Zone). Also embedded trailers from Inside Job, Capitalism: A Love Story and Frontline's Inside the Meltdown. If you've never seen these documentaries, watch them this holiday season.



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