Lee Munson's book, Rigged Money: Beating Wall Street At Its Own Game, has just been published by Wiley & Sons. Here, he describes how we need to rethink capitalism.
Let me tell you about a time, long ago, when finance served a purpose. When people wanted to build a new house, they would go to their local community bank and request a loan. When a town wanted to build a road, they would issue a bond, with help from their local finance officer. When a business wanted extra money to grow, it would issue stocks on an exchange.
It sounds like a fairy tale in the days of total return swaps, Vanna Volga pricing, and Himalayan options (all real finance terms) but it's the truth.
Occupy Wall Street was able to hit the nerve, but may not have known it at the time. The protesters in Zuccotti Park and around the country demonized capitalism but largely ignored finance, the real name of the beast.
Look at the ads that Wall Street firms splash across financial magazines. They have one theme: We help businesses get richer with our financial skills. Really? You see, they have to spend millions to convince you they really are trying to help businesses when most of the profits are coming from proprietary trading and making bets with other traders. This way you, the uninformed public, will look like capitalist hating communists by raising any criticism of good-natured finance professionals just trying to keep America moving forward.
This is a lie. No one ever built a bridge from proprietary trading. Goldman bankers taking home a $5 million bonus doesn't do anything to prepare America for a globalized world. All financial activity is not the same - and it's O.K. to say that some is destructive and not own a copy of The Little Red Book.
So speak out. Demand financial companies return to their prime directive - helping American businesses grow and every day citizens prosper.
There will always be traders to provide liquidity and take the other side of financial transactions, but investment-banks need to pledge allegiance to capitalism. Like the French Foreign Legion, Wall Street is a motley bunch of the devil's rejects who are supposed to act as mercenaries for clients.
That is what I do for a living. I get paid when I protect my clients' capital and make sure they don't outlive their retirement savings. When the client is the investment-bank itself you have a rogue force with no allegiance, no focus, and no possibility to create anything but damage to the system.
We are fighting for the soul of the U.S. investor. Now is the time for finance to sign up to defend capitalism, not usurp it. Can we change the course? Yes we can.
Step 1: Make firms do what their ads say they do: help business grow with the aid of finance.
Step 2: Make firms admit what they do: finance, which does not save baby whales. Mercenaries are a necessary good, not evil, to help capitalism grow and provide jobs. When was the last time you saw a SEAL team get a medal for screwing up a mission?
Step 3: Admit to ourselves we love capitalism. I love my cat, too. It doesn't mean she loves me back, but it is what we have to work with. Don't let Wall Street trick you into thinking 2008 was anything but dereliction of duty.
Start there, and for good measure perhaps we should confiscate traders' Blackberrys. The last thing we need is this motley crew of financiers getting any bright ideas.