Opportunity on Ice
by The Opportunity Agenda, Wed Mar 25, 2009 at 08:33:11 AM EDT
There's been a lot of conversation lately over what Wall Street needs to finally fix the economy. Some say a good paddling, those most outraged with federal money paying AIG bonuses, while others feel that reinvestment in assets is the only way to jump start its engine and finally pull the world out of the mud. What Wall Street needs isn't so much a massive flow of cash, but a deepening understanding in their interconnectedness with communities all around the country. This became quite clear to me the other night during the second period of the New York Rangers game.
This past weekend, my wife and I stopped into a favorite Irish pub of ours, known for having the best burgers around The Garden. The place is nothing fancy, more Irish by its staff and patronage than on its walls. We love the place not just for the burgers, but, by Irish pub standards, its quite clean, lots of big screens and always easy to find a big booth once the Rangers take the ice.
After the first drop of the puck, we became curiously interested with three folks who had walked into the pub, looking clearly overdressed for Molly's usual clientele. They took the booth next to ours and waited, not so patiently, to be served. The trio, talking well above the first period lull on the big flat screens, enquired from the waitress what was the house red. It took her a few minutes before recalling a Long Island wine, the name rolling more eloquently off her tongue than in the eyes of the group, who seemed displeased. They negotiated through several more options until settling on a final decision and then picked up in conversation.
Two of the three were a couple, with the other gentleman in graduate school, visiting the city during spring break and somehow connecting with the couple who he barely knew.
As their talking persisted, you could clearly hear the best dressed in the group share his resume, a hedge-fund analyst who had just moved to another company after his last group had closed its doors. The prior company had dealt heavily with mortgage backed securities, one of those many cards that had fallen when the house came down.
As he described to the graduate student, who was studying finance and statistics, what his daily routine was, it seemed that he was now in a much safer environment. Though he lingered with nostalgia on his previous job, clearly bored by his new line of safer practice.
My poor knowledge of such blue chip ventures drew my attention more toward my vinegar and chips that had just arrived. Yet, I was greatly impressed at the degree by which the relatively young analyst was boasting about his involvement with the mortgage crisis. It was almost as though he was bragging, the way that a young WWII pilot might have bragged about being part of the blitz over Dresden while he was still young and cowboyish in his ways.
The conversation opened my eyes to the realization that there were those in Wall Street who still couldn't see beyond their own mirrors. The opportunity that had been stolen from millions of Americans was a small smudge on the glass as they looked at their own prospects for financial opportunity.
How people stay fixated on their own self interest and completely ignore the needs of the community around them isn't just a problem with Wall Street. Self interest has driven much more in American culture than just finances. Nevertheless, it's clear these past few months that Wall Street doesn't just effect the real estate industry in Long Island. And, therefore, it needs to learn more about placing value on communities, the same way it places value on secure investments.
Even Milton Friedman, one of the leading minds behind the Chicago School of business theory, asserted in his book Capitalism and Freedom, that the free market had to respect social responsibility. When markets ignore our communities, we deprive them of the opportunity that free markets are suppose to create. It's more like every man for himself in the Old West, calling back to the cowboyish tone of the man sitting next to us at the pub.
The reality is that there are still those who wouldn't notice stolen opportunity if it pained itself shamrock green, jumped up onto a piano and started singing, "Look at me, I'm opportunity..." Rather, they stay fixed on their own desire for wealth, regardless of how it's acquired. If we're wanting to prevent such neglect from happening again, we'll have to make sure that community values are rolled out onto investors portfolios. The government has moved in this direction as it works to rebuild America, recognizing the importance in health and energy as a way to make america stronger for the future who will cash in on our investments. Business should take this lead, looking to the marble libraries and institutions that display the names of past industrialists who recognized the need to give back to the community.
Read more at The Opportunity Agenda's blog.