In Defense of Bankers
One obvious point being lost: the vast majority of toilers in the
financial vineyards had nothing to do with the meltdown.
By: Jacob Weisberg, News Week
Not long ago, American culture abhorred lawyers, mistrusted journalists and envied bankers.
Today we ignore lawyers, pity journalists and despise those who are connected to Wall Street—
for undermining their own companies, trashing the global economy and being insanely overpaid.
Public sentiment has judged the lot of them guilty as hell and sentenced them indefinitely to a
This reaction is understandable, but hardly rational. While our financial system as a whole has
been revealed to be deeply flawed, most bankers deserve the new loathing no more than they
did the old fawning.
One obvious point is being lost in the rush to flagellate Wall Street: the vast majority of toilers in
the financial vineyards had nothing to do with the meltdown. Most are themselves victims of poor
judgments they didn't make, didn't know about—and would not have understood if they had
known about them. The current crisis came about through a toxic cocktail of reckless lending into
a government-subsidized real-estate bubble and misjudgments about the risk of complex
financial instruments. There were other factors, too. But only a small fraction of people employed
on Wall Street worked in areas connected to the big failures. Even within the units that helped to
blow up big firms, the damage was done by a minority within the minority.
As an illustration, take the insurance behemoth AIG, which was saved from extinction by an $85
billion government credit line and is now effectively nationalized. On his TV program "Mad
Money," Jim Cramer said of AIG's employees (before later apologizing): "We should hound them
in the supermarket. We should hound them in the ballpark. We should hound them everywhere
they are. We should make fun of them and we should point fingers at them and we should tell
them that you have no shame."
Download the complete article in PDF format
© 2009 News Week.