From the December 2009 issue of The Baffler (no online version of this article available). For those not familiar with The Baffler, this is the revival of a magazine of business and culture edited by Thomas Frank that had previously been published from 1988 to 2007. This issue was called “Margin Call” and included articles by Matt Taibbi, Naomi Klein, Michael Lind. I believe readers will find this piece to be relevant. Enjoy!
Since inequalities of privilege are greater than could possibly be defended rationally, the intelligence of privileged groups is usually applied to the task of inventing specious proofs for the theory that universal values spring from, and that general interests are served by, the special privileges which they hold.
Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society
A year on from its brush with Armageddon, the financial services industry has resumed its reckless, self-serving ways It isn’t hard to see why this has aroused simmering rage in normally complacent, pro-capitalist Main Street America. The budget commitments to salvaging the financial sector come to nearly $3 trillion, equivalent to more than $20,000 per federal income tax payer. To add insult to injury, the miscreants have also availed themselves of more welfare programs in the form of lending facilities and guarantees, totaling nearly $12 trillion, not all of which will prove to be money well spent.
Wall Street just looted the public on a massive scale. Having found this to be a wondrously lucrative exercise, it looks set to do it all over again.
These people above all were supposed to understand money, the value of it, the risks attendant with it. The industry broadly defined, even including once lowly commercial bank employees, profited handsomely as the debt bubble grew. Compensation per worker in the early 1980s was similar to that of all non-government employees. It started accelerating in 1983, and hit 181 percent of the level of private sector pay by 2007. The rewards at the top were rich indeed. The average employee at Goldman Sachs made $630,000 in 2007. That includes everyone, the receptionists, the guys in the mail room, the back office staff. Eight-figure bonuses for big producers became standard in the last cycle. And if the fourth quarter of 2009 proves as lucrative as the first three, Goldman’s bonuses for the year will exceed bubble-peak levels.
The rationale for the eye-popping rewards was simple. We lived in a Brave New World of finance, where the ability to slice, dice, repackage and sell risk led to better outcomes for all, via cheaper credit and better diversification. We have since learned that this flattering picture was a convenient cover for massive risk-taking and fraud. The industry regularly bundled complicated exposures into products and dumped them onto investors who didn’t understand them. Indeed, it has since become evident that the industry itself didn’t understand them. The supposedly sophisticated risk management techniques didn’t work so well for even the advanced practitioners, as both top investment banks and quant hedge funds hemorrhaged losses. And outside the finance arena, the wreckage is obvious: housing market plunges in the U.S., UK, Ireland, Spain, the Baltics and Australia; a steep decline in trade; a global recession with unemployment in the U.S. and elsewhere hitting highs not seen in more than 25 years, with the most accurate forecasters of the calamity intoning that the downturn will be protracted and the recovery anemic.
With economic casualties all about, thanks to baleful financial “innovations” and reckless trading bets, the tone-deafness of the former Masters of the Universe is striking. Their firms would have been reduced to sheer rubble were it not for the munificence of the taxpayer—or perhaps, more accurately, the haplessness of the official rescuers, who threw money at these players directly and indirectly, through a myriad a programs the brute force measure of super low interest rates, with perilous few strings attached.
Yet what is remarkable is that the widespread denunciations of excessive banking industry pay are met with incredulity and outright hostility. It’s one thing to be angry over a reversal in fortune; it’s one of the five stages of grief. But the petulance, the narcissism, the lack of any sense of proportion reveals a deep-seated pathology at work.
Exhibit A is the resignation letter of one Jake DeSantis, an executive vice president in AIG’s Financial Products unit, tendered in March 2009 as outcry over bonuses paid to executives of his firm reached a fever pitch. The New York Times ran it as an op-ed. “I am proud of everything I have done,” DeSantis wrote.
I was in no way involved in—or responsible for—the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage….
[W]e in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials.…
I take this action after 11 years of dedicated, honorable service to A.I.G. … The profitability of the businesses with which I was associated clearly supported my compensation. I never received any pay resulting from the credit default swaps that are now losing so much money. I did, however, like many others here, lose a significant portion of my life savings in the form of deferred compensation invested in the capital of A.I.G.-F.P. because of those losses.
Anyone with an operating brain cell could shred the logic on display here. AIG had imploded, but unlike a normal failed business, it left a Chernobyl-scale steaming hulk that needed to be hermetically sealed at considerable cost to taxpayers. Employees of bankrupt enterprises seldom go about chest-beating that they did a good job, it was the guys down the hall who screwed up, so they therefore still deserve a fat bonus check. That line of reasoning is delusional, yet DeSantis had no perspective on it. And there is the self-righteous “honorable service,” which casts a well-paid job in the same terms as doing a tour of duty in the armed forces, and the hyperventilating: “proud,” “betrayed,” “unfairly persecuted,” “clearly supported.”
And to confirm the yawning perception gap, the letter was uniformly vilified in the Times’ comment section, but DeSantis’s colleagues gave him a standing ovation when he came to the office.
The New York press has served as an occasional outlet for this type of self-righteous venting. Some sightings from New York Magazine:
[I]f someone went to Columbia or Wharton, [even if] their company is a fumbling, mismanaged bank, why should they all of a sudden be paid the same as the guy down the block who delivers restaurant supplies for Sysco…?
I’m attached to my BlackBerry. … I get calls at two in the morning. … That costs money. If they keep compensation capped, I don’t know how the deals get done.
It never seems to occur to them, as Clemenceau once said, that the graveyards are full of indispensable men. So if the cohort with glittering resumes no longer deems the pay on offer sufficiently motivating for them to get out of bed, guess what? People with less illustrious pedigrees will gladly take their places.
And the New York Times has itemized how the math of a successful banker lifestyle (kids in private school, Upper East Side co-op, summer house in Hamptons) simply doesn’t work on $500,000 a year. Of course, it omitted to point out that outsized securities industry pay was precisely what escalated the costs of what was once a mere upper-middle-class New York City lifestyle to a level most people would deem stratospheric.
Although the word “entitlement” fits, it’s been used so frequently as to have become inadequate to capture the preening self-regard, the obliviousness to the damage that high-flying finance has inflicted on the real economy, the learned blindness to vital considerations in the pay equation. Getting an education, or even hard work, does not guarantee outcomes. One of the basic precepts of finance is that of a risk-return tradeoff: high potential payoff investments come with greater downside.
But how did that evolve into the current belief system among the incumbents, that Wall Street was a sure ride, a guaranteed “heads I win, tails you lose” bet? The industry has seen substantial setbacks—the end of fixed commissions in 1975, which led to business failures and industry consolidation, followed by years of stagflation, punitive to financial assets and securities industry earnings; the aftermath of savings and loan crisis, which saw employment in mergers and acquisitions contract by 75 percent; the dot-com bust, which saw headhunters inundated with resumes of former high fliers. Those who still had jobs were grateful be employed, even if simultaneously unhappy find themselves diligently tilling soil in a drought year, certain to reap a meager harvest.
But you never heard any caviling about how awful it was to have gone, say, from making $2 or $3 million to a mere $400,000 (notice how much lower the prevailing peak numbers were in recent cycles). And if you were having trouble paying your expenses, that was clearly bad planning. Everyone knew the business was volatile. Indeed, the skimpy salaries once served as a reminder that nothing was guaranteed.
So why the unseemly whining? It’s a symptom of longstanding pathologies in the industry that were once narrowly useful but which have gotten wildly out of hand.
It wasn’t always that way. I worked for a few years in the early 1980s in investment banking at Goldman Sachs, and later in the decade starting up the M&A business for a Japanese bank, then the second largest in the world, in that brief window when the island nation seemed to be buying up America. I have continued to consult to the industry.
Unfortunately, it isn’t hard to see how those on the investment banking meal ticket come to have an unduly high opinion of their worth.
Wall Street jobs have long been the prime objective at the top of the MBA food chain, and that has always been a function of the money. Aside from looking for people who are well groomed, articulate and reasonably numerate (image is important, given the fees charged to corporate clients), firms screen job candidates for money orientation and what is politely called drive. At Goldman, the word “aggressive” was used frequently a term of approbation.
But the firms are white-collar sweatshops with glamorous trappings. You do not know how hard you can work, short of slavery, unless you have been an investment banking analyst or associate. It is not merely the hours, but the extreme and unrelenting time pressure. Priorities are revised every day, numerous times during the day, as markets move. You have many bosses, each with independent demands and deadlines, and none cares what the others want done when. You are not allowed to say no to unreasonable demands. The sense of urgency is so great that waiting for an elevator is typically agonizing. If you manage to get your bills paid and your laundry done, you are managing your personal life well. Exhaustion is normal. On a quick run home en route to the airport after an all-nighter, a co-worker tried to shower fully clothed.
A setting that would seem to reward, nay require, cutting corners has another striking feature: intolerance for error. A computation mistake or a typo in a client document is a career-limiting event. Minor miscues undercut the notion that your firm can execute the more complex and risky elements correctly
And the dynamic doesn’t change much over the course of one’s career. The drill of being a medical resident (or pre-Iraq, a tour of duty) has a known endpoint. But investment bankers have signed a Faustian contract: You have no right to personal boundaries. The business says how high to jump, and you are expected to deliver. Yes, more senior people have more dignity, but the idea that your needs are second to those of the business never changes.
In my day, it wasn’t uncommon for the firm to ask associates to reschedule weddings if they conflicted with a deal. It wasn’t that firms were opposed to marriage; indeed, the partners knew a young man was theirs once he procured a wife and, better yet, kids. He was tied hopelessly into a personal overhead structure that would keep him in the business.
Not that there was any real risk that someone would leave voluntarily. Exhaustion and loss of personal boundaries are an ideal setting for brainwashing, which is why people who have spent much of their career in finance have such difficulty understanding why their firm and their worldview might not be the center of the universe, why they might not be deserving of their outsized pay.
The finance community has other elements in common with cults. One is the implicit and explicit reinforcement of bankers’ “specialness,” their elite status. In how many lines of work do you get to meet with CEOs at a tender age, much less work on matters where hundreds of millions, often billion, are routine? Senior people in the investment banks are political fundraising heavyweights and sit on high-prestige nonprofit boards. Anyone of a Calvinist persuasion would be impressed.
Another parallel to cult indoctrination is that the demands of the job remove new hires from established friends and family and plunge them into a new environment. Most people who come to Wall Street are not New York natives, and the extreme and erratic hours make it difficult to maintain old ties. Season tickets are likely to be given away. Vacations (save for the week before Labor Day and the Christmas-New Year’s period) are frequently rescheduled.
Class consciousness is felt nowhere more keenly than in the world of high finance. Wall Street denizens earn more money than most people—that’s the point, after all. And that means they become accustomed to the perks, such as eating at restaurants that might strain the budget of those less well situated. And, frankly, with their lives revolving around finance and business, other interests wither. In most cases, it’s more fun for them to talk shop than to relate to people outside their cloistered world. The incestuousness often extends to one’s personal life. When I was at Goldman, the only married women professionals who were not married to men at Goldman had come to the firm hitched.
These values become deeply internalized. One buddy, a vice president in hard-charging, testosterone-filled M&A, spent the better part of a weekend lying on her side on the floor of her office, reading deal documents. She kept reassuring concerned colleagues that she was fine, until the pain got so bad that she relented and called her boyfriend. He came and took her straight to the hospital. The doctors operated immediately, assuming she had appendicitis. They found instead diverticulitis, which usually afflicts the elderly, and she was so close to a colon rupture that they had to remove half of it.
The partners at her firm instructed her to not to return until she had recovered fully. But this was September. Bonuses were paid at year end, and as she read the unwritten code, and knew that staying away too long would be seen as a sign of weakness. She was back at the office three weeks later, looking wan.
She later became the first woman investment banking partner at her prestigious firm. Her instincts served her well. Or maybe not. She later lost 90 percent of the vision in one eye to glaucoma, an easily treated disease, because her overloaded schedule made eye exams seem like a luxury.
Trading, the other side of the business, is stereotyped as the antipode of investment banking, with the market makers and the dealmakers viewing each other in disdain. While there are other subcultures within large firms, the bankers and the traders are the alphas and set the tone.
In the old days, traders were almost without exception order flow traders who served the socially useful function of making markets in instruments that weren’t listed on exchanges. It’s an adrenaline-filled game, with quick highs and gut-wrenching lows. Unlike bankers, who can never truly take personal credit for the profits on a deal (even if they brought it in, the firm’s franchise usually played a role), traders see their P&L as their own output, even though they use the firm’s infrastructure, research and capital.
Historically, traders often came from modest backgrounds Indeed, some scrappy firms such as the former bond market king Salomon Brothers didn’t care if traders had two heads as long as they produced.
But as Wall Street became a bigger and more profitable, in part by eating commercial banks’ lunch, trading-related jobs became more sought after. Even Tom Wolfe took note in his 1987 novel Bonfire of the Vanities, portraying Sherman McCoy as inordinately proud of the Ivy Leaguers reporting to him.
As markets became more liquid, and more complex instruments were created, firms began creating specialist trading groups to make bets with house funds. Unlike the traditional market makers, they did not deal with customer orders but were strictly out to make money into more money. The pattern for the so-called proprietary traders was set nearly 20 years ago. Securities industry denizens were taken aback to learn that Larry Hilibrand, a member of Salomon Brothers’ bond arbitrage group, made $23 million in 1990, then an unseemly sum. But even that wasn’t enough for Hilibrand; he and his colleagues decamped to form the now infamous Long Term Capital Management, which did spectacularly well before nearly bringing down the entire financial system in 1998.
Trading is an autistic activity. Markets are impersonal. And despite the shows of bravura, there’s an ever-present undercurrent of terror. Even if things look to be working out well, they could turn swiftly into monstrous losses. And again, as LTCM illustrated, it’s all too easy for successful traders to lose that sense of fear, to start believing in their own genius and take risk recklessly.
The picture of traders, both in the media and too often in their own eyes, reveals more than a bit of a John Galt fantasy, casting them as brilliant, productive people, with others piggybacking on their earnings. That’s hogwash. Traders conveniently forget that they have managed to get themselves in a hugely advantageous position: They get a slice of their profits if they win, but don’t disgorge them when they screw up. The worst that happens is they lose their job. And a remarkable number fail upwards, or at least sideways. Witness how John Meriwether, is now raising his third fund after heading two firms (LTCM and JWM Partners) that failed.
Moreover, traders benefit from massive subsidies, such as artificially low interest rates (not just now, but certainly since 2001 and, some argue, even earlier), industry-serving policies that produced a highly concentrated structure, with a small number of firms sitting at the nexus of massive capital and information flows. The big Wall Street firm trader’s claim that he is an independent operator fully deserving his earnings is a wonderful bit of mythology. It’s like claiming prowess in hunting based on the results achieved at a well-stocked game reserve, with some of the prey drugged to boot.
Many psychological disorders are otherwise healthy tendencies carried too far, unchecked by other personal attributes. Single-mindedness, drive to succeed, aggressiveness and lack of remorse are useful traits in business, but when do they tip into the psychopathic? In the case of Wall Street, the collective psyche has suffered as important checks on ego and behavior have eroded.
One no longer operative constraint is the partnership form of ownership. In the days when partnerships prevailed, senior management had good reason to keep pay demands in line. The partners had most of their wealth tied up in the business; they lived poor and died rich. If the firm suffered a loss, the consequences were disruptive to catastrophic. You couldn’t replenish capital easily; mortgaging the house will only go so far. And the partners were personally liable. They were on the hook for any shortfall. Many once famous Wall Street names lost their independence due to weak performance or losses: Kuhn Loeb, First Boston (over a series of years), Bache & Company, A.G. Becker, Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb (in 1984), Drexel Burnham Lambert.
But despite the peril it posed to the owners, the partnership form had some compelling advantages: Compensation levels were confidential, so as not to annoy less well remunerated clients, and the firms were not exposed to double taxation. And the partnerships had a cachet that the public firms, mainly retail brokers, sorely lacked.
That mode of operation in turn produced a great deal of vigilance, at least in the firms that proved to be survivors. The management committees needed to set pay levels so that the business was also retaining sufficient capital to remain competitive. These owners also had narrow spans of control, acting as players in as well as managers of businesses they had grown up in. In the market-making businesses, they were usually the senior traders on the desks and knew the foibles of their subordinates.
And so performance-inducing levels of compensation and the long-term health of the business were held in balance. Moreover, the leadership had reason to rein in big egos, since they could feel emboldened to take risks that would jeopardize the firms.
In the early 1990s, Sallie Krawchek, then an equity analyst covering publicly owned investment banks for Sanford Bernstein, remarked, “It’s better to be an employee of a Wall Street firm than a shareholder.” Being public changed all the incentives. Management had less reason to be cautious. Indeed, that also showed up in her analysis. The most profitable business was fixed income, meaning the debt-trading business, and even then the firms were on a trajectory of taking on more risk.
And more risk changes the meaning of trader profits. The private partnerships had managed against the fact that the non-partner market-makers didn’t share in the downside, and a key device was making sure that joining the partnership was the richest reward. That alone encouraged underlings to be more judicious.
To illustrate how much values have shifted in a money-minded business, John Whitehead, the former co-chairman of Goldman who presided through 1984, blasted the current CEO Lloyd Blankfein over the “shocking” pay levels. “They’re the leaders in this outrageous increase,’’ Whitehead remarked in 2007. He urged the firm to be “courageous” enough to lower bonuses and re-instill a sense of propriety.
But Whitehead, like most seasoned hands trying to persuade younger generations of the error of their ways, was ignored.
In the “other people’s money” world, there was less reason for restraint. Indeed, an expression has become common that would have been unthinkable in the 1980s: “IBG, YBG”— “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone.” In other words, long-term consequences (likely damage) don’t matter; all that counts is this year’s kill. And if it’s big enough, you will never need to work again.
This attitude is predatory. And it has become widespread. A former Deutsche Bank employee, Deepak Moorjani, wrote:
When speaking about the banking sector, many people mention a “subprime crisis” or a “financial crisis” as if recent write-downs and losses are caused by external events. Where some see coincidence, I see consequence. At Deutsche Bank, I consider our poor results to be a “management debacle,” a natural outcome of unfettered risk-taking, poor incentive structures and the lack of a system of checks and balances.
In my opinion, we took too much risk, failed to manage this risk and broke too many laws and regulations. … [T]he system of incentives encourages people to take risks. I have seen honest, high-integrity people lose themselves in this cowboy culture, because more risk-taking generally means better pay. Bizarrely, this risk comes with virtually no liability, and this system of O.P.M. (Other People’s Money) insures that the firm absorbs any losses from bad trades.
And remember, in the Brave New World of OPM, management has every reason to be in on the game. Their bonuses are a function of the profitability of the businesses that report to them. And now that the consequences are evident, it is easy to rationalize the behavior: Everyone else was operating the same way, there was money to be made, you were just providing what the “market” wanted.
A second change has been in how members of the industry see themselves. Most I ran across were proud to be members of respected firms (the reaction when offering your card was quick confirmation), but no one labored under the delusion that finance was an elevated calling. It was a necessary function, the plumbing of a capitalist economy. If there was anything to congratulate yourself for, it was having discovered and gotten into a field that offered outsized rewards, thanks to regulatory and scale-based barriers to entry. The same M&A banker who jeopardized her health in her successful pursuit of partnership once commented dismissively, “It’s indoor work.” A successful institutional salesman said he had never run into more mediocre overpaid people than on Wall Street.
Thirty years of conservative extolling of the virtues of “free markets” seems to have contributed to the banking sector’s inflated ego. Even though the securities markets are far from “free” (they are regulated to varying degrees), the mythology has taken hold that players in finance allocate capital to its best uses—a role of vital importance to society—and therefore deserve to be more richly compensated than everyone else. Such rationales became necessary as growth in capital markets pay greatly outstripped that of other forms of indoor work.
But this flattering self-image is inaccurate. It’s the end investors that are making the capital allocation decisions; the brokers and bankers are facilitators and an information hub. And, unfortunately, as we’ve seen with auction rate securities and dodgy collateralized debt obligations sold to hapless investors as far away as Norway and Australia, the sellers were sometimes less than forthcoming about the quality of the wares they were peddling.
Nevertheless, one sees bankers and brokers, who concede that much of the anger directed at fancy finance is “very well deserved” nevertheless take DeSantis-like exception to their specialty being spattered in the mud-slinging. From the blogger Epicurean DealMaker:
And, in twenty years of offering M&A and financial advice to corporate clients, I have yet to meet someone who has intentionally pushed a “bad” M&A idea to a client, either. Sure, I’ve been in pitches where a banker has proposed silly, ill-thought-out, or downright stupid M&A ideas to a client, but those instances are either unintentional—in which case the client throws the banker out of his office and said banker usually gets fired in the next round of layoffs—or intentionally designed to provoke a deeper and more productive dialogue with the client.
One wonders, has the Epicure ever actually worked on the sell side? There, the banker’s role is to elicit the best possible price. And, trust me, plenty of crappy businesses get peddled. That’s precisely when a broker adds most value, in monetizing a garbage barge, and I saw tons of them when representing one of the preferred dumping grounds, the hapless Japanese. Ah, but of course! They aren’t your client; it’s perfectly OK if the guy on the other side of the table is a stuffee.
Yet to prove his point that the critics have gone overboard, the Epicure wraps himself and his colleagues in a mantle of “we’re good guys in our sector.” What is troubling is that his black-and-white portrait doesn’t appear to be a rhetorical device; he seems to believe it.
Later he writes:
Would the esteemed economist from the New York Times care to explain to me exactly how the finance industry was able to unilaterally increase demand for its services while drastically expanding its operating margins? Maybe I don’t remember my entry-level Economics so good, but that strikes me as a somewhat dubious proposition. And yet, that is exactly the conclusion an inattentive or ill-informed reader would draw from Mr. Krugman’s tendentious screed: regulate those nasty bankers, before they force our country to lever up and make them filthy rich again!
The anger is as telling as the logic, or lack thereof. The Epicure never addresses the inconvenient truth that lay at the heart of all those arguments for stricter regulation: that the rising asset values that fueled the securities industry boom in turn were the result of ever-increasing borrowings. Private sector debt to GDP rose gradually in the 1980s, more steeply in the 1990s, and went near hyperbolic from 1999 onward.
In modern economies, we don’t let banking systems that lend money on a reckless scale go bust, as much as that would be a useful cautionary practice. We socialize the losses. Those who weren’t perps fail to acknowledge that they benefited from the wanton risk-taking nevertheless. In the case of the Epicurean Dealmaker, how can he not recognize that transaction prices were pushed up enormously by the easy access to cheap deal funding? And that his fees, set as a percentage of the deal price, were higher as a result? Many of the cheap loans that funded transactions and pushed M&A prices into the stratosphere were in collateralized loan obligations. The big lenders and investment banks hadn’t unloaded them when the crisis hit, so they are part of the losses that taxpayers are now eating.
That’s why the great unwashed public is furious. They may lack the sophistication to grasp the arcana of the financial crisis, but they sense that the explanations for the costs they are bearing are insufficient; they see that a lot more people were ing at the trough, directly or indirectly, than the poster children served up for public ridicule. And they’re right.
So the whining, the petulance, the defensiveness, the distorted reasoning, signifies something much deeper and more troubling.
Finance has lost sight of its role.
Banking and capital markets have become important to advanced economies, but also they represent a charge on the productive economy, just like lawyers and national defense. Ironically, the Japanese understood this well, and were still unable to prevent a turbo charged borrowing binge that left their economy a mess. They recognized that letting banks be very profitable comes at the expense of industry. And indeed, until the global financial crisis, while Japan’s domestic economy remained mired in deflation, its export sector was still robust. When our crisis broke out, Japanese policy makers were uncharacteristically blunt and warned the US that the mistake they had made was not cleaning up their banking sector quickly. We are repeating their error for the very same reason: financial firms have great political clout.
Or, as John Maynard Keynes put it, “When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill done.”
Yet the people at the heart of this system, even with the wreckage they created all around them, still fail to acknowledge that the rich pay of recent years was the product of a debt binge. It wasn’t just the makers of the pernicious securities who benefited; all boats in the finance industry rose with the surge of borrowing. Trying to defend the status quo ante shows a willful, self-serving blindness to the proper place of financial markets in a healthy economy.
Worse, it bespeaks a dangerous, destructive ideology that has somehow managed to live on, zombie-like, through the crisis. The idea that the needs of the financial sector trump those of the productive sector isn’t just specious; as the crisis so vividly demonstrated, it’s outright dangerous. But its strange persistence as an article of faith among our leadership class, both in government and the media, has yielded inertia and fecklessness where there should be energy and resolve. It seems that before we can confront the challenge of mending our broken financial system, a battle of ideology must be waged and won. And the hour is getting late.