In this essay, former Wall Street Investment Banker, Michael Thomas, expresses his frustration and disillusion with our current economic system. His credibility comes from three decades on Wall Street. In 1961 he landed a job with Lehman Brothers

to begin what for the next 30 years would be an involvement—I hesitate to call it “a career”—in investment banking. I would promote and execute deals, sit on boards, kiss ass, and lie through my teeth: the whole megillah. In consequence of which, I would wear Savile Row and carry a Hermès briefcase. I had Mme. Claude’s home number in Paris and I frequented the best clubs in a half-dozen cities. But I had a problem: I was unable to develop the anticommunitarian moral opacity that is the key to real success on Wall Street.

He is not optimistic about the future.

As 2011 slithers to its end, none of the major problems that led to the crisis point three years ago have really been solved. Bank balance sheets still reek. Europe day by day becomes a financial black hole, with matter from the periphery being sucked toward the center until the vortex itself collapses. The Street and its ministries of propaganda have fallen back on a Big Lie as old as capitalism itself: that all that has gone wrong has been government’s fault. This time, however, I don’t think the argument that “Washington ate my homework” is going to work. This time, a firestorm is going to explode about the Street’s head—and about time, too.

This former Wall Street insider thinks the fallout will be messy. Perhaps even violent.

At the end of the day, the convulsion to come won’t really be about Wall Street’s derivatives malefactions, or its subprime fun and games, or rogue trading, or the folly of banks. It will be about this society’s final opportunity to rip away the paralyzing shackles of corruption or else dwell forever in a neofeudal social order. You might say that 1384 has replaced 1984 as our worst-case scenario. I have lived what now, at 75, is starting to feel like a long life. If anyone asks me what has been the great American story of my lifetime, I have a ready answer. It is the corruption, money-based, that has settled like some all-enveloping excremental mist on the landscape of our hopes, that has permeated every nook of any institution or being that has real influence on the way we live now. Sixty years ago, if you had asked me, on the basis of all that I had been taught, whether I thought this condition of general rot was possible in this country, I would have told you that you were nuts. And I would have been very wrong. What has happened in this country has made a lie of my boyhood.

Is the moral purity he longs for possible? Did it ever exist? But even if there is a hint of utopian nostalgia here, surely it is possible to do better than we have in recent years.The OWS crowd surely has its problems, but they seem to be identifying (if in only piecemeal ways) the problems more clearly articulated here (assuming this writer’s description of the facts is correct). If he is right, though, the fix is going to require either a) a complete overhaul of the current system, or b) a complete overhaul of our collective moral and political culture, and perhaps both.

H/t Rod Dreher

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  1. You know, he sounds like a good man, but the fact is he stayed. I know many very good people who are in a situation they feel uncomfortable with at some level, yet believe they do not have the luxury or opportunity or what have you to leave.
    We are all cooperating. Most of us. I have – I certainly do not put myself above Mr. Thomas. One of the things I’ve been trying to understand is how it happens that so many good people simply doing the best they can end up willing participants in a system with such obvious defects and poor results.
    It is neither new nor difficult for us to see. Words in one form or another many of us have known since childhood: “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired, I refused my heart no pleasure…” If we’re not persuaded by Ecclesiastes, I don’t know that Mr. Thomas, even granting his experience, earnestness and good intentions, can break the spell.
    I wish I understood it better.

  2. That piece fills me simultaneously with dread and hope. As Dave notes, this guy stayed, and I won’t hesitate to call him a dirt bag. I doubt that this article was motivated by a conversion of the heart so much as fear of the return of the guillotine (as he almost admits). As much as, by the laws of man, such as he may deserve that, the prospect fills me with dread and sorrow.

    But it also gives me hope, because if they are scared, it means they are not in control. I believe that Americans are not the most wronged victims of this country’s elite (for better or for worse, there are oceans separating the true victims from their antagonists), and further that enough of them will be able to understand this, as the approaching crises clarify the lay of the land, the lies become more visible, and the cognitive dissonance becomes unbearable. And just maybe, this understanding will lead not to an urge to double down on our dependence upon the exploitative practices of the global elite, but to repentance.

    Whether that unlikely scenario would be enough to prevent horror on a global scale is another matter. But it will do a great deal more than fixing bank regulations.

  3. i am afraid just as people often get the governments they deserve the same holds true for the economy. i was totally with Jim Cramer of Mad Money when he demanded “Show trials! we need show trials!” what did we get? Bernie Madoff paid for Wall Street’s sins. we are in need of another Great Awakening but i am not seeing much. maybe the Occupy Movement will take root and get things moving but i wouldn’t bet the farm. Americans are still captivated by the sports/entertainment industrial complex to pay much attention to the fact that the house they are in is on fire. as long as they can watch E, HBO and ESPN all is well.

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