Where Are All the Financial Heroes?
There are no long lines at my Starbucks anymore. I know a score of friends who have gotten pink slips in recent weeks. Even my iPod seems to be a reminder of the recession and economic crisis.
If you had set out to order up a song to sum up Wall Street's financial meltdown in 2008, Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" nailed it. Even before it won the Grammy, I came to think of it as the Song of the Year; "I used to rule the world, seas would rise when I gave the word."
There is plenty of anger at the Kings of the Street who we've all discovered built castles "upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand," as the song goes. That anger is going to take a long time to subside, as will the the acrimonious debate about the bonus caps.
But now that those Kings are pretty much dead, who will rise up to be the new Princes of Finance?
More to the point, I can't helping thinking, where is the J.P. Morgan, who put up his own money to help break the banking panic of 1907? Where is the Felix Rohatyn of our time? He was the Lazard Freres financier who helped restructure New York City's debt, helping the city avoid bankruptcy in the 1970s.
Who will step up now?
"Why would anyone want to submit themselves to all the criticism? Especially since nothing so far has worked," one of my managers asked me. Then, the tougher question: "Who on Wall Street has any credibility right now?"
Call me a Pollyanna, but I have to think the best and brightest minds that developed the complex derivatives and securitization schemes that helped get us into this mess can somehow harness that intellectual capital now to reverse-engineer a way out of this quagmire. It's a tall order and a thankless job, but it's critically important to mend the financial system back to health.
Maybe "we don`t need another hero," to quote the Tina Turner classic on my play list. We certainly don't need to find our way home to the old loosy goosy banking system. It could be this financial quagmire demands an anti-hero, or more likely a few Mad Max types, willing to do battle in the post-apocalyptic Thunderdome that is our economic crisis.
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So far, we've heard from the government, which certainly has to play a big leadership role. But, as the song goes, "There's got to be something better out there."
Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner's newest TARP plan calls for the private sector to buy up the toxic mortgage assets to help stabilize banks. Will hedge fund and private equity titans step up and say, we're going to do this?
They shouldn't ask their investors to 'take one for the team,' but think about what might happen if John Paulson, who had funds that were up more than 35 percent last year, said he was going to use some of his billions to buy some assets? What if Citadel's Ken Griffin, joined him and convinced rival fund managers to also signal their personal vote of confidence? Or if Abigail Johnson of Fidelity, who Forbes ranks as the 15th richest American in 2008, with a net worth of $15 billion--what if she would personally buy some toxic TARP mortgage securities?
It won't solve the crisis, but it could send a powerful message.
There may be nothing in it for them, in terms of big profits right now. But what price can you put on restoring confidence in the financial markets? How big will be the the payoff from having helped restore the way to a better economy?
Old fashioned values like leadership, character, integrity mean doing what's hard because it's right.
I don't know which plan is ultimately the right one. I do want to believe that in this country, that has given birth to some of the greatest capitalists and free enterprise minds on the planet, that there are people out there who want to do more than just carp at TARP and hunker down on the sidelines until the storm passes. I want to believe that there are people in finance and business who genuinely want to step up and help rebuild our national confidence. If they do, I want to believe we won't just tar and feather them for putting themselves out there.
There's little impetus to trust. But there's every reason to hope.
It's a new day and time for a different tune. I guess what I'm really longing for is a title not in my play list yet, The Rolling Stones "Emotional Rescue." I've got a feeling I'm not alone.