The problem is that this is more easily said than done. Most people working on Wall Street can make ends meet while a small few can make vastly more money than they need. The trick is to make sure that the process of making money does no harm.
Question: How much money would all the participants in the mortgage securitization industry have to give to charity to undo the harm they have caused?
Answer: More than they have ever made.
The real opportunity to do good on Wall Street is to reform it from within. But to do the right thing you have to be able to recognize the difference between right and wrong, and then you must be able to say “no” when ordered to do the wrong thing.
When I was in my early 30s with three young kids at home, I renounced my childhood religion—Mormonism. My father tried to talk me out of it by asking how else my children would learn moral behavior. “How will you reinforce what is right and wrong without going to church? I don’t know how I’d have raised you kids without Sunday school and the youth programs.”
I pointed out to him that we both knew good church-going Mormons with a lot of variation in their moral compasses. I particularly focused on a relative of ours who always held top church positions, but who we knew had swindled and cheated his way through life.
I also told my dad that I believe people learn ethics and how to live their values by example—more so than through any instruction they get in Sunday school or church sermons. What I didn’t say to him, though I was thinking it, was that I had always respected him for his natural honesty. I don’t remember getting a lecture from him on the topic, but I’ve tried to be really truthful my whole life—to be like him.
I think the majority of problems in finance stem not from poorly designed regulations or lax enforcement but rather from bad parenting. I have never been saved from doing the wrong thing because of a regulator or a regulation or a manager or a compliance officer or a lawyer. I have been saved by the imagined voice of my father saying, “I’m ashamed of you.” (And once he was gone, now I imagine my children saying the same thing.)
What my father said to me, which is the same as what I say to my children
Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. – Mark Twain
Whenever I speak at colleges I begin by asking, “Why are you here?”
This catches the students off guard and after batting the question around for a bit someone says, “To find my passion.” The rest agree and they imagine they are done with the topic.
But I am not done with them.
I ask them to define “passion” because if you cannot say what a word means then you are shooting the shit rather than answering a question.
So they discuss that for a while longer and eventually settle on some variant of, “I don’t know what passion is but I’ll know when I have passion for my work because I won’t have to motivate myself to do it.”
“Really?” I say, “Where I come from we have a word for that, and it is ‘like’ as in ‘I like my job.’ But I know I am passionate when I do something even though I hate every second.”