Off with the hedge fund manager’s head!

Pointy-head intellectuals and the media are the Red Guard, Wall Streeters the accused

Off with the hedge fund manager’s head!Accused members of the intelligentsia in Mao’s China were marched through the streets wearing cone hats on which were written evocative slogans such as, “Down with the foul intellectual.” Placards identified the wearer as a stinking counter-revolutionary. This was all in the spirit of the times, summed up best for me by a People’s Fine Art poster captioned “Whoever is anti-Chairman Mao will get his dog head broken.” Succinct and to the point.

Those 1960s and ’70s marches, complete with stops at which foul intellectuals would kneel and allocute to the mobs, are not so different from the modern American perp walk. These days it’s the pointy-head intellectuals and the media class that are the Red Guard, and Wall Streeters the accused. Every night, some TV station posts photos of the day’s addition to the Top 10 Business Villains and another fund manager is added to the list of foul CEOs. Most have not been charged with anything—yet—but in the frenzied search for “whodunit” are singled out as forces behind today’s economic crisis. We are living through a collective madness, all part of the mob, finger pointing, judging, some driven by fear of economic chaos, others enjoying the schadenfreude express. Old labels are reappearing. After listening to a radio discussion about “economic criminals,” I wondered when we would start fingering “rootless cosmopolitans.” The Soviets and the Chinese preferred the first term, the anti-Semites the second, though in the Soviets’ case the two were often interchangeable.

I suspect current economic criminals resemble past ones in that they come in two varieties: the ones who really commit economic crimes and the ones who are elevated by political fashion to the status of criminals. Stalin’s taste made economic criminals of the entire kulak class; kulaks in today’s America would include CEOs and Tom Wolfe’s Masters of the Universe. Certain titles such as “hedge fund manager” have become terms of disapproval that trip off the tongues of people, at least half of whom I suspect have utterly no idea what a hedge fund is. The matter is complicated by the lunatic behaviour of the management of some companies. When the taxpayers are giving and loaning you billions, paying yourself massive bonuses is simply Alice in Wonderland en route to the guillotine. Recipients may actually believe they deserve the loot for hard work in difficult times—no criminal intent—but their behaviour is so inappropriate that the very fact it isn’t a crime is even more aggravating.

“The business of America is business” was okay back in the ’20s when the fabulously successful self-made entrepreneur was admired. People noted his shortcomings—coarseness, self-seeking, a lack of sophistication—but self-made man was the American hero. This was before he metastasized into corporate man, the product of sophisticated and computerized capitalism. This version, demonized by the media and Hollywood (the place where crass business people castigate crass business people in films like Wall Street), was a white vampire, deracinated, living in a smooth world of screens and luxury while draining the lifeblood of ordinary folk in phony paper ventures. In the ’60s, the powerful intellectual classes emerged fully in America and their preoccupations and tastes permeated the record of the times, largely because they were keepers of that record. The entrepreneurs and businessmen building America—making the record—had completely different tastes and values; abrasions between record maker and record keeper were deep.

Sensing enmity, businessmen tried buying off critics by endorsing notions they found politically expedient or politically correct. In so doing, they burdened their businesses with extra spending and contributed to a climate that only encouraged the political class to bear down on them with more regulation. Looking at the brochures of some widget makers you’d think you were reading the memoirs of an environmental activist. Under the heading of “Managing the Way We Do Business,” HSBC announced it is developing the Climate Change Centre of Excellence and taking part in the Carbon Disclosure Project “that facilitates dialogue between shareholders and corporations on carbon emissions.” HSBC is a strong, well-managed bank. Still, given the 400 HSBC-owned branches just closed in the U.S. and its chairman’s hope that the government will revise unhelpful financial rules, HSBC’s “dialogue” might more usefully have targeted political emissions.

Whatever the solution to hard times, hysterical denunciation cannot help. Businessmen failed to placate critics by becoming politicians just as government will fail to placate by becoming businessmen. Driven by old fears and left-wing hates, we are moving to notions, à la Bertolt Brecht, that all wealth is suspect. If, as I suspect, the economy is a psychodrama, anti-market hysteria is unlikely to restore equilibrium. Some day of reckoning is at hand—a reckoning in trillions.




Browse

Off with the hedge fund manager’s head!

  1. You make a fair point regarding the lacklustre PR-results of the PC initiatives of corporations. However, I’ve failed to notice (sic) “hysterical denunciation of all wealth being suspect” as of late. What I’ve noticed is anger toward those bank CEOs who, after their companies (right or wrongly) received massive bailout funds after making massive misjudgements, are getting massive bonuses for a job poorly done. You’ve done a bit of a bait and switch with this complaint Ms. Amiel.

  2. Oh for heaven’s sake, is Amiel capable of writing anything other than infinite variations on her one column?

    As usual, a dig at anything she perceives as “left-wing”, disingenuously comparing events in the democratic USA today to those in totalitarian China and the USSR many decades ago, mentioning antisemitic sentiments that only she in her paranoia imagines, and so on. Anything but recognise that people are quite entitled to be angry that those who imagined themselves to be so clever and entitled to massive rewards have created a situation in which millions now have to worry about the very roof over their heads or being able to pay for the basic necessities of life. That is a far cry from having to dispense with that extra yacht or buy a few pairs fewer of Manolo Blahniks each year that qualifies as hardship in some circles.

    One need not be left-wing to demand greater accountability and less greedy self-interest on the part of those who are handsomely paid to manage others’ money, or to applaud the authorities when they do finally perform their duty and, following all due process of law and affording the defendants every opportunity to defend themselves, put those who are found by courts of law to be white-collar criminals behind bars where they belong. Or putting in place regulations that will make such abuses and downright recklessness les slikely to recur.

    It is utter nonsense to equate Stalin’s victimisation of the kulaks (relatively better-off peasants) with the US prosecution authorities’ efforts to discourage the white-collar criminality that is undermining the very roots of the capitalist system that made the USA so strong.

    I would not advise anyone to try sabotaging the dykes in the Netherlands, because I am sure the courts there would take a stern view of it. I suspect Amiel’s failure to realise that the USA is equally sensitive about the integrity of its stock market is really where the shoe (Manolo or otherwise) pinches and drives her to write such bosh.

    • “I suspect Amiel’s failure to realise that the USA is equally sensitive about the integrity of its stock market is really where the shoe (Manolo or otherwise) pinches and drives her to write such bosh.”

      Either that or she has a strange sensitivity about white collar crime.

  3. It is not wealth itself that is suspect. It’s the acquiring of weath by fraudulent means which should not be excused. There certainly were, and are, economic criminals. One only wishes they would receive the same type of punishment as the other thieves.

    “Anit-market hysteria” ? No. It was a bubble, the bubble broke and splattered everyone. Nonetheless, it’s not that people are anti-market. It’s that they are anti-loss. No doubt some people, like SH’s mother perhaps, are snapping up bargains because they believe in the market. I personally do not and so, like Leacock, I keep my money in a sock,

  4. I don’t think anyone in the MSM is saying there were any actual crimes committed. Disgusting, repulsive & vile behaviour can be perfectly legal.

    I must have missed the part where we’ve taken away the mansions, limos & overstuffed bank accounts from the W-Streeters.

    Amiel is one of the few creatures on the planet that could convince me to become a communist. Do those pointy hats come in the right size for an over-the-hill gold digger?

  5. “I suspect current economic criminals resemble past ones in that they come in two varieties: the ones who really commit economic crimes and the ones who are elevated by political fashion to the status of criminals.”

    Is Amiel for real?

    Assuming that she has the USA, Canada and most of Europe in mind, “current economic criminals” are those who have been convicted in a court of law of having committed a criminal offence involving fraud, embezzlement or some such wrongdoing. They have had their day in court, the support of defence lawyers, been able to appeal against their conviction and are now in prison, either reflecting on their past mistakes or lost in a morass of denial. Amiel’s husband belongs in this category, and in the latter sub-category.

    No one in these countries has been “elevated by political fashion to the status of criminals”. There may be a tendency in the media to criticise them more than was earlier the case and heightened vigilance on the part of prosecutors, but it is courts of law, and only courts of law, that confers criminal status on anyone.

    Amiel and her husband still have not accepted the decision made by a jury of decent American citizens in Chicago and the verdict of the appellate court. By publishing her and his frequent assertions that they are somehow the victims of politically inspired persecution and a miscarriage of justice rather than victims of their own greed, magazines like Macleans are only undermining respect for law and order.

    • Bubba, you just don’t understand. It’s the same ole some ole from Babs. She feels that a certain “class” of people are above the law. Most of these people are born into it(as was Conrad) or married their way into it (as did Babs). Laws and taxes are for the little people and anyone who disagrees with this is either a Maoist, Marxist, Stalinist, Anti-semite. Heck she might as well have thown in child molester. I haven’t the slightist problem with someone who comes from modest means, invents or creates something of real value in the real world and makes it big. Bill Gates comes to mind. He invented windows, everyone uses it and now he is just about the richest man in the world. Good on ‘em. If you don’t like windows, create something better. Conrad on the other hand was born of wealth and privlage and felt he was intitled to even more and would do just about anything to get it. His pattern of malfeasance started with cheating on exams at his exclusive private school. (Upper Can. Collage). The upper crust of Canadaian society often found this story amusing. The same bunch that would send a pauper to the gallows for stealing a loaf of bread if they could. American authorities found his pattern of behavior much less amusing and put him in prision. Funny how he and other Canadian swindlers like Alan Eagleson and Bernie Ebberts meet their waterloo(I’m sure Conrad would appreciate the literary allusion) when they try to pull their usual shenanigans on foreign soil of creating nothing, manipulating stock, raiding pension plans, overinflating stock values and paying themselves huge bonuses just before the roof caves in. Thanks to people like them millions of people are ruined. Many of these people never even had money in the stock(flim-flam)market but will pay the price anyway. The little people are now paying the tab. Babs on the other hand still lives in a mansion in West Palm and is complaining bitterly. Cheers

      • Lady Amiel-Black might find a new audience and renewed appeal if she really started dishing the dirt on the internecine conflict the elites have been engaging in during the last decade or so. Naming and shaming, dirty little secrets, that kind of thing.

        I know. I’m a dreamer.

      • Well put, Wayne, especially your point about Bill Gates. I suppose you know he’s given away tens of billions of dollars. Well done and what a pity others who have acquired great wealth can’t follow his example!

        Greed is the root of all evil – not money. I think it was Gandhi who pointed out that this world has enough to satisfy everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed. Mr. Black recently had an article in the far right-wing national review in which he condemned the Mahatma as virtually a pro-Japanese and pro-Nazi anti-Semite!!! I kid you not.

        Let Amiel enjoy the mansion in Palm Beach while she can. Her crook husband, who will have been in jail for a full year in 20 days’ time, will never return there, but will be deported to the UK when he is released in 4½ years’ time.

        • Yes, I was aware that Mr. Gates was essentially setting up a foundation to give away the vast majority of his wealth to try to cure aids and releave the crushing poverty in Africa. Babs and Lord Tubby spent their ill gotten gains doing useful things like dressing up like Cardinal Richelieu and Marie Antoinette(I kid you not, there was a pic of that ungodly sight in this mag I believe) I was aware as well he would be sent packing back to Cross Harbour or whatever rundown slum he got the title over. Also worth noting after dissing Canada for years as a socialist backwater full of ungratefull guttersnipes, he suddenly changed his mind about Canada and wanted his citizenship back. I guess he hoped to transfer to a Canadain jail where he would be instantly sprung from to cheering crowds. Then he could get back to his usual shenanigans in a country where he is bulletproof and prosecutionproof….Canada.

          • Yes indeed, Wayne, in fact he initially donated $28 billion to his foundation, but has given a lot more since then. If he goes on the way he is going, we’ll soon be talking serious money. LOL

            In addition to medical assistance in Africa, his foundation is also doing very good work to help the Native Americans and their culture and economy in the NW USA

            That picture you refer to is here:
            http://aftermathnews.files.wordpress.com/2007/07/conrad_black.jpg

            I bet they’ll never live that down!

            BTW, Crossharbour is a Tube (metro) station in London. Its full name is Crossharbour & London Arena.

            It looks like His Lardship is still hoping to get his Canadian citizenship back and be able to return to the country he once found so contemptible, if this bit of fawning prose is to be believed:

            http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomment/archive/2009/02/14/conrad-black-canada-s-resilience-is-invisible-only-to-canadians.aspx#comments

          • Also worth noting after dissing Canada for years as a socialist backwater

            I always contrast that with Lady Amiel-Black’s remark on CBC report from a long time ago (when tout le monde were socialists) in which she mentions Canada’s “milquetoast socialism.”

            Either you’re too socialist or you’re not socialist enough for these folks.

          • What you fail to see is that Mr. Gates didn’t achieve his vast fortune through solely ethical acts.
            Indeed, many in the software industry, would consider his legacy almost criminal. The damage to this industry has certainly been done.
            The sad truth is, you’re only branded a criminal if the law catches up to you.
            But if you wield enough clout and power, you can stay ahead of the law and get away with unethical behaviour.

  6. Is Amiel for real?

    Absolutely. It’s the real deal here, folks.

  7. I must say I found this column less repulsive than I usually do when it comes to Amiel. That said, the real criminals are the Congressmen, Senators and Presidents that were elected to work on behalf of their constituents, but sold out to the lobbyists instead.

    The sense of entitlement, and disconnection from reality among Wall Streeters is reprehensible, but unfortunately its not illegal in the US for a CEO to make several hundred times what skilled labourers make. Human greed is a constant, so it is foolish to try and rid it from the financial industry of all places. Give someone and inch and they will take a mile every time. It would be much easier to eliminate lobbyists from Capitol Hill, and impose stricter conflict-of-interest laws for elected representatives.

  8. I guess this article is a send-up, right? The little people who got screwed should just grin and bear it, because geniuses like Bernie Madoff and Conrad Black and all those other financial experts can’t get it right all the time, right? Who can?

    I suppose the next thing she’ll be telling us is that Conrad Black should be freed forthwith, because no one with such a massive vocabulary can be anything but a paragon of virtue, and Madoff should not be prosecuted, because that would be anti-semitic.

    The law is only there to keep the poor in their place. If it is used in an attempt to curb greedy criminality on the part of rich people, it is the worst kind of (shudder!) socialism.

  9. This broad is writing total nonsense. In my opinion, she’s wrong. In her universe any criminal (or shyster) who is brought to justice is a victim of discrimination or a ungrateful public who are of course, jealous of success—successful criminality, not doubt. She brings in all sorts of historical events (gulags and Chinese torture camps and whatever else) and wants everyone to believe that their actions were akin to legitimate bodies tracking down and putting shysters who are ruining peoples’ lives out of business. Does she realize that these scumbags (ponzie artists) have destroyed the nation’s faith in financial institutions? These crooks and their cohorts don’t care about the future of any legitimate state and its hard-working people. They’re in for the quick buck and their cohorts are hoping they can make a bundle before they get caught in their immoral activities. Put Amiel out to pasture. She is totally irrelevant. Her columns are time wasters and piffle not worthy to line a bird cage.

  10. This silly column reveals how far past her “sell by” date Amiel has become. She is so far out of it that she cannot see the difference between the state-controlled media of Maoist China or Stalinist Russia, on the one hand, and the supposedly free media of the OECD countries, on the other.

    In fact, those media are not quite as free as many believe, but strongly under the influence of the wealthy and powerful money classes to which Amiel’s husband belonged – and she along with him – until their recent comeuppance.

    Nevertheless, the Western media must to some degree reflect the mood of the ordinary people, and that mood is now bitter. For far too long ordinary working people have seen so-called business leaders enjoy incomes hundreds of times greater than that of a skilled industrial worker and witnessed the extravagant lifestyles and vulgarly ostentatious consumption that went with it. The argument in favour of these obscenely excessive incomes was that the people who received them were somehow extraordinary and that the entire economy depended on them.

    To add insult to injury, when they screwed up, they received “golden handshakes” when they had to depart.

    Now many people are saying “enough is enough” and quite rightly demanding that those who have been dishonest get steel handcuffs instead of golden handshakes. And those who have merely been grossly negligent or reckless should be required to surrender the wealth and property they have accumulated so that the innocent people who have lost so much receive at least some recompense.

  11. The current mega bust on both sides of the Atlantic is not merely the consequence of the classic boom and bust cycle. Neither is it entirely caused by greedy bankers although both these are contributing factors. The main cause of the crises is casino capitalism. From late nineties onwards anyone with access to the internet could engage in online buying and selling of shares and more complex financial instruments such as derivatives and options. As more and more people were connected to the net, there was a worldwide rush to buy and sell shares on line. We are talking literally of millions of freelance stockbrokers dealing on line from the comfort of their home. Some of these people had lots of money and the cleverer ones engaged in more complex deals such as short-selling. A gigantic global casino was created with millions dreaming of instant riches at the touch of a button. Is it any wonder the pyramid collapsed? The problem was not free market as such but casino capitalism. Any post bust future reform must result in significant legal constraints on the ability of individuals or institutions to recreate casino capitalism.
    In fairness to Amiel, it must be pointed out that her detractors ignore personal contextual factors when lampooning her diatribes. She has transference issues caused by resentment that the country she so much admired in the past has incarcerated her beloved husband. Having said this, it is a pity someone of such high intelligence cannot rise above personal distress (which we all suffer from time to time) to carry out a more rational analysis of the current malaise. If free market capitalism is to survive (and I wish it does), its defenders need to be less defensive and more honest when figuring out what went wrong.
    I do have one issue with Amiel. She constantly uses the boring old phrase ‘left liberal’ -the implication being that one has to be on the left to be a liberal. I find this offensive. I am on the right of the political spectrum and consider myself a liberal. Fidel Castro is on the left and is extremely illiberal. Gedditt?

    • Outstanding analysis, Bhaskar, but “geddit?”. I’m afraid Amiel never has and never will. If she were honest with herself and others, she would acknowledge the role her own greed and extravagant consumption played in pushing Conrad Black further and further into the realm of illegality. Maybe what she writes is her way of cloaking the guilt that she must feel in her more lucid moments.

  12. Is Lady-Black-Amiel a pointy headed intellectual or media? I want to lean towards both.

    I guess you can’t by a sense of irony, at least not with the amount of money bestowed upon her.

  13. I put it down to denial. Amiel just can’t understand why ordinary folk (“little people”, as she calls them) resent being screwed by crooks in powerful positions. Time to retire this 68-year-old has been. She was always a nobody without a powerful man to lean on. The latest is a convict and I wouldn’t bet my shirt on her chances of finding a replacement in this near-geriatric stage of her life.

  14. Thank the landlord Barbara Amiel is still around to support greedy corrupt millionaires and billionaires – North America’s newest persecuted minority. The unreadable defending the indefensible. This current economic meltdown, like every recession in every decade, wasn’t manipulated by the rich and powerful to keep wages and inflation down, unemployment up; to make the rich richer and poor poorer with a huge pool of scared desperate workers willing to take any job for any wage. No way. It’s all the fault of the masses of irresponsible little worker consumers who maxed out their credit cards buying widgets and clickits at Walmart’s. And their punishment will certainly fit their crimes – banishment to a hobo village where they’ll learn to share and co-operate in the spirit of the free marketplace, like corporate CEO’s and the Better Business Bureau.

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