Day of Greed
A quick scan for a deadly sin
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
A quick scan for a deadly sin
As the author of a book called Age of Greed, I’m sometimes reprimanded by people who tell me I’m naive to have implied that the current era is greedier than others. Of course greed is universal, but its prominence at a given moment is a matter of degree. It reached spectacular heights on Wall Street in the late 1980s, and has persisted at that level.
Has this begun to change? One sign of a society’s health is how well it can tackle corruption. We are quick to denounce it in other countries, and to consider it a sign of underdevelopment. But today’s Wall Street Journal yet again gives me pause about corruption in America. As many readers know, the Journal runs a What’s News column, in which it highlights the main business and finance stories of the day. On March 20, the print edition of the paper included a bunch of disturbing examples of what is going on in our country.
For starters, the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency reduced its management grade for JPMorgan, indicating that the company’s risk management is slipping. (You’ll recall that Morgan, headed by Jamie Dimon, was supposed to be the well-managed bank.) The Journal also noted that JPMorgan had just agreed to pay customers of MF Global $546 million; as trustee of the defunct company founded by former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, Morgan had been sued by investors over some $1 billion in missing funds.
Going down the column a bit, we see that Freddie Mac, the federal mortgage agency, sued a dozen of the world’s biggest banks for rigging Libor, the key interest rate for interbank loans. Many more such suits are in the pipeline.
Further along, the Journal reports that the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating Microsoft for dealing with partners who have bribed foreign officials.
A couple of stories down, we find that the SEC is scrutinizing the lavish expenses hedge-fund managers charge to their customers. (The funds are at least partially — I’d say slightly — regulated as a result of the Dodd–Frank Act.)
Finally in What’s News, prosecutors accused a Florida financier of raising $13 million from investors by telling them he could get them Facebook shares in advance of the company’s initial public offering (and implicitly, at a lower price), then using the money for personal expenses.
And then there was this unbelievable item from the pages of the New York Times: Three retailers, including Neiman Marcus, admitted to having sold real fur instead of the advertised fake fur.
That was just today. The age of greed over? Hardly.
More from Jeff Madrick:
Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.
Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.
Average amount the company paid each of its 140 top executives last year:
Between one fifth and one half of England’s leisure horses are obese.
Scientists in the Galápagos Islands credited an endangered giant tortoise named Diego with saving his species by fathering more than 800 offspring.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”