Do we really want this?

Growing up with a roof over your head and food on the table in an emerging country like mine is considered a matter of great privilege. I have grown up with a little more than that, and I feel incredibly privileged. But, this has also resulted in half-knowledge of a lot of things in the west, for people like me. We’ve seen it on tv and we know what it’s about, but not exactly sure how it works, or what it entails. Wall Street is one such idea, and I know many in my generation look at it with great envy and admiration, aspiring to one day be on the inside.

Recent times have been turbulent for those on its inside. From the well-documented Wells Fargo scandal of fake accounts, there are some lesser discrepancies which may have missed most of us. 
An incredibly detailed article by the New Yorker explained something about Deutsche Bank helping some fellow Russians smuggle out just a few billion dollars via the use of complex financial instruments called derivatives (mind you, where this money came from is a matter of mystery).

Another great piece of journalism done by Bloomberg brought to light a fascinating story involving an entity often dubbed the ‘Nike of Wallstreet’, Goldman Sachs and Muammar Gaddafi, the well-known now deceased dictator of Libya. While many of you may not have time to read the entire article, Bloomberg reports that Goldman Sachs took on Gaddafi as a client, and would help him grow his wealth via their expertise. Now this entailed them looking after a huge amount of money and investing it in various avenues for a commission.

Now, I consider myself to be a rather average human being and would not like to comment on what the outcome of this exercise was. (Goldman lost 98% of the money invested in them via an investment fund set-up by Gaddafi and things got extremely ugly, ending up in court with proceedings having been recently settled in Goldman’s favour. However, they did make a profit of about $200mn via commission.)

Instead, it’s a good idea to take a step back and to really understand what’s happening in the first place.

  1. Bank accounts are being faked to hike up stock prices which will help already rich people get even richer. (At the expense of common low-level employees, as it turned out)
  2. Complex financial products are being used to launder money, which for all we know, may have been generated from nefarious and possibly criminal activities.
  3. Some of the biggest and most reputed banks are turning to sources where the wealth in question has been tainted by various human rights violations.

And, mind you, all this is being done by or under supervision of some of the smartest, most well-educated people in the world who have ivy-league degrees hanging in their offices.

Now, my question to you is : Why? Do we lust behind money so much that we forget the very essence of the activities which were supposed to generate it?

The biggest banks and financial institutions in the 21st century yield extreme influence and power in the functioning of the modern capitalist ecosystem. If we are to work towards a better world, these entities need to recognise and accept the critical role they play in the world today. They need to start inculcating and practicing some of the values we hope to see in the world going forward. Making money at any expense cannot be the motto. They need to become more responsible in their actions. They need to start making the right decisions, socially and ethically, and paying more attention to the message being sent out through their activities.

To the young individuals who are fascinated by the idea of Wall Street and the big banks of the world, I urge you to think past the glamour and the ‘cool’ quotient that is generally associated with them, but also of the impact that their actions have on the outside world, what this tells us about their culture and idea of ethics and what about it needs to change.