Culture of Greed: U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission finally takes action

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support today for as little as $1 per month!

Anyone hoping to see the financial titans of Wall Street brought to heel couldn't help but feel glum when Barack Obama defended the latest round of grotesquely large bank bonuses.

"I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system," the president said in a recent interview with BusinessWeek, commenting on the multimillion-dollar bonuses paid earlier this year to Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan, and to Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs.

What was most disturbing about Obama's comment was his apparent belief that Wall Street in some way resembles a free market -- rather than a sheltered casino where bankers can get incredibly rich playing the odds and count on government to bail them out when the wheel goes against them.

"I know both those guys," said Obama, referring to Dimon and Blankfein. "They are very savvy businessmen."

Of course, business savvy is easier to come by when government can be counted on to help in a pinch. For instance, following the 2008 financial meltdown -- triggered in part by the actions of JP Morgan, Goldman and other big banks -- JP Morgan got a temporary injection of $25 billion from U.S. taxpayers; Goldman got $10 billion.

But there was a glimmer of hope last week that Wall Street titans might finally get their comeuppance. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) laid fraud charges against Goldman for selling toxic investments without telling buyers that the investments were designed with help from a client -- a client who was a hedge fund manager and who was betting they would fail.

Unsuspecting investors lost billions, while the hedge fund manager, John Paulson, personally walked away with $1 billion. (Paulson hasn't been charged, although some, including MIT business professor Simon Johnson, are urging charges against him.)

The unexpected charges by the SEC have sparked speculation Washington may finally be moving to bring the Wall Street casino/playpen under adult supervision.

So far, there's been little progress toward bringing back the sort of regulations that reined in financial speculation for many decades following the 1929 market crash.

And there's been little change in the culture of greed and entitlement, which gave the green light to banking abuses while depicting Wall Street billionaires as inspiring characters who show the rest of us how to live the American Dream.

In that spirit, a bestseller by Wall Street Journal reporter Greg Zuckerman actually celebrates the very trade that lies at the centre of the SEC charges against Goldman. Zuckerman's enthusiasm is obvious from the book's title: The Greatest Trade Ever.

In Zuckerman's telling, Paulson, the hedge fund manager who helped design the toxic investments peddled by Goldman, takes on heroic qualities as an "underdog" who overcame obstacles and "triumphed over the hubris" of Wall Street.

"Paulson was no singles hitter, afraid of risk," Zuckerman writes breathlessly. "Anticipating a housing collapse -- and all that it meant -- was Paulson's chance to hit the ball out of the park and win the acclaim he deserved."

The fact that Paulson's hit also helped bring down global financial markets, leaving millions suffering around the world, apparently doesn't prevent a "journalist" from concluding that fame and fortune are Paulson's just reward.

Another sentiment, probably more widely held, was captured in a handwritten sign held by protestors marching on Wall Street: "Jump, you fuckers."

Linda McQuaig is author of It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet.

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.