There has been a longstanding urban legend about Wall Street being a good ole boys’ club, sexist and exclusive with a cornucopia of decadent rewards for those on the inside, rewards that a recent blockbuster film has done much to sensationalize. But we’ll get to that in a minute. A Bloomberg article last week revealed that much of this is indeed, factual, and is directly linked to college fraternity culture.
Based on some three dozen interviews, the article describes “a network whose Wall Street alumni guide resumes to the tops of stacks, reveal interview questions with recommended answers, offer applicants secret mottoes and support chapters facing crackdowns.”
According to authors Max Abelson and Zeke Faux, the line begins forming in college fraternities, which is where the young men are first exposed to the advantages of operating outside the realm of government regulation. Students vying for internships, in an industry where 22 year-olds can make $100,000 a year or more, find that their fraternity affiliations can, in many cases, hard-wire them into open jobs. Given how extremely competitive these internships can be, (about 2 percent of applicants are accepted at Goldman Sachs), this is a significant advantage.
Fraternity candidates at Dartmouth’s Alpha Delta received emails from Wells Fargo assuring them that their resumes would be placed at the top of the pile.
Once recruited, the story says, the new hires are sent back to campus to recruit more from the same fraternity. One recruiter from Barclays, made a comment at a recruiting reception at the University of Pennsylvania, that “we’re trying to create Sigma Chi on Wall Street, a little fraternity on Wall Street,” which more or less summarizes the attitude.
There may be nothing illegal about this, but that is not the same thing as there being nothing wrong with it. Not only is it patently unfair, but think about what kind of culture us being perpetuated, when candidates are being selected to help manage the world economy based on their demonstrated ability to be the best drinking buddies. We’ve already seen the damage that the party atmosphere on Wall Street can do, if anyone can still remember 2008. Certainly no one on Wall Street is thinking about that now, not as we draw the curtain on the best stock market year since 1997. However, I am sure that many of the 1.3 million Americans who just get kicked off unemployment are still thinking about it.
Scorcese’s recent film The Wolf of Wall Street, based on the true story of Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), a rags-to-riches-via-scam story of a Wall Street investment firm, epitomizes any Main Street investor’s worst nightmare of what is happening with the money in his or her pension fund.
Call me a fuddy-dud if you will, but I couldn’t help thinking, as I watched dozens of naked young women and truckloads of illicit drugs parading across the screen, that there are probably lots of undergraduate boys watching this film thinking, “now I know what I want to do for a living,” (and now, after reading this article, rushing off to pledge for a fraternity). But at the same time, I also thought that perhaps this represents everything that is wrong, and unsustainable about our society. And it’s not only the greed, the selfishness, the treatment of women, the short-sighted live-for-today mentality, and the exploitation of everybody and everything that isn’t connected to the fraternity.
What I came away thinking about is what the mytho-poetic male writers of the 90’s like Robert Bly and Moore & Gilette said about the fact that there is no path in our culture to safely and effectively navigate the passage from boyhood to manhood, which is why so many of our leaders are boys posing as men. Our world is largely run, they tell us, by boys in expensive suits, driving expensive cars, and playing with women as if they were toys. They mess up their room (our planet), as they play and never even think to clean up after themselves. An op-ed in the Village Voice by Christina McDowell, the daughter of one of Belfort’s accomplices, shares a personal view of what this looks like up close.
The path to a sustainable society requires far more than highly efficient green technology, far more than renewable energy, organic food, or, revitalization of local economies, improved awareness of water resources and waste, though all of those things are important. We also need mature men and women who can stand upright and make choices that serve the general good, and if that means deferring their immediate gratifications, then so be it. A good place to start on that path is to stop glorifying these robber barons and their excesses and to stop perpetuating the frat boy culture on Wall Street and everywhere else that responsible and mature men and women with sound judgment and an unselfish view of the world are needed.
There is an irony here in that college fraternities could actually take on that role of initiating boys into men, teaching respectful leadership, rather than exploitation, but it appears (at the risk of generalizing) that most of them are getting their inspiration from those who went most recently before them. Hopefully, that will change before too long.
RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining romp that is currently being adapted for the big screen. Now available on Kindle.
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