Monday, August 23, 2010

Week of 08/23/2010

The Wall Street Job
– by David Matthews 2

If you have never seen TNT’s original cable series “Leverage” before, you really need to.

The series stars Academy-Award winner Timothy Hutton as a former insurance investigator who brings together some of the best criminals in the world and has them doing good deeds. Each of the people he brings in are the best in their particular specialty, from hacking to safecracking to grifting to strong-arming, and they each realize that they can do a whole lot of good by scamming the rich and powerful and bringing them to justice over the poor and powerless.

We need some folks like that in the real world.

Correction: we need A LOT of folks like that in the real world.

Correction again: we need a whole LEGION of folks like that in the real world.

One of the key reasons why this show is so successful is that it actually plays TWO con jobs with every episode. The one that you know about… and the one that comes out of left field.

The first con job is the one designed for the rich and powerful bad guy. They’re going to see to it that justice is served, but they don’t seem to have everything under control. It’s almost a comedy of errors. Nothing seems to work right, luck isn’t on their side, or maybe the bad guy is just too good or too skilled or just too powerful…

And then right at the very end is when they spring the SECOND con job… the one played on the AUDIENCE. Because we the audience only sees PART of the con… the set-up, the part that the bad guy is supposed to figure out. But we don’t realize until the very end that it was all part of the overall con job to lower the bad guy’s defenses and make him or her believe that they have won when really they’ve lost everything. It’s only after the trap has been sprung that we see the rest of the story and we see that the crew had been in control of everything from day one.

It’s the same magic from the “Oceans Eleven” movie, although it never really was carried over into the sequels. You only tell part of the story, you make people believe that the favored cons failed when in fact they were playing with the audience and the bad guys all this time. And then you show what the audience didn’t get to see before, the bad guy gets caught, the good guys win, everyone gets a good laugh, roll the credits.

Unfortunately, such kind-hearted grifters and thieves don’t exist in the real world. And we desperately need them now more than ever.

Instead we are given ringside seats to the biggest ongoing con game in recent history. Bigger than “Pig-in-a-Poke”, bigger than “Nigerian Prince”, or the “Fiddle Game”, or even “Three Card Monty”.

No, we’re talking “THE WALL STREET JOB”!

This is the ultimate in confidence tricks, requiring several different cons all running at different times to produce the overall result. But make no mistake; no matter how many plans are spinning like plates on poles, the overall plan ALWAYS manages to deliver!

We start with a little misdirection… a short-cut if you will; much like the “get rich quick” schemes, only this is directed at governments large and small. They spin this fantasy of a utopian community with luxury homes, gourmet shops, joyful businesses, top-notch medical centers, and more than enough tax revenue to fund every pet program and be the envy of the country. The politicians wouldn’t have to worry about re-elections because their campaign coffers would be fat with generous donations and the masses wouldn’t be complaining about potholes and failing services.

It’s a beautiful fantasy, isn’t it? And the politicians can have it too. All they have to do is just focus all of their attention on the smallest portion of their constituency… the ones with all of the money. It seems almost second nature to politicians, but we’re talking about them having to put on a whole dog-and-pony show where they claim to represent EVERYONE and yet have to abandon MOST of the people just so they can concentrate their time and attention to the people up top.

For lack of a better term, we’ll just refer to these people as “Wall Street”, and the rest of the constituency as “Main Street”.

To further sell this scheme, “Wall Street” has to rely on other people to come in as experts. We’re talking advisors, consultants, and think-tank organizations. These experts spin the belief that “Wall Street’s” gain is really “Main Street’s” gain, as “Wall Street” would automatically “share the wealth” with “Main Street”. All the politicians have to do is worry about “Wall Street” and keep them happy and “Wall Street” will in turn make “Main Street” happy. And the best way to keep “Wall Street” happy is to give them whatever they want; no questions asked.

Of course the experts are really a part of “Wall Street”, but they come off as being “impartial observers” so well that nobody suspects it.

So when “Wall Street” says that regulations hurt their productivity, the experts will sell the idea that fewer regulations and lax oversight will result in faster production and greater profits. And greater profits are good, right? Because it means that “Wall Street” will “share the wealth” with “Main Street” and everyone would be happy.

Okay, so a bunch of “Main Street” businesses are bought up by “Wall Street”, but that’s supposed to be a good thing according to the experts. It means better resources for those businesses. It means more profit for “Wall Street” because it then supposedly turns into good times for “Main Street” in general.

And when “Wall Street” says they need to “optimize” their resources by removing redundancy and shutting down local banks and stores and “streamline” processes by sending jobs to third world nations, nobody notices it, because the politicians are only looking at the profit margins and seeing those go up.

And when “Wall Street” is finally pressured to hire more people they will tell the politicians “Yeah, we’ll hire more people. In fact we’ll hire a thousand new employees. Oh, by the way, thank you for those 1000 work visas you gave us earlier so we don’t have to worry about hiring all of those local people we laid off before. Now we can bring in a whole new crowd of people from other countries that will appreciate the substandard wages we will pay them, and then get rid of them by ending their visas when they start to complain.”

Now the beauty of “The Wall Street Job” is that even if certain elements happen to fail, the overall plan doesn’t, because as long as the attention is focused on “Wall Street’s” profits, everything else can go to hell and nobody will care. Workplace morale, abysmal production quality, declining real wages, poor turnovers… it doesn’t matter as long as profit margins continue to rise. Bad managers may destroy a business from the inside-out, but they also get cushy contracts that give them hundreds of millions in severance, plus they are free to go find another business to do the same thing to.

This part of the con really went to the next level in 2008, when the politicians were convinced that they should spend BILLIONS on bailouts to give to “Wall Street”. “Wall Street” promises that the money would then be spent on “Main Street”, but they don’t really say how or when. The money is put in their coffers, their profit margins soar, and the politicians think that the problem is thereby solved… only “Main Street” doesn’t really see any new jobs. When asked about the money, “Wall Street” conveniently says that the market is just too “unstable” right now to invest the money in, even though they were GIVEN the money to specifically prevent the market from being “unstable”!

And through it all… nobody in “Main Street” or the political world are seeing what is really going on.

Let’s get brutally honest here… we are being CONNED!

We have been led to believe that the success of “Wall Street” is equal to the success of “Main Street” when the two are completely different entities! “Wall Street” is about one thing and one thing only: IMMEDIATE PROFIT. They don’t care HOW they make it, they don’t care who they have to step on to make it, and they don’t care if they have to break laws or rules or even whole communities to get it.

You look at all of the notorious business enterprises, the darlings of “Wall Street”, and you see one common element: their obsessive fixation on short-term immediate PROFIT. They just need to get their “numbers”, and that is all that matters to them. Everything else and everyone else can go to hell. Enron, WorldCom, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, they were all fixated on PROFIT. They didn’t care about long-term survival. They just needed to make their numbers TODAY and worry about tomorrow when it comes about.

“Main Street” is about permanence. It is about the LONG-TERM. When “Main Street” welcomes a new business into the community, they don’t think that the business will only be around for six months or even a year. They’re looking at a business and seeing LONG-TERM. They expect every business that comes in to have jobs that are LONG-TERM. People cannot engage in things such as getting a home mortgage or buying a new car or planning for a vacation or redecorating or remodeling if they do not have a sense of LONG-TERM stability to back it up! They will not get a twenty-year mortgage if they don’t know if they will still have a job six months down the road.

In the first season of “Leverage”, the newly-reformed grifters and thieves were shocked to discover that they had a central building to go to, and individual offices, and email accounts. They were so used to just focusing on the next immediate short-term scheme that they didn’t realize that their new venture would be so… permanent.

And that, above everything else, spells out the difference between “Wall Street” and “Main Street”. “Main Street” sees “Wall Street” as a long-term partner. “Wall Street” considers “Main Street” to be just another mark, just another victim to scam. We need to start recognizing this difference and act accordingly, or else we will not have a “Main Street” left to call our own.

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