President Obama’s interview with Today’s Meredith Vieira on Tuesday morning made me realize that certain voices are not being heard by television viewers. Just because those voices are from Wall Street does not mean they should be muted. Granted, television viewers probably don’t want to hear those voices, but America, after all, is the land of equality—so let’s hear them out.
I’ve got a Ph.D. in psychology and make my living as a coach to Wall Street traders, so I can tell you what really goes on inside their minds.
I can assure you that Wall Street cares about the average American and they are hurt, yes hurt, that they are all clumped together and labeled as “greedy” or un-American.
The focus now is on the Wall Street banks, like Goldman Sachs, that have paid back their TARP money and are stockpiling cash to pay out bonuses at year-end. This disappoints our president, who says it shows the banks have not learned their lesson.
“The point is what you haven’t seen, I think, is a change in culture,” Obama said Tuesday. “A certain humility where they kind of step back and say, ‘Gosh, you know, we really messed things up and so maybe we should be more focused on the products that we are providing consumers. Let’s make sure that we are operating in a more secure, safe fashion.’”
Wall Street is a business like any other, and those who earn their living there feel they are entitled to the freedom and benefits afforded to any other hardworking, taxpaying American.
As one trader put it, “Wall Street did not create America…America created Wall Street.”
I have to admit he has a point.
It seems Wall Streeters really feel they have learned their lesson—or at least have been punished for their indiscretions. The industry did the crime and has done the time. Was the punishment severe enough? Did enough people at Lehman Brothers or Bear Stearns lose their jobs?
From the point of view of those who live in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, they are still struggling with significantly higher unemployment rates than the rest of the country. Jobs weren’t just lost, they were eliminated—it’s just as if the GM factory in your town closed down and now you have to move to find work.
And you know what? Many of those Wall Streeters are good, hardworking, honest Americans, just looking to raise their families in a safe, healthy environment like the rest of us.
One of my clients this week reminded me about the dangers of generalizing information when assessing an investment—it can lead to misguided decisions. While the average American may not care about Wall Street, I can assure you that Wall Street cares about the average American and they are hurt, yes hurt, that they are all clumped together and labeled as “greedy” or un-American.
Ironically, the world of Wall Street—entrepreneurial, capitalist—is very much American. “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” is America’s motto. My Wall Street clients are not trying to make friends with everyone, they are trying to earn a living, just like every other American across the country and as a result, they just want to be better understood by the rest of the country.
In every occupation there are bad, manipulative people who will try to rip off other trusting people. Maybe Wall Street has more. Maybe not. Maybe it just makes more interesting news for the media to talk about how many scumbags and Ponzi schemes there are on Wall Street.
Liars, cheaters, and morally bankrupt people exist everywhere, in every occupation—not just on Wall Street. And just because it’s discovered from time to time does not mean it is fair to generalize and trash an entire industry. Labeling all of Wall Street as criminals, in my clients’ opinion, is un-American, because it is, at its core, a form of prejudice based on an association someone has with an industry.
Just this week, a client of mine said he is, for the first time in his life, uncomfortable telling people he meets what he does for a living because he has seen how they look at him different, telling him he is “part of what is wrong with America.”
I’m not sharing what goes on in the heads of Wall Streeters to generate sympathy for them. That really is not what they want. I think what they are looking for is a deeper level of understanding of who they are, what they do, why they do it, and, more important, to let the rest of America know that while they may have chosen a different path and career choice than most, they bleed the same color, they love their children just as much and their tears are just as salty.
I know Obama is focused on what is in the best interest of all Americans, and it is clear he is passionate about his job. The Wall Streeters would like him to know that America created Wall Street, not the other way around, and if history has taught us anything, it is that generalizing a population based on the actions of a small portion of the population is not good for anyone.
Dr. Doug Hirschhorn is one of the premier trading coaches on Wall Street, whose client list includes Deutsche Bank and numerous billion-dollar hedge funds. The co-author of The Trading Athlete and the forthcoming 8 Ways to Great, he is a former columnist for Trader Monthly, and a regular commentator on CNBC.