America was built on the concept of individual ambition in a system of free enterprise, which, for want of a better word, can also be called greed.
The Mecca of mercantilism has long been centered on Wall Street at the southern tip of the island of Manhattan. Originally Wall Street was actually a wall; a fortified barrier along the northern boundary of New Amsterdam sealing off the enclave of Dutch traders as they pursued their commercial enterprises, protected from and oblivious to the less affluent natives to the north. In all the years since, little has changed. Wall Street continues to be the ultimate gated community of financial privilege and power. Though the first president moved his capitol from Wall Street to the marshes of the Potomac in 1800, the nation’s center of wealth and the power it brings, has remained entrenched in the financial fortress on New York Bay.
Few presidents have challenged the preeminence of Wall Street, indeed, most have thrived on it. Lincoln did manage to resist Wall Street’s attempts to settle with the Confederacy and FDR succeeded in wrestling power from the bankers after they were crushed by the folly of their own greed.
This week, under circumstances not unlike those in 1933, and ironically, by a president of the race Lincoln fought to free, the Barons of Wall Street were called to account for their shameful acts.
Such a reprimand of the business community by the chief executive may not be uncommon in some countries – Beijing commissars regularly chide Shanghai merchants, British peers are known to lecture their merchant class – Japanese zaibatsu bow to bureaucratic edicts – but in the United States of America, the home of free enterprise, it is usually considered un-American, even Marxist, for Washington to challenge Wall Street.
Whatever your nationality or ideology, you really do have to be impressed with President Obama’s smackdown on the money giants.
An extract from the president’s comments with key phrases highlighted:
“One point I want to make is …when I saw …that Wall Street bankers had given themselves $20 billion worth of bonuses …. at a time when most of these institutions were teetering on collapse and they are asking for taxpayers to help sustain them, and when taxpayers find themselves in the difficult position that if they don’t provide help that the entire system could come down on top of our heads — that is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful.
And part of what we’re going to need is for folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint and show some discipline and show some sense of responsibility. The American people understand that we’ve got a big hole that we’ve got to dig ourselves out of — but they don’t like the idea that people are digging a bigger hole even as they’re being asked to fill it up.” — Barack Obama, 1/29/09 [For the complete text click on the White House]