We have a lot to learn from history. If we take a trip down Wall Street’s memory lane, we’ll discover that it was founded on the principle of creative destruction, the creation of new industries and companies that build better products and services than those we currently have. Instead, as Tom Friedman so eloquently stated in his column this week, they’ve fallen into the horrible habit of “financing too much “destructive creation” (inventing leveraged financial products with no more societal value than betting on whether Lindy’s sold more cheesecake than strudel).” This is a problem but is not yet one that is too far gone. I believe Wall Street, and by extension our economy and our society, can be saved.
Wall Street can create jobs outside its walls
Most job creation comes from start-ups – companies founded by passionate, insightful people seeing a pain they want to fix and then inventing a product or service to alleviate that pain. Maybe that’s the need for a better vacuum cleaner – thank you, Mr. Dyson – or maybe it’s the need to help creative get their projects funded by small contributions from a large group of strangers – thank you, Kickstarter.
Why can’t financial firms take a small portion of their earnings and provide more loans to start-ups at very low-interest rates? There’s plenty of waste going on in financial firms on projects that never take off beyond the ideation phase, money that would do just as much good being burned in the middle of the street. Instead, take that money and take a chance on a set of entrepreneurs who are trying to build something of value rather than rearrange value by moving money around in a big circle.
Consider it corporate philanthropy or just the right thing to do. Wall Street should figure out how to reinvent itself as a jobs creator, and that doesn’t mean hiring more bankers. It means funding people with good ideas that the world needs. About a year ago I wrote a letter to the CEO of the company I worked for and proposed this type of idea. He never responded; he may never have received the letter. But I’m going to give it a go again and point to a recent peer of his, Howard Schultz of Starbucks, who is doing something on par with this idea.
We’re all in this together
The Occupy Wall Street protectors and the banks have conspired together in a war of “us” (the people) against “them” (the banks). It doesn’t need to be that way. And actually it can’t be that way if we want our economic situation to improve. Like it or not, money and creative ideas, together, make the world go round. We’re in this life together, in this world together. And no one person has more of a right to a good life than any other. We are equals, and we need to start treating each other and supporting each other as such.