The Big Short, Big Money, and Greed

In the past week I watched The Big Short and Concussion. Two movies that were out last year. The Big Short had some Oscar nominations. Concussion didn’t. After watching both, it’s simple to see why that happened.

  1. It’s easy to blast at Wall Street.
  2. We don’t DARE take down the new American god of football.

After watching The Big Short, I bought the book and finished it quickly. Michael Lewis is a great writer and the book moved quickly, even though he had to slog through a lot of financial jargon.

The Big Short and Concussion have the underlying themes of big money and greed. Here are some conclusions Lewis makes in his book (and just simply substitute “NFL” for “Wall Street” to understand how both behemoths truly operate).

Concerning all the changes made after the crash in 2008 (this would include both Bush and Obama administrations and legislation that followed):

The changes were camouflage. They helped to distract outsiders from the truly profane event: the growing misalignment of interests between the people who trafficked in financial risk and the wider culture.

For instance, I was in a quick conversation with someone after the second round of handouts were given (this time in the Obama administration). The stranger asked, “Well, I wonder how much money I’ll get from this new round of handouts.” I answered: “We can figure this out right now. In the last ten years have you given obscene amounts of money to any political party or candidate?” The response: “No.” My answer: “Then you get nothing.” (Which is pretty much how it worked under Bush and Obama in their “plans.”

There is a misunderstanding on “investing” on Main Street and “investing” on Wall Street. They are two very different animals, which may be why Warren Buffet lives in Omaha.

Greed on Wall Street was a given — almost an obligation… The line between gambling and investing is artificial and thin.

(Greed in the NFL is a given as well. The line between caring about the players and making a TON of money off the violence of the sport is thin as well. It may be just as artificial.)

Concerning the bailouts:

What are the odds that people will make smart decisions about money if they don’t need to make smart decisions — if they can get rich making dumb decisions?

The promises made by the Treasury Department before the first bailout evaporated once Congress gave the money to be doled out to banks that had willingly crashed the economy. Millions of dollars had already been paid to CEOs to actually leave their banks while billions were lost to investors.

Both movies and Lewis’s book have stirred my thinking once again.

It is only a reminder that we haven’t learned lessons… and this current election style will only further our ignorance. Those who think Bernie Sanders has a way out by “taxing Wall Street speculation” really haven’t paid attention to his plan, either. To his credit, he puts the “plan” out there for people to see. (He knows, like any good politician) people won’t really READ that thing, or understand it if they attempt to read it. He counts on that because if people DID pay attention they’d realize he isn’t going after the speculation as much as he is taxing regular “main street” investment.

I could give a response to Clinton’s claims and Trump’s claims as well, but they don’t pretend to NOT like Wall Street like Bernie claims. (I think he genuinely doesn’t like them. I just also think his “plan” is more political smoke and mirrors.)

What is clear from both movies is greed is a nasty thing. It captures the best of us if we’re not careful. And you certainly can’t get ahead of it in a secular society and legislate it away. It is truly a matter of the heart. And therein lies the rub. We have scrubbed religious discussion from the public square and so to speak of things as being “legal but immoral” just ring hollow. We want to scream that something “illegal” happened. We don’t want to scream something “immoral” happened… and that is a shame. (But then again, shame is a taboo word as well.)

We need our hearts examined and it all comes at a time when we don’t want a sense of “moral” obligation in our world.

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