Tuesday, November 12, 2013

We’d Prefer You Not Use the Term ‘Lizard’

“Welcome to another broadcast of ‘Encounters With the Unspeakable.’  I’m your host, Chuck Anthony, and we have an exciting guest for you this evening.  Lloyd Blankluch is the CEO of one of our major multinational investment banking firms.  He has been involved in a pioneering effort to tap into the unrealized potential of men buried in our overburdened criminal justice system.  Lloyd, welcome to the program.  Can you give us an overview of Project Chameleon?”

“Glad to, Chuck.  And thanks for having me.  In a nutshell, Project Chameleon is a job training program created by a group of Wall Street’s leading investment firms.  We identify promising men who are currently part of the huge prison population in this country.  Then we take the cream of the crop and provide them with sophisticated training that prepares them to enter jobs in the financial sector once they are released.”

“Are you talking janitorial positions here, Lloyd?  Elevator operators?  Doormen?”

[Laughing]  “Hardly, Chuck.  These men move immediately into entry-level managerial  positions once they exit the graybar hotel.”

“So the significance of your project’s name is....?”

“These guys will trade their orange jumpsuits for half a dozen business suits in navy, black, pinstripes, and various shades of gray as soon as they walk out the prison gates.  With their suits and values, they’ll blend in perfectly in their new environment.”

“Knowing the way  the financial sector works, Lloyd, I suspect this isn’t an entirely altruistic venture on your part.”

“Lord no!  This is a win-win situation for everyone.  So many of these men are trapped in a revolving door that returns them again and again to prison.  They get a chance to escape the recidivism cycle, and the financial sector gets a highly motivated work force with the aptitudes and temperament to re-energize our entire industry.”

“What are those qualities you’re looking for, Lloyd?  Are they key in the screening process?”

“They’re the core not only of the screening process, Chuck, but of the whole program.  They’re that important.”

“So you’re looking for...?”

“We’ve identified five traits that characterize the upper management of Wall Street firms.  Greed.  Energy.  Decisiveness.  Numerical literacy.  Ruthlessness.  And Amorality.”

“Uh, I counted six items there, Lloyd.”

“We don’t require a high degree of numerical literacy, Chuck.  That’s what accountants are for.”

“Of course.  Pardon me.  I have to say though, Lloyd, some of those sound a little rough!”

“Investment banking and securities isn’t for the tender-hearted, Chuck.  It’s a big-boys game.  You have to be willing to destroy communities, ruin lives, devastate the landscape, impoverish millions, even turn the planet into a giant toaster oven in order to turn a short-term profit.”

“I would think that would be a ... difficult ... set of criteria to use when selling the program.”

“I was using the informal version, Chuck.  We generally rephrase them for public consumption.”

“So you recast ‘greed’ as ....?”



“Willingness to make the tough decisions.”





“And ‘impoverish millions’?”

“Job creation.”

“Ah, I see.  Gotcha.  I’m just thinking out loud here, but the idea of a chameleon is that only its outer appearance changes.  The inner lizard remains the same.”

“That’s correct, Chuck.  But we’d prefer you not use the term ‘lizard’.”

“No problem.  But if these same criminal qualities are at work in both the underworld and the corporate world, wouldn’t we expect to see some chameleons reverting to their old colors, trading their drab business suits for bright orange prison jumpsuits?”

“That’s the beauty of the financial sector, Chuck, and what makes our program so attractive to inmates.  We tell them, ‘Say farewell to prison.  Either we’ve legalized every crime we commit, or we’re too big to be held accountable.  A broker’s license is quite literally a license to steal.’” 

“I guess that isn’t a hard sell, to somebody doing time.”

“You’d be surprised!  These guys are skeptics to begin with.  It’s counterintuitive, you know, that the more you steal the lower the risk.”

“So what convinces them?”

“Data.  Hard facts.  ‘Don’t take our word for it,’ we tell them.  ‘Check things out on the Internet.’  Look up SAC Capital Advisors, for instance--maybe the most profitable hedge fund in history.  They bet on corporate securities with the advantage of insider secrets they obtained illegally.  Just this past week they pled guilty to security and wire fraud and are anteing up $1.2 billion as part of the settlement.  But here’s the sweet part. Nobody is going to jail.  Not a single soul!  And the company will still turn a profit!  And Steve Cohen, who owns and manages it, will still be worth more than $8 billion after he pays his fine!  I mean ‘Hello!  Have I got a deal for you!’  Financial crime pays really, really well nowadays, with near-zero risk of jail time.  If you’re somebody serving five to ten years for stealing a few hundred dollars, and then you’re offered an opportunity to steal billions without doing a day behind bars, wouldn’t you jump at the chance?”

© Tony Russell, 2013

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