Even for the Wall Street Journal, this is over the top. Bret Stephens whines that he just can’t understand why people keep picking on “the most demonized people in America,” people who work on Wall Street. How can that be? All the ones he knows are
prodigiously bright and slyly funny, reasonably wealthy but rarely ostentatious[!!], family men[!!] of the type who show up at school auctions and United Jewish Appeal dinners. Maybe they voted for Barack Obama the first time, probably not the second. They’re the people who, even now, make American finance the envy of the world.
Maybe the envy but not the most respected. According to Gallup, they are near the bottom for trustworthiness, in part because of the very avalanche of fines and violations Stephens refers to in his piece, while trying to argue that it’s just a few bad apples. Stephens mistakes envy and class warfare for old-fashioned contempt, well-earned, which is more than we can say for those outrageous pay packages.
If any of those bad apples had gone to jail or even been barred from working on Wall Street or serving on a board, Bernie Sanders’ message would not be resonating so strongly with voters. Unfortunately, it is Panglossian, Marie Antoinette-ish boosterism like this #onepercentlivesmatter column that, far more than Sanders’ rhetoric, fuels criticism of Wall Street and the financial services industry. The reputational hit taken by this sector is what we call a market test. And it takes more than showing up at school auctions and avoiding ostentation to fix that.