Wall Street: A modest proposal
posted at 6:45 pm on April 2, 2011 by Jazz Shaw
In a brief era when the entire world seems to have reform on its mind, one portion of America’s open market plumbing has gone sadly overlooked. Even as we discuss the emergence of nascent democracies on the Arab Street and stripping down the corrosive costs of public sector unions at home, there remains one canker on the stiff upper lip of our free market republic which still awaits a salve. I speak, of course, of Wall Street and the public trading of so-called “stocks” in corporations around the globe.
Problems with Wall Street have been rampant for some time, but they were brought to light yet again this week when a friend of Warren Buffet’s was accused of fleecing the unwashed masses through the practice of insider trading. This particularly odious form of corruption has been rampant in the market since its inception, but there has never been a viable solution offered which might curb it until after the fact. It’s akin to assigning a pack of gray wolves as park rangers in charge of monitoring the herds of elk based on their solemn promise that they would never use the herd data they collect to single out and attack the oldest or weakest of the stags.
But insider trading is hardly the only problem inherent in the system. In fact the entire concept of “public trading” of shares in corporations has proven to be nothing but a recipe for disaster. Do any of us honestly believe that the “value” assigned to a company’s stock at any given moment bears any relationship to the true worth of the corporation? When the markets crashed in 2008, taking the biggest, bluest chips down the drain with them, were we to believe that the true total value of General Electric – with all of its buildings, equipment, patents and investments – had suddenly plunged by one third overnight?
Perhaps that was a poor example. Some of us might take GE’s failure to owe any federal taxes as an indication that they have no measurable net worth. But I digress.
The basic flaw in this system is that the public trading of shares absent any rational link to the company’s value has turned Wall St. into little more than a rigged Atlantic City casino with a patina of expensive business suits covering up the spilled drinks and cigarette burns. The time has come for change.
Most of you who, by definition, are a bit less swift than the leaders of the pack, are doubtless having one of those forehead slapping, “I could have had a V-8” moments right about now. But you are doubtless equally perplexed as to what can be done to right this unimaginable wrong. “What can we, as private citizens, do in the face of such an entrenched system?” I hear you saying. “We’re like a massive herd of millions of corrupt piggies, gorging at the trench of illicit gains, mired in a system which is too deeply embedded in the American economy to reform!”
Not so. A solution lies before us if only we have the collective will and fortitude to reach out and grasp it.
Step One: We shall make it illegal to trade shares in any company between individual investors, firms or any other financial entity. Any company wishing to publicly issue shares in their firms may do so based on an audited accounting of the true worth of the corporation. Any individual or group may purchase them, providing investment capital to the company. If the company prospers and their true value rises, the value of the stock will rise and everyone profits. If the firm does poorly, then it was a poor investment and everyone bears the weight of the loss. Investors may only sell the shares back to the issuing firm.
Step Two: Since the first step does nothing to address the corrupt inequities of past practices, redress must be made. In keeping with the principles of social justice and equality, the government shall seize all of the massive profits and bonuses paid to all of the Wall Street investment house executives and traders for the past 37 years. Not only will this settle the score in terms of fairness, but the resulting haul should pay down roughly 12.7% of the national debt. Given the concern we all share for the woeful state of the nation’s purse, this idea will prove wildly popular. It is, in the words of many less literate political pundits, a “win-win.”
Now, thoughtful observes will doubtless notice the glaring problem arising from Step Two above. What of these Wall Street executives who are suddenly faced with a bill amounting to tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars? There is more than a passing chance that they’ve already blown most of that cash on yachts, caviar, mansions and well heeled prostitutes. Others – even if they can pay off the tab – would be left without jobs… a tragedy none of us wish to face. What of them?
Not to worry. Having forseen these concerns I have already prepared…
Step Three: Wherein the federal government shall institute a time limited, scope limited period of indentured servitude where the former stock traders and investment bankers will serve as employees of the public, typing up stock certificates and doing the bean counting, investigative work required to determine the correct holdings value of the companies seeking to issue shares. Further, the towering offices of the brokers and investment firms shall be immediately converted to affordable, rent-controlled apartments where this new army of workers will be able to serve out fairly assigned terms of indenture with warm, clean living quarters and nutritious meals.
This plan, as I am sure you will all agree, will not only eliminate a vastly flawed and corrupt system of fiscal impropriety, but address long term issues of social and economic justice while, in the same breath, gaining great ground in returning America to a course of fiscal stability. Let us all pledge to forward this plan to our elected representatives at once and have it crafted into appropriate legislation.
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