Financial Entitlement in the US


Robert Lenzner, Forbes —

Don’t blame David Sokol’s  craving to make a fortune  and become a philanthropist on Warren Buffett’s understandable confidence  that  his leading heir-apparent would do nothing to embarass him and Berkshire Hathaway.

It was  David Sokol’s personal responsibility to tell Buffett on January 25th latest  that he  owned 96,000 shares of Lubrizol worth $10 million that, excuse me , he had  purchased  the first week of January, 2011, ahem, just 18 days before the Jan. 25th  decision to go ahead and  negotiate for Lubrizol.

Then, Buffett would have realized he had to reveal this stock activity in the merger materials, which was going to be an embarassment– even if he had ordered  Sokol to sell the shares before ANY negotiations.

This  is not an issue of corporate governance, that mushy concept that obfuscates what you should be born with– an ingrained sense of what is right and what is wrong.  Unfortunately, our celebrity culture has placed a priority on public excess, the insatiable need to be richer than the next guy,  keep up with the private equity billionaires, the hip-hop entrepreneurs with diamonds in their ear lobes, the Donald Trumps of the world.

Read today about the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac execs who were paid multiple  millions personally and presided over public  losses of billions. It’s  time to pull “The Rich And The Super Rich, A Study of  Money & Power And Who Really Owns America” out of the bookcase and  remind  myself of  the prevailing culture.

The Oscar-winning  documentary “Inside Job,” is deep-down a narrative of the insidious culture of financial entitlement, an invisible virus  at work  in the culture.  Cut the school budget, layoff policemen, cannibalize  training programs for the unemployed, don’t make GE pay any taxes etc. is  the dark side of the  culture of  financial entitlement.

Here  are some of the many examples of the virus at work in our recent history. The leading investment banker who  is also chairman of the investment bank’s regulator who buys shares of the investment bank at a  depressed price during the financial crisis  with full insight as to public  policy support for the  institution, and never has his wrist slapped.  Supported by his former  partner, who once held a high cabinet post, who assured me there  w as nothing wrong in taking advantage of inside knowledge to make an extra buck or two.

The  leading executive of a  public-private housing finance institution who brags to me that she got out just in time without being stained by the  crisis, her extraordinary small fortune  intact.

The phenomenon of a leading  bank, JP Morgan Chase allowing  $100 billion to be transferred back and forth between  the crook of the century, Bernie Madoff and another major client of the bank.  Or my alma mater, Goldman Sachs letting a  hedge fund  maven client pick out the lousy mortgages to go short  in a public offering.  Or Credit Suisse having to pay a fine of $535 million to  the government for violating the  sanctions against  doing business with knave nations  like Iran and the Sudan.

Just have a look at hedge fund biggie Raj Rajaratnam, blithley protesting  his innocence  of criminality  in the  biggest inside information trial ever, despite 19 guilty pleas  by others caught in his dishonest web.  Absurd.

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