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Wall Street blues

  • Jon Kelly
  • 15 Oct 08, 03:46 AM GMT

NEW YORK, NY: Here I was at last: Wall Street. So often in the past few weeks, since the $700bn bail-out, I'd heard that address spat out rather than spoken. Now I could see the focus of so many Americans' fury for myself.

It was narrower than I expected, less prepossessing. Then I noticed the glittering window displays of Tiffany's and the ostentatious frontage of Trump Building: conspicuous wealth wasn't quite so well-concealed after all.

As brusque, anxious-looking young men in suits bustled past me, I thought back to all the working people I'd encountered who had referred to America's financial institutions with fear, contempt and anger.

Steven SchimbleWell, here was my chance to pass on what they'd told me. Sitting outside the Stock Exchange, rubbing the bridge of his nose, was 48-year-old floor trader Steven Schimble. He wasn't having a good day: shares were dropping and forecasts were grim.

I introduced myself, explained what I was doing here. I'd been travelling across the US for the past month, I told him, and the ordinary Americans I'd spoken to were really angry. Angry about foreclosures, angry that the economy looked as if it was nosediving, angry that they'd had to bail out the companies they held responsible.

Steven was no Gordon Gekko: affable, pugnacious, speaking with a grainy New York twang. He threw up his hands - of course everyone thought it was all his fault.

"I just saw a guy in the street throw something at one of the traders," he said. "Everyone blames Wall Street because they know the address.

"But down on the floor, we were executing orders to the best of our ability. It was all down to the big banks: blame Lehmann Brothers, blame JP Morgan, blame Bear Stearns."

This wouldn't be enough to placate people, I said. Those who had seen their investments wiped out, and were then asked to come to the rescue with their tax dollars, surely had a right to be upset.

"Right," he nodded. "But investing in stocks is like gambling in a casino. It's legalised gambling. We need to make people aware of that."

Billy McInerneyHe called over his friend and fellow trader, 45-year-old Billy McInerney. Billy needed a break, too: he'd already seen the exchange fall by 300 points since the morning.

I ran through everything I'd told Steven: people out there were livid at the whole financial system.

Billy looked skywards. "It all comes down to mortgages. Giving people who make $50,000 loans for $200,000 houses: I wouldn't sign up for those terms, and I make five times as much."

He could understand, though, why people felt such a strong sense of injustice.

"Look, I don't like it either," he sighed. "But we need to do this. If we don't, then we go into recession and more people lose their jobs."

I had to give them credit for answering the charges against them. Faced with an entire nation's hostility, I might have preferred to keep a low profile. But essentially their message was: it was someone else's fault.

Not everyone on Wall Street was a banker or a broker, however. At the junction with Broadway, 49-year-old Asif Khan was packing away his fruit stall.

Asif Khan Business was terrible, he told me. Sales were down by 50% - even the traders were spending less. "The only thing I'm selling more of is bananas, because you can get three for $1," he grimaced.

The slowdown was hurting Asif, who had moved to New York from Pakistan in 1985. He had a wife and a 12-year-old daughter over in Queens to support. I wondered if he blamed his customers for the downturn.

He shook his head. "No, it's not them I blame. It was the White House - they should have put proper regulation in place.

"The only people they cared about were the billionaires, not the middle class - that's what got us into trouble."

At last, a charitable view of the banks and the Stock Market. Asif's opinion that politicians were ultimately responsible will be widely shared. But I don't think the rest of the country is ready to forgive Wall Street just yet.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    It's pretty crazy not to to blame the fools who borrowed large amounts of money for bigger houses and then couldn't pay it back. They must share at least equal blame with the banks. These men you interviewed are (smart and skillful) clerks and had nothing to do with it.

  • Comment number 2.

    Asif Khan is half right - but he could have summarised the problem with two words: Alan Greenspan.

  • Comment number 3.

    The trader on the floor knows that there is risk. The man on the street doesnt want to know there is risk.

  • Comment number 4.

    dcasten

    You mean those with "money and brains" bankers share equal blame with those that has "no money" and "no brains" (you called them 'fools') borrowers for bringing USA's economy down.

    So this is USA capitalism: the 'fools' share 50% blame for economic troubles and the "moneyed and brainy" bankers get 100% credit for economy's advancement.

  • Comment number 5.

    #3 the problem is that the money the trader on the floor is risking isn't his- its the man on the street's. Its very easy to gamble with someone elses money especially as when the trader wins HE makes a fat bonus, whereas if he loses the guy on the street ends up penniless, not the trader.

  • Comment number 6.

    Who's to blame?
    The Banks and Mortgage Brokers who offered massive Mortgages to people who obviously could not repay them - but they still got their inflated commissions; inflated by their lying, manipulating and downright fraud.
    Or the family who were offered all this money to blame? They were supposed to say, "Hell, no. I don't want all that cash".
    The highly educated lenders were supposed to be the smart ones. Obviously they aren't so smart after all.

  • Comment number 7.

    So now, just because you can make it there selling toxic assets, it doesn't mean that you can make it anywhere !!

    Welcome to New York, New York !! The place they cheated the Native Americans out of with $5 worth of glass beads !! Now they foist the same rubbish on the rest of the world !!

  • Comment number 8.

    I don't the laymen of Wall Street should get the blame. The are just a tool for people to gamble their money. Anyone who does put their money into stock and doesn't know that they're gambling/risking losing their money shouldn't have money. It's common sense.

    @6
    I disagree. It like saying because there was boys around the girl couldn't say no. People should understand the obvious: Credit is money lent to you, it not your money.

    I agree regulations should better in place for those who lack brains, or "fools" as the others say. BUT.... I don't think everyone who foreclosed their house where "fools", even if they are calling themselves "fools" right now.

    People need to learn to be responsible and live within their means.

    Only one group of people I have pity for and that is pensioners. They've put their money it hedgefunds and others expecting them to make secure, steady money for them when the no longer work. But instead these "safe" investors are caught with their hands in the fast-money cookie jar.

    Of course, I don't think people should retire from all work activity, but that is besides point.

  • Comment number 9.

    Easy to blame the traders--they wear the funny jackets and badges.

    Lots of anger, made more difficult because so many are to blame.

    Beginning with ourselves, of course, and that's the tough part. I don't advocate self-hatred, but long slow look in the mirror over the next year or so could not hurt any of us.

    If our money goes away(which to some extent will happen to us all), what then do we truly value?

    I used to see a bumper sticker posted on cars that said: The Guy Who Dies With The Most Toys Wins

    Maybe it should read: The Guy Who Dies With The Most Toys Dies

    In the meantime, what are we contributing to the lives around us. How are we adding value to our families, churches, communities, etc.?

    In the meantime, buy fruit from the Mr. Asifs, and don't throw it at the traders--Asif shouldn't have to starve over this, and it's not the traders' fault.

  • Comment number 10.

    The people to blame are the people who still believe there is such a thing as free money after we've done this a dozen times. It all has to come from somewhere and nobody is going to give it to you without good reason.

    When people recognize that they have to earn there keep the markets will finally work as they should.

  • Comment number 11.

    I blame Bush and his Republicans for the worldwide mess we, in developed nations, are in.
    Bush and his cohorts leashed havoc with less restrictions on the banks and Wall Street. The greed set in and here we are with half of what we had or less, no means to retire or get on with life.
    The people who succumbed to large mortgages at knock down prices wouldn't have been able to get those mortgages if the rules hadn't been changed.
    I must say McCain also voted to allow this to happen. Now he says he wants to name names.
    This is what happens when you have a candidate for the Presidency who has that personality trait of a fighter pilot, one who is somewhat reckless and ruthless and of a dare devil nature,\; oh, and short tempered.
    I only hope I have the chance to recoup my money I worked so hard to save, just like most of us who are at retirement age.
    You Americans who read this should remember just who changed the rules for banks and Wall Street when you come to vote on November 4th.

  • Comment number 12.

    World writer you do realize that democrats especially during Bill Clintons times also voted for derugulation. you do realize that this problem didn't just happen under republicans and bush these past 8 years.

  • Comment number 13.

    with cunning & guile they swept through the corridoors of power, taking vast sums of insrance policy and mortgages, packaged them up as bonds and took the sharpest knife in the kitchen and carefully connived thier way forward slicing the bonds into little slivers and sold the toxit debt round the world to other stupid fools who thought "hey, look at this, this is fantastic" not realising the debt they were selling were to those who could not afford it.. it reminds me of the old Arab street traders and the thief of Baghdad tricking you out of a coin. Pure deciept and fraudulent actions by those at the top. It may come as big shock to `em when they come to pay the price themselvesone day coming soon.

  • Comment number 14.

    The blame game does not help. I can be mad all I want, but all it will do is wreck MY health.
    Don't complain, work to fix the problem.

  • Comment number 15.

    The facts are, hard working honest men and women do not count for much in a capitalistic corporate world full of crooks, thieves and corrupted politicians.

    I was hoping to see some of these corporate crooks jump off buildings but thanks to the equally corrupted US Congress, they saved the day for them and screwed the hard working honest men and women once more.

    The sad part is, these governmental "lawmakers" and it's corrupted corporate crooks live for today. They have no visions for the future and the future of the country. They have, once more, robbed the future or hijacked from children.

    Ronald Reagan policies of decentralization and deregulations has indeed, left a terrible legacy for our country and our children.

    Only in the USA.

  • Comment number 16.

    that trader billy said it all, he's a very smart man who makes a lot of cash. i can talk to people that smart for hours, also he is very goodlooking

 

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