Wall Street’s largest trade group has started a campaign to counter the “populist” backlash against bankers, enlisting two former aides to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to spearhead the effort.
In memos of confidential meetings with top financial executives, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association said it began this month the “execution phase” of the operation, which pledges to “embrace change” and accountability. The plan targets policy makers and the media in New York, London, Washington and Brussels and calls for a “city-by-city, grass roots” approach.
The securities industry “must be perceived as part of the solution, which will allow it to better defend against populist overreaction,” the documents, prepared for a June 17 meeting of SIFMA’s board, said.
The board meeting minutes and staff-written papers, obtained by Bloomberg News, outline the program crafted by polling, lobbying and public relations companies paid at least $85,000 a month. The memos provide a glimpse, in often candid language, into how Wall Street is grappling with its pariah status.
“It is imperative that in this historic period of reform, the industry be recognized as playing a positive role in seeking change and providing solutions to the problems we face,” one of the documents said. “There is currently widespread skepticism about the industry’s commitment to this needed change.”
Gee, I wonder why that might be. I've pointed to this mentality before, but it's worth repeating. Wall Street and the financial companies were deeply involved in separating the financial system from reasonable, small-risk investments and actual economic value. The same bloc pushed for the loosening of regulations that made this possible, and they enjoyed the ridiculous level of profits only possible in a financial bubble.
Now it's blown up in their faces and the industry dubs it a "populist overreaction" and wonders what slick ad might get them out of the hole. In more prosperous times, that might work. Now, however, I doubt the recently unemployed or homeless will give two shits.
The anger won't go away until the underlying causes do. The larger question is where it will be directed, who will take advantage of it and what the results will be.
For what it's worth, I think Matt Taibbi's Howard Beale-style rant in Rolling Stone is a lot closer to the public pulse than anything a highly paid lobbying firm could produce. There's a certain obliviousness fostered by the increasingly isolated upper classes that will result in a lot of these appeals having all the cluelessness of "let them eat cake."