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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The end of entitlement?

    In an extravagant sideshow to the real problems facing many of our financial institutions, popular media have chided Wall Street “”excesses”” as signs of the corrupt culture at the heart of our current recession. These “”excesses”” have run the gamut from $50 million corporate jet purchases and $18.4 billion in executive bonuses to former Merrill Lynch/Bank of America executive John Thain’s $1,400 trash can and $68,000 19th century credenza (whatever that is).

    Although many, including President Barack Obama, consider these acts “”shameful”” in light of receiving Troubled Assets Relief Program money, few are asking the real questions of why executives act so imprudently while the economic ship is sinking? What could explain such catatonic behavior from the supposed investors of our futures?

    The answer is not simple. But it is probably inherent in how as a society we have institutionalized entitlement and how we have too narrowly defined success. Principally, success is the celebrated accumulation of wealth and power, and entitlement is derived from assuming the accumulation of these brings one additional merit in its own right. Moreover, as much as we talk of Wall Street’s problems spilling over to innocent, sweet Main Street, the culture of entitlement actually metastasized itself from within our own back yards.

    No one has ever blamed a baby for wetting the bed, the sun for rising too early (maybe sometimes) or even Starbuck’s for pricing a latte exorbitantly high. We may not like these things, but as a society we have inherently accepted them because they persist despite our annoyance. Financial institutions are no different, and their culture of entitlement is a byproduct of our own laziness. The problem is we have never demanded an alternative standard from which to exact true responsibility. Thus, we cannot blame the investment bankersÿ- i.e., nerds and juniors, for being anything but who they already are: nerds and juniors.

    It does little good to “”Monday Morning Quarterback”” bank failures and think we have done any justice in this world. Likewise, it isn’t particularly clever or poignant to denounce executive self-interest as if Gordon Gecko cares anyway.

    If we really want to end entitlement, it starts with re-defining success. A complex demand, but to start with it means de-emphasizing academic achievement for the sake of financial reward and re-emphasizing integrity as more than a mere accessory to the outfit we call life.

    America’s warped metric of success is inherent in the insecurity we promote and opportunity for reward impressed upon us from a very early age. If you think about it, the high school jock gets the girl, the rebel gets all the attention, and the highest grade point average gets the wonderful opportunity to slave away for another four years.

    Upon entering college, this process replicates itself to the glee of delayed gratification for some and the harsh drawback of reality for most. In an ideal world, at some point in this process, the benevolence of our institutions are supposedly charged with impressing upon us the responsibility of power, indoctrinating a sense or morality and instilling in us the desire to add value to the lives of others. Unfortunately, this assumption is flawed and drastically underscores the failure of our educational institutions to instill any sense of social welfare.

    Wall Street’s entitlement is bred from the polarizing environment we encourage, á la laissez-faire, that rewards objective, monetary gains as the measure of our actual worth and ignores any caveat of societal good as a temper to profit maximization.

    Everyone can observe the gluttony upon our doorstep; the problem is, not only has it been there for many years, but it also happens to be the acne on our faces we don’t want to proactively get rid of. If we continue to narrowly define success, the Wall Street executive will always be “”justified”” and entitled to his or her megalomania and will continue to “”justifiably”” bleed our financial system to death. It is time to re-evaluate how we have systematically allowed those who have been thinking with both heads to not only get their bonuses but also manage to screw over the rest of society. Unfortunately for us, this paternity test links this fathering to Main Street and not its surrogate Wall Street.

    If we are to rid our financial institutions of any sense of entitlement we must collectively re-examine what we Americans celebrate, promote and lastly what the ideals of the 21st century will mean for the 21st century businessmen.

    As of right now, casting petty stones at financial institutions to be more frugal is more joke then provocation. Similarly, any dictum of shame is laughable, especially when directed to the bankers who are laughing this charade for regulation and accountability all the way to the bank.

    – Paul Cervantes is an accounting senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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