It’s fashionable to slam the government – things are too bureaucratic, too ponderous, its workers are out for their pension and don’t put in any real hours or do any real work. Since the economy crashed a few years ago, it’s become fashionable to slam Wall Street and Big Business. Beyond doubt, it’s too difficult to terminate the people who see government work as their own little gravy train, or to oversee those in business who use their expertise and inside status to enrich themselves while decimating the economy. The issue that struck me hard recently, though, is that I know a lot of these people and the generalizations just don’t hold water.
My best friend is an attorney for DOJ, and he’s one of the most principled and hard-working people I’ve ever known. I’d put my life in his hands without a second thought. I have a friend from college who is a vice president with a perfume company, and she is bright and funny and motivated. Several of my fraternity brothers are in big business. Overwhelmingly, when I’ve talked to all of these friends about what moves them the issue has come down to creating jobs and prosperity for those in their divisions. Just a couple of weeks ago, I reconnected with a close friend from high school who is with JP Morgan Chase in London – that man would walk through fire to make sure he did right by other people.
The idea that “a few bad apples spoil the bunch” is not original. I used to enjoy the phrase we threw around in practice, that “98% of attorneys are out there giving the rest of us a bad name.” The truth is, though, that people are who they are – I honestly don’t believe most of us got into a particular injury because of our moral fiber. Most of us aren’t even in the industry that would really suit our personalities (performing arts excepted). If you don’t believe me, look at the job satisfaction numbers that we have thrown in our faces constantly – I’d much rather have been an engineer or an architect, I just didn’t know it when I was making choices that locked me into a career path.
I can laugh at myself, but the general futility in generalizing people by their professions is why I’ve never really enjoyed lawyer jokes. The way I earn money tells you very little about who I am. Congressional hearings attacking Wall Street greed don’t tell you anything about my friends. As with generalizations regarding race or religion or what’s in people’s music collections, the recent and widespread attacks on “greedy Wall Street” are stupid. Congress wants the stock brokers to clean up their act, but they also want their firms to stop awarding bonuses to middle management that would enable them to keep the people they need to do that. Every one of these people is an individual and I guess I’ve just had enough of listening to entire segments of the economy slammed.