Wall Street's absurd celebration of its absurdities

It was a gala evening of celebration, libations, commendations… and insidious corporate cynicism.

It was a gala evening of celebration, libations, commendations… and insidious corporate cynicism.

Hosted in March by a financial trade publication, this annual black-tie awards dinner on Wall Street made news when the award for “Best Crisis Management” was handed out. Yes, an award actually exists for what amounts to PR deception, deflection, and dissembling by a corporation that has been caught making the year’s biggest-honking boo-boo. For example, the 2012 prize was taken by General Electric for its razzle-dazzle ducking and dodging over the fact that its reactors were at the core (literally) of the Fukushima nuclear nightmare in Japan.

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Equally stunning was this year’s awardee: JPMorgan Chase. America’s biggest bank was feted for its handling of last year’s embarrassing discovery that – oops! – investors lost $6.2 billion in bad trades made by one of the bank’s chief investment arms. Accepting the award for its media hocus-pocus, a Morgan executive quipped: “Crisis? What crisis?”

Such gaiety! Such absurdity. Especially since a US Senate subcommittee had just issued a devastating 300-page report showing that Morgan’s destructive corporate culture of greed and deception caused the loss – and that the bank’s top executives repeatedly misled investors, regulators, and the public at large about what really happened. Not only did they mislead, but they did so illegally, for it’s against the law for investment banks to make untrue statements about the risk of the securities they sell.

But Wall Street narcissism appears to be an antidote to personal embarrassment, for Morgan’s jolly bankers showed up to collect their “crisis management” award, even though everyone knew by then that they had grossly mismanaged their crisis. Wall Street is not merely absurd, it wallows in its absurdity.

“For J.P. Morgan, Lemons to Lemonade,” www.wsj.com, March 22, 2013.

“JP Morgan Gets an Award for London Whale Fiasco, Will Schneiderman Harpoon the Corruption? www.prwatch.org, March 26, 2013.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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