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Why I Had to Get Out: Confessions of a Wall Street Insider

The culture of Wall Street is pervasive and contagious. I drank the Kool Aid. I'm out of it now. But I'd like to tell you what it was like.

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This attitude extends to higher-stakes games as well. Take the case, SEC v. Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. According to the SEC, in 2007 Citigroup sold its clients a portfolio of assets (mortgage-backed securities, as it happens) that Citi was actively betting against. The SEC charged Citigroup with securities fraud; it's been reported that the fearsome regulatory agency won't settle for anything less than a $285 million fine. Looks bad, right? Well, yes, unless you consider that, according to Forbes, Citigroup allegedly made $160 million on this one deal (investors lost $700 million). Citigroup looks like it's going to lose $125 million! But how many similar deals have gone un-prosecuted? If the answer is one, Citigroup is back in the black; if the answer is more than one, then Citigroup is doing very well, thank you. This is why paying fines when you are caught breaking the rules is simply deemed the cost of doing business on Wall Street.

Poker is extremely popular across Wall Street, and provides an instructive lesson. The book Poker Winners Are Different by industrial psychologist and poker adviser Alan Schoonmaker presents a scenario where a player notices his best friend's "tell"--that is, the best friend has a habit of showing when he has a good or bad hand. The book then poses the following dilemma: should you a) tell your friend; b) win a bit of money from him and then tell him; or c) exploit your friend, never telling him. The correct answer: screw your friend. Schoonmaker, who used to do "management development" work at Merrill Lynch, writes that winners will "do whatever the rules and ethics allow to maximize their profits." This behavior is heralded in poker and it's heralded on Wall Street. Despite what may be emblazoned on plaques or in mission statements, the ethics of Wall Street are purely about winning at any cost.

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If they didn't know it going in, Wall Street employees quickly learn that even their company is an enemy. To the firm, employees are a cost to be minimized, or a producer to be exploited. You also learn that you must never show gratitude for your bonus. To appear satisfied with your compensation is to admit that they paid you more than they had to, so you must feign outrage no matter what. What happens to a culture that discourages gratitude?

But most people on Wall Street do not feel gratitude anyway. It does not matter that their compensation is enormous compared to the average American's--that is not who a Wall Street worker is comparing herself to. She is looking at the compensation of the top sales person, the top trader, or, at the very top, the CEO.

What this environment did to me is that I began to see everyone as a threat. From that idiot two cubicles down from me, to the moron on the other end of the phone (the client), to--more than anything--the faceless, imagined people on government assistance that I assumed (incorrectly) were causing such large percentages to disappear from my paycheck.

Many of the adverse reactions to OWS have been along the lines of, "They're just jealous." Of course the Wall Street critics think OWS is about envy. Envy is part and parcel of their daily lives. When you are living in a culture of envy, you see envy everywhere you go. Why wouldn't you think envy is at the core of our movement, too?

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The envy and hostility of Wall Street leads many to a common goal: to amass enough money so as to enact your revenge. This end goal is called fuck-you money.

 
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