The Stockholm Syndrome at the Wall Street Journal?

by | Nov 5, 2002

The markets, big business and Wall Street have been held hostage by politicians and regulators for so long that the hostages are starting to identify with their kidnappers. How else can you explain the October 30th Wall Street Journal front pager, breathlessly recounting the high drama of how New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer, SEC […]

The markets, big business and Wall Street have been held hostage by politicians and regulators for so long that the hostages are starting to identify with their kidnappers.

How else can you explain the October 30th Wall Street Journal front pager, breathlessly recounting the high drama of how New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer, SEC chief Harvey Pitt, and NYSE chief Richard Grasso resolved their differences and finally agreed on how to give Wall Street stock research the third degree together.

The report is loaded with fawning personal and social details normally reserved for reporting on the movements of celebrities in rags like People magazine — what clubs they dined at, what they ate, and so on.

It’s a portrait of superstars drawn by a reporter who is deeply in awe of his subjects.

Within this reportorial perspective, Harvey Pitt comes off poorly because he’s the only one of the three who has deliberately tried to be something less than a superstar. Pitt respects the SEC’s long-standing regulatory tradition of incremental change with informed industry participation. Spitzer, on the other hand, is portrayed as a dynamic crusader — the brave gunfighter who’s come in to clean up the town that was too tough for Pitt to tame. Grasso is portrayed as the wizardly counselor who managed to politely kick Pitt upstairs, leaving Spitzer free to unilaterally impose sweeping restructuring on a vast and venerable industry.

This is how the conventional wisdom gets formed. The issue at stake — whether Wall Street stock research is or is not a crime-ridden wild-west town that needs to be cleaned up — is simply assumed away.

All that matters to a story like this is the melodrama of how the superstar posse of crime-busters resolved their relationship problems — and what they ate — on the way to rounding up the bad guys and slaughtering them. The effect is not only the idealization of regulators and politicians — it is the embedding of the presumption of the righteousness of their cause, embedded so deeply that it is deemed not worth even mentioning while the idealization is going on.

Don Luskin is Chief Investment Officer for Trend Macrolytics, an economics research and consulting service providing exclusive market-focused, real-time analysis to the institutional investment community. You can visit the weblog of his forthcoming book ‘The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid’ at www.poorandstupid.com. He is also a contributing writer to SmartMoney.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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