It has been amply demonstrated in interdisciplinary scholarship (Davis 2009, Krippner 2011, Ott 2011) that the undue influence of dominant finance, which has singularly privileged short-term shareholder value and large-scale gambling, has actually diverted, transferred, and extracted wealth from productive enterprises, workers, houses, and communities, generating rampant socioeconomic inequality not seen since the Great Depression. And yet, in explicitly non-ironic terms, Wall Street actors and advocates continually naturalize and make direct claims about their connection to social purpose through production. For example, a quick survey of the recent statements from Wall Street executives and spokespeople are telling:
1. In the Wall Street Journal article, “Finance Overhaul Casts Long Shadow on the Plains,” Michael Phillips used the specter of Midwestern farmers’ productivity and ability to hedge against crop price risks to cast a shadow on the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. Specifically, Phillips hinted and worried that derivatives regulation would impact such crucial risk mitigation techniques.
2. In a New York Times report on what Wall Street bankers’ think of Occupy Wall Street, Nelson Schwartz and Eric Dash showed that although a few Wall Streeters are sympathetic to the movement, most presume protestors to be “unsophisticated,” and wish that people would “show some gratitude.” A longtime money manager explains, “Who do you think pays the taxes? Financial services are one of the last things we do in this country and do it well. Let’s embrace it. If you want to keep having jobs outsourced, keep attacking financial services. This is just disgruntled people.”
3. And, of course, a year after September 2008, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, restated his case for investment banking to The Times of London:
I know I could slit my wrists and people would cheer, [but] [w]e’re very important… We help companies to grow by helping them to raise capital. Companies that grow create wealth. This, in turn, allows people to have jobs that create more growth and more wealth. It’s a virtuous cycle… We have a social purpose (Arlidge 2009).
The above discussions and analyses illustrate what I would call “official” representations of elite financial actors, which are deeply believed and understood, despite their contradictions or how they are belied through their own cultural practices.