As it happens, in many respects, ENOUGH, anticipated—some say, predicted—the crisis in our markets and our economy. But the book also sends a message about the decline in our society’s character and values that we have witnessed over the past few decades. No one would have been more appalled by what has gone wrong than Stradley’s former senior partner, the late Andrew B. Young, Esq. I benefited greatly from Andy’s mentorship as Wellington Management Company’s counsel during the 25 years we worked together, as well as from the insight and wisdom of this great man for the remaining 25 years of his long life. So I take the liberty of dedicating these remarks to his memory. (Stradley, Ronan, Stevens & Young people here: never forget your fine heritage.
The Story of ENOUGH.
Let me begin with a few comments about ENOUGH. I wrote my new book largely because I care deeply about the traditional values that are eroding not only in our financial system, but also in our businesses, in our communities, and even in our own lives. The story of ENOUGH. begins with a sort-of-poem by Kurt Vonnegut. It was entitled “Joe Heller,” and I chanced upon it in The New Yorker in April 2005. The poem was a tribute to the late author of Catch 22—one of the seminal books of the post-World-War-II era, and one of its most successful. I can summarize the short poem in just a few words:
At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut tells Heller that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch 22 over its whole history. Heller responds, “Yes, but I have something he will never have . . . enough.”
Enough. I was stunned by both the profound eloquence and the simple elegance of that word. And it couldn’t have been more accurate or more timely. For a critical element of our society, including many of the wealthiest and most powerful among us, there seems to be no limit on what enough entails.
Think about it. We live in wonderful and sad times—wonderful in that the blessings of democratic capitalism have never been more broadly distributed around the globe, sad in that the excesses of that same democratic capitalism have rarely been more on display. We see the excesses most starkly in the continuing crisis in our overleveraged, overly-speculative banking and investment banking industries, creating a financial crisis that has been, in turn, the principal cause of the economic crisis we are facing, the worst since the Great Depression.
Despite the economic and market meltdown, however, we witness the obscene (there is no other word for it) compensation paid to the chief executive officers of our nation’s publicly held corporations—including failed CEOs, often even as they are being pushed out the door—compensation that, given the capital these institutions urgently require merely to survive, is being paid by the federal government—or, more accurately, the taxpayers, or, even more poignantly, us. Main Street bailing out Wall Street for its disgraceful conduct . . . it doesn’t seem fair, does it? Well, it isn’t!
But the rampant greed that has overwhelmed our financial system and corporate world runs deeper than money. Not knowing what enough is subverts our society’s traditional values, as self-interest and greed replace community interest,…