The Sergeant Schultz of Wall Street

“Waiter, waiter! My table is on fire! Can we have some water?”

“Sorry, sir, that’s not my station.”

I ended my last post about Bruce Lisman with a reminder of his 2010 comments to the effect that the 2008 financial collapse was some sort of unforeseeable natural event, a “Darwinian asteroid,” “this thing that happened.”

Well, he did offer some further comments on his Wall Street tenure during his interview with Mark Johnson, but they didn’t do anything to soften my criticism. He expressed pride in his own record as a Bear Stearns executive, and professed ignorance of the gross malfeasance that was going on at the doomed company.

In a sense, he had a point. He was busy running his own division, and it wasn’t his responsibility to make himself aware of what other executives were doing. Although, it must be said, the misdeeds of his fellow Bear Stearns execs turned out to be a disaster for his division’s clients as well as everyone else in the goddamn world.

And what does it say about his insight, his judgment, that he could be stationed on the deck of the Titanic and not see the iceberg coming? Or not raise serious questions about the decision to steer the ship through the North Atlantic ice fields? Especially when he’s so sharply critical of the Shumlin administration’s failure to plan ahead, take the long view, make government predictable and accountable, and gather the data necessary to make intelligent long-range decisions?

He is expecting far more of state government than he expected of himself and his fellow executives. And he is demanding a level of accountability for state officials that he is still not willing to assume for the catastrophic dealings of Bear Stearns, the firm where he spent his entire career.

Think I’m being harsh? Let’s look at the transcript.

“If you were to examine the history of my firm, we made great contributions but we did not contribute to its failure. Failures. I’m certain we could have done better.”

When he says “my firm,” he apparently means his division of Bear Stearns. God help us if he thinks the entire company “did not contribute to its failure.”

But let’s continue:

“In ’06 or early ’07 I gave a speech here called ‘Falling Anvils,’ in which I said I’m worried about the markets. There are gonna be anvils flying out of the sky.'”

Again, the Wall Street crash as unforeseeable disaster. Can’t blame us if the sky starts droppin’ anvils.

“This kind of vague concern, warnings about markets and stuff, didn’t translate into much of specific. So in truth, I spent my life focused on, well, family and other things, but my business.

… “At risk of sounding defensive, I didn’t have much to do with its failure. I had a job to do.”

Sergeant Schultz lives! Also, “family and other things.” Nice save, Bruce. You’ve got some work to do on the appearance of sincerity, though.

After the above passage, Johnson pointed out that although Lisman’s division may not have been culpable, he was a top executive in a firm that went kablooey with world-altering consequences. (My phrasing, not Johnson’s.) To which is response was, “Yeah, well, I’m not sure I knew that,” followed by another iteration of his “Sorry, it’s not my station” routine.

“You could say I was part of an industry that fell into a cyclically bad time, or maybe they were greedy or they took advantage of lax regulation, I think that’s largely true. I don’t know if that reflects badly on me or not, but I guess, if I do run [for governor], we’ll find out.”

Yes, we will.

To be fair, Bruce Lisman’s Wall Street record doesn’t disqualify him from running for governor. But his record, his blase attitude toward the 2008 meltdown, and his apparent incuriosity about the causes of the collapse, are reasons for legitimate concern. And that poke at “lax regulation,” well, that’s rich coming from a top executive in an industry that has fought regulation at every turn and is STILL fighting to undo post-2008 regulatory reforms.

Bruce Lisman thinks he’s the man to bring quality management, long-term planning, and accountability to state government. If he wants to convince us to give him that opportunity, he’s going to have to do a lot better job explaining his tenure at Bear Stearns, the real reasons for the financial sector’s implosion, his dutiful presence on the bridge of a sinking ship, and his seeming unwillingness to hold Wall Street accountable in the way he wants politicians to be accountable.

Because the Wall Street crash did a hell of a lot more to harm the citizens of Vermont than the alleged malfeasances of the Shumlin administration.

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3 thoughts on “The Sergeant Schultz of Wall Street

  1. chuck gregory

    The Japanese did some $200 billion damage at Pearl Harbor, and we pounded them into sand.

    Lisman’s Wall Street bombs 65 Pear Harbors– $13 trillion so far– and rather than use their guts for garters we vote for them for public office.

    Reply
  2. Walter Carpenter

    “Because the Wall Street crash did a hell of a lot more to harm the citizens of Vermont than the alleged malfeasances of the Shumlin administration” Thanks for this piece. This is so true. And it is something to think about when Lisman goes on about the need for ethics reform.

    Reply

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