The Measure of Our Success: Greed & Deception on Wall Street

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I believe in backwards-planning. I believe that starting with a vision, figuring out how to measure that vision, and then planning all the smaller steps that align with the end vision is the most effective and efficient way to achieve a goal.

In the field of education, we are sorely missing a vision. Some states attempt to create a vision through their standards, but every coherent strand of knowledge, skills, and mindsets is diced and chopped into tiny bits and scattered over 13 years of education.

Even worse, the state tests do not comprehensively assess the standards. As a result, educators begin to focus narrowly on the knowledge and skills that are assessed.

The ultimate measure of our educational system’s success is not who our students are or what they do in our schools but who they are and what they do in the world.

In this New York Times article entitled, “On Wall Street, Bonuses, Not Profits, Were Real,” we see that our educational system failed to teach these former students that integrity is more important than money.

One Merrill Lynch employee, Dow Kim,–with a base salary of $350,000–earned an additional $35 million in bonuses in 2006. The wealth wasn’t just concentrated at the upper echelons. A 20-something analyst added $250,000 in bonuses to a base salary of $130,000, while a 30-something trader with a $180,000 salary walked away with an additional $5 million.

To earn bigger bonuses, many traders ignored or played down the risks they took until their bonuses were paid. Their bosses often turned a blind eye because it was in their interest as well.“That’s a call that senior management or risk management should question, but of course their pay was tied to it too,” said Brian Lin, a former mortgage trader at Merrill Lynch.

Many of these companies are still planning to dole out bonuses this year, despite being rescued with tax payers’ dollars.

Why weren’t more people stepping back and saying, “This is wrong”? Why were so many people content to collect so much money that they didn’t actually earn–money that now comes from the taxes collected from people who find themselves losing their jobs because of the financial crisis?

We must teach our students that their actions create the world, for better or worse. Greed and deception may create gains in the short-term, but they often lead to more negative outcomes in the long-run.

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