A corporate CEO and longtime champion of “enlightened finance” gathers essays from prominent academics, executives, regulators and politicians on reforming the financial services industry, making it “a consistent and positive force for social good.”
Editor Taft (Stewardship: Lessons Learned from the Lost Culture of Wall Street, 2012) charges his contributors, 25 industry heavyweights whose names are likely unknown to common readers (exceptions include Nobel-winning economist Robert Shiller, former Sen. Judd Gregg and possibly Vanguard founder John Bogle), to concentrate not on the errors that precipitated the Great Recession but on what can be done to repair the damage. Accordingly, this collection takes on the tone of a revival meeting, where congregants urge a return to first principles and a renewal of the faith. In nine sections, each gracefully introduced by the editor, Taft’s authors address topics germane to the future of finance: re-examining the contract between finance and society (with a special emphasis on the moral component of the compact); taking up the unfinished work of regulatory reform; re-establishing trust, integrity and client focus; restoring confidence in the stock market; achieving fiscal and monetary policy equilibrium; ensuring retirement savings and maximizing access to housing; encouraging a long-term investment strategy; and advocating for a “more responsible form of capitalism” that takes sustainability into account. Addressing issues like sustainability and “income inequality” perhaps necessarily accompanies any modern-day discussion of capitalism, lest we suppose a financier is in business solely for profit, but it’s somewhat surprising to find throughout this collection a repeated invocation of words and phrases like “ethical leadership,” “stewardship,” “the good society,” “fiduciary duty,” “core values,” “leadership,” “integrity,” “transparency,” “disclosure” and “authenticity”—all virtues we might have hoped informed standard operations well before the 2008 meltdown. It seems they did not.
An earnest exercise wherein all the right people say all the right things.