Why have no one ever gone postal on Wall Street? Is it not a back-stabbing, competitive, survival of the fittest shark tank? How many were passed over for promotion or stiffed around the bonus time? How many untold grievances have been absorbed and internalized to never be addressed in a violent manner? Greg Smith clearly was driven to the breaking point and yet he found a legitimate, albeit an omerta breaking, way of addressing his complaints.
First of all, it takes a special pedigree to join the ranks on Wall Street. People like Alex Jones would never have passed through the interview process. He would have a hard time hiding his oozing craziness. A silent, studious type, like the Newtown shooter, would also not fare well during the interview. I’ve heard many stories from frustrated headhunters when their brilliantly credentialed PhDs in math and physics couldn’t put a sentence together during the chat with a head of the trading desk. At the point where you made it to the actual interview, the hiring manager doesn’t care about your illustrious resume; he tries to gauge if he can sit next to you for 10 hours a day. He wants to assess whether or not you’re a weirdo, a douche or a “schmuck on wheels”. To get hired on Wall Street one has to project jocularity but not disrespect, charm but not servility, acumen but not conceit, thoughtfulness but not stupor, earnestness but not wild-eye fervor. They want to see if you’re “one of us, a good fella, a wise guy”. At one once venerable but now defunct bond shop they used to say “give me a poor and hungry kid from Brooklyn with a degree from Columbia”. They were essentially looking for a guy who wants to get shit done, get paid and is secure enough to take some level of abuse. There have always been a cache of such kids.
Such screening process weeds out a large number of oddballs. Weak, insecure egos like NRA loudmouths or underappreciated geniuses, like smart quiet loners, don’t make it that far but if miraculously they do, Wall Street has a way of molding them. That is not to say there are no psychos on Wall Street. But those kinds of psychos, when crossed, are not looking to go in a postal way. They can make a more memorable statement with a click of a mouse than with a machine gun. But at any level of the food chain, from the abused new recruits to the highest ranks, all accumulated grievances – against management or against colleagues – are mitigated by the Great Expectation. The Great Expectation is, of course, either an upcoming bonus or a promotion, or an opportunity to make a spectacular trade or all of the above and it is a powerful pacifier of any violent tendencies one might otherwise unleash. The employees in most other industries do not have such a powerful release mechanism. Then there are other, more mundane factors: bankers got expenses and a certain way of life – mortgages, wives at home, kids in private schools. It’s just too much to lose. To show up with a gun at work is to suffer the deepest ignominy, to be known forever as a douchebag, an anti-Mensch; and to condemn your surviving family to a humiliating existence. That’s worse than death.
Since we can’t administer the Wall Street screening process to every citizen and since we can’t award everyone a bonus, perhaps we can consider the following measure of fitness to carry a gun. Comedian Chris Rock made a great point about having a mortgage as a requirement to owning a gun. “Every mass shooting is done by guys who live with their mother. So I believe you should need to have a mortgage to buy a gun. A mortgage is a real background check. Even if you go to jail for 30 years, you’ve still got to pay your f—king mortgage.”
Having a mortgage will make you think twice before you decide to go in a memorable way. I do not, however, advocate loosening the lending requirements in an attempt to turn potential psychos into upstanding homeowners. We all know what can happen when we give away mortgages to all kinds of delinquents. Precisely!! In the aftermath of the mortgage crisis banks are now extremely prudent in deciding whom they are extending the mortgages to. Shouldn’t we then adopt the same kind of approach when it comes to gun ownership? Our goal should not be to have as many people with mortgages as possible so that they can buy guns. Our goal should be to allow gun purchases to the people who have demonstrated that they are responsible and prudent enough to be able to own a mortgage. Mortgage and, to the delight of conservatives, I’ll throw marriage in there too, should be a criterion for getting a gun. Alec Baldwin’s character from The Departed distills it simply: “Married guys seem more stable; people see the ring they think at least someone can stand the son of a bitch.” If you insist on defending your castle from intruders, you first have to demonstrate that you have it. And this approach will be applauded by budget hawks as there will be no additional spending required by establishing background checking venues – as mortgage, in itself, is a thorough qualifier.
There’s a palpable dichotomy between the qualities one is required to possess before being allowed near spreadsheets on Wall Street vs. the loose qualifications one needs in order to get a gun. Managing money gets more gravity of consideration than acquiring a tool whose only function is to kill. Perhaps, using mortgage and/or marriage as a requirement for owning a gun offers a simple solution that even conservatives can’t object to.