By Josh Healey
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Author Nomi Prins is a “class traitor.” She worked as a managing director at Goldman Sachs, as a Lehman Brothers strategist, and as a Chase Manhattan Bank analyst. She also ran the international analytics group as a senior managing director at Bear Stearns in London, before she began writing books exposing the financial sector’s secrets and wrongdoing. But Wall Street’s loss has been the people’s gain.
At a recent “Great Minds Salon” in Santa Monica that’s part of the book tour for Prins’s latest blockbuster, All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power, Prins was asked a question that gave her pause. What was her “moment of epiphany” that led her to turn against the banksters and corporate overlords?
“I was probably soul-searching a while before I left,” confessed Prins before an audience of about seventy-five. “I think when I got to Goldman Sachs I realized that the nature of how business was done was not something I wanted to be involved with, nor were the people that I worked with. This is during the run up to the Enron crisis -- Goldman has a very strong commodity desk and oil. Basically, Enron was a competitor, as well as a client. There were conversations going on: ‘Do we give them research, or do we not? Do we trade with them, or do we not?’ When they popped up we were also doing lots of work with WorldCom and some of the communications companies that ultimately had fraud and went bankrupt. That was all just a very shady time.”
Prins added, “Even internally, the kind of analysis I had done before for other companies that talked about the downside of some transactions. They weren’t interested in having clients know the downside. That was annoying.” Goldman’s refusal to adequately fund some of the analytics she proposed also peeved Prins. “This was a hugely profitable institution,” she said, “and the things that needed to be done were really not what was focused on.”
Her growing disenchantment was compounded by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, which Prins called an “aha moment because I was working down on Wall Street at the time -- Goldman was very close to the World Trade Center. I was in the building that morning after the planes came by and there was smoke and nobody really knew what was going on. Was it a terrorist attack? The guys on the oil desk were making market. Not only were they doing that -- they weren’t doing that out of their own instinct necessarily -- the head of the commodities desk, one of the top guys in the division who’s now the number two guy at Goldman generally, was telling them to do that. It was really off-putting, because people were trying to figure out what was going on. It was just really strange.”
As were subsequent messages she received from the firm in immediately after 9/11. “A couple of days later I’m not coming into the office and it was frowned upon to not try to get through Manhattan to go into the office. [Former Goldman Sachs CEO and chairman] Hank Paulson, who became the Treasury Secretary years after that, was giving me voice mail at the time, you’d answer your phone and there was a voice mail sort of from the chief, talking about how ‘the people of Goldman Sachs need to rise and come in,’” blah, blah, blah, and all of that coalesced in a negative way,” to speed her departure from the financial world.
Upon leaving Wall Street to advocate for Main Street, Prins wrote a series of novels and nonfiction books about the fiscal and political power elite, including Other People’s Money, The Corporate Mugging of America, and It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses, and Backroom Deals from Washington to Wall Street. Prins is also heard and seen on programs such as MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Democracy Now and Tavis Smiley’s PBS talk show. If investigative reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein “followed the money” in their Watergate expose, Prins follows the money and the banksters in her latest nonfiction tell-all, All the Presidents’ Bankers. From the Panic of 1907 through the Obama administration, Prins reveals the behind-the-scenes, Machiavellian machinations of Wall Street and White House powerbrokers who worked together to shape U.S. domestic, monetary and foreign policy.
All the Presidents’ Bankers is a kind of Wall Street who’s who, wherein Nomi names names, identifying the “Big Six” banks that have held sway in the highest corridors of power over the decades. When the Great Depression began in 1929, this plutocratic sextet consisted of: The Morgan Bank, Chase, National City Bank, First National Bank, Bankers Trust (a venture of the Morgan Bank) & Guaranty Trust Company (a venture of the Morgan Bank that’s now part of JPM Chase). Today, the Big Six banks have transmogrified into: JPM Chase (a historical marriage of the Morgan and Chase banks and many in between), Citigroup (a marriage of National City Bank and First National City Bank), Bank of America (which swallowed up Merrill Lynch), Morgan Stanley (an offshoot of the Morgan Bank), and Goldman Sachs.
This intermarriage between the world of high finance and the Oval Office was bipartisan. Prins writes that “the bankers were largely unconcerned with the party in power, as long as they could influence it.”
Prins’s event was moderated by Web of Debt author Ellen Brown and held in the Santa Monica home of Jerry and Jan Manpearl, who often host lefty soirees, including many of the Great Mind Salons. The series, which has for the past five years featured speakers such as Gore Vidal, Ralph Nader, and attorney Gloria Allred, is the brainchild of L.A. publicist Ilene Proctor, who specializes in presenting cutting edge thinkers and authors such as Prins, who is a member of Senator Bernie Sanders’s Federal Reserve Reform Advisory Council, and a senior fellow at the non-partisan public policy think-tank Demos.
Her All The Presidents’ Bankers is part of a current literary trend reexamining and critiquing contemporary capitalism, including: Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century; Matt Taibbi's The Divide; Michael Lewis’s Flash Boys; Joseph Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality; Elizabeth Warren's A Fighting Chance; books by Richard Wolff and Robert Reich, and so on.
Why does Prins think these books are emerging now?
“The public has become isolated from, and cynical about, the political process,” Prins said. “This, coupled with the fact that the big banks got away with a big, expensive scam, rampant inequality, and that most individuals are not seeing their personal finances rise in anything like the trajectory of the stock market (all Washington and mainstream media rhetoric of a recovery aside) has led people to seek the truth about the state of the economy through these various individual voices. It’s actually a good sign that people from the far left to the far right are purchasing these books and listening to the perspectives and insights of these authors, because a more informed society is a better-armed society.”
The Progressive asked Prins if she thinks that a form of socialism is the solution for the problems she details in All The Presidents’ Bankers?
“Financial capitalism, which took hold in the early 1900s as I write in my book, has shown itself to be dangerous to the public welfare, particularly in the unrestrained manner in which it operates today,” she said. “Every crisis, followed by ‘remedies’ that consist of socializing the losses of banks while privatizing their gains, weakens democracy and the populations of the world. A form of socialism for the people, rather than for these institutions, that seeks to minimize this inequity and its associated risks would benefit everyone, including those at the top of the wealth chain, but on a much fairer, juster, and safer basis.”
Nomi Prins will speak about All the Presidents’ Bankers at 7:00 p.m., May 7 at Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90069.
The new book co-authored by L.A.-based reviewer Ed Rampell is “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book” (see: http://hawaiimtvbook.weebly.com/).