It is a number that haunts the human conscience at any time: 18,000 children die every day because of a lack of adequate food, according to James Morris, the retiring head of the U.N. food agency. But to have this tragedy happening in a time when the world has never known as many billionaires, and Wall Street is enjoying record bonuses at the top, the figure is almost too difficult to comprehend. The equivalent of a medium-size town in the U.S. or Canada disappearing. Every day. Filled with 18,000 young people. Dying. Day after day
There are many wonderful individuals and groups struggling to right this terrible wrong. They do so at great sacrifice and personal risk. They see things in Darfur and other parts of Africa that are incomprehensible in their horror and sadness. Yet the problem persists.
Here’s a thought: As noted on these pages earlier this week, Goldman Sachs announced its co-presidents received a total compensation package of $106 million between them. The company announced that it had awarded $54 million to its CEO late last year. That’s just the tip of the bonus iceberg throughout the investment industry. As the Wall Street Journal reports: “Overall, Wall Street will pay a record $23.9 billion in bonuses this year, according to an estimate released by New York state.”
Why doesn’t Wall Street, which is making the fattest profits in its history, set for itself the task of alleviating this problem? It takes money, for sure. But it also takes leadership and organization. It takes computers and logistics and the purchasing of large commodities. These are things Wall Street does well. Most of all, it takes the determination of intelligent men and women to do something about an intolerable problem. There would be no better way for Wall Street to re-connect with Main Street—the ultimate source of all its fees and investment income. And that’s where the real values of America are tested and set.
Wall Street could do it. It seems to be able to do anything it sets its mind to. The rest of the investment community in Canada and Europe would likely follow its lead on this, as they do with so many other things. And the vast constituency of individual investors, mutual fund holders and pension plan members who have made the investment community so wealthy would be enormously proud and grateful. It would be a demonstration of responsible capitalism at its finest from a land where stakeholder capitalism has become a driving force.
Record bonuses and billionaires. Eighteen thousand children dying every day from malnutrition. It doesn’t need to be this way. Every week this is tolerated in a world of luxury and plenty, is indeed, the Outrage of the Week.