Edward Hess on false gods and Wall Street's Future

“Bankers are not theologians (and neither, it should be said, are business professors), but as new revelations continue to be made about the devastating effects of dubious instruments concocted by financial alchemists, the fair question that needs to be asked is: What is the god worshiped by the high priests of Wall Street?”—Edward Hess

In a recent op-ed in Forbes, Edward Hess offered a theological take on the Goldman Sachs case and what it reveals about what is wrong with Wall Street and the strategies of many corporations.

Hess lists the “false gods” that Wall Street has worshiped over the last few years to the detriment of the global economy and business. They include “the god of illusions,” “the god of the short term,” and “the god of unfettered growth.”

In short, corporations as well as countries such as Greece have hidden debt and other looming crises behind illusory accounting methods. Companies have focused on short-term strategies to make numbers look better to investors rather than focusing on ways to develop long-term and authentic earnings. Finally, Hess questions the mantra “grow or die” that has dominated Wall Street, suggesting that has led to a mindset that prioritizes being bigger rather than being better.

Hess puts forth a “new liturgy of growth,” offering recommendations that can refocus corporate America on actions that can spark real growth:

* First, public companies should be required by regulators, listing exchanges and their boards of directors to disclose with complete transparency their non-authentic earnings.

* Second, the short-term renting of stock should be discouraged by increasing the holding period for long-term capital gains to three years and imposing fees on nontaxable institutional short-term stock renters, as well.

* Third, executive compensation should be more properly aligned with the long-term creation of real growth.

* Finally, public companies should be made to disclose their short-term and long-term growth portfolios, so long-term investors can better evaluate and allocate their capital to smart, rather than apparent, growth.

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