SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. It was reportedly hard to get a celebrity to ring the opening bell on Wall Street this week after the New York Stock Exchange fell 778 points on Monday.
(Soundbite of bell ringing)
SIMON: The CEO of Panasonic North America, Yoshi Yamada, rang the bell on Wednesday when we went down to the floor of the exchange. All those years, traders in running shoes and dark blue coats pulled over flashy Italian ties - masters of the universe, as Tom Wolfe dubbed them - had moved millions while warning against government intervention in the markets. Now, they had to hope that doubting congressmen and senators would intervene and pass a bill to buy bad debts in the U.S. financial system. Jason Weisberg is a trader for Seaport Securities.
Mr. JASON WEISBERG (Trader, Seaport Securities): I'd like to see them pass it, but they're so worried about their own careers that I guess the country's needs will come second.
SIMON: Aren't you a little worried about your career?
Mr. WEISBERG: I am worried about my career, but unfortunately it kind of hangs with the failures and successes of their career. You know, this whole mess that we're in now is horrible for everyone whether you work on Wall Street or whether you work on Main Street. We're going to be overregulated because others took great risks. And, you know, we're all paying the price now.
SIMON: Do you know how angry people in this country are at the folks on this floor, and they don't know you? But I mean, they, you know, they may be unfair to lump everyone together, but they're really angry.
Mr. WEISBERG: Well, I mean, I guess - you know, I guess I would angry too if I were them. However, I don't express the same type of anger when I see the lumps of money that are going out to subsidize farmers to sit on crops. A lot of the financing that farmers, for example, get for equipment and seed comes from Wall Street. The credit that they get, it all - it trickles down to everyone. This country operates on credit. We're all victims of this. I mean, everyone in the country is a victim. It doesn't matter where you are.
SIMON: But you can understand - can't you? - how it's hard for people in this country to think of anyone on Wall Street as a victim at this point, or to take any lectures from them on the public interest.
Mr. WEISBERG: I guess, if you wanted - it's not that black and white. I mean, I can - I mean...
SIMON: Well, you were that black and white with the people in Congress. You were saying "they."
Mr. WEISBERG: OK, well then if you want to do it that way, we can do it that way. The fact of the matter is if someone in Middle America needs to buy a car and they can't afford to pay cash for that car, they need credit to do it. If Wall Street is not around, they can't get that credit to do it. That's - it's that simple. So if people don't want to save Wall Street, that's OK. People's lifestyles in this country are going to change dramatically. And the people that are willing to risk their lives to come live here, this won't be that destination spot anymore.
SIMON: Alan Valdes of the firm Hilliard Lyons is a member of the New York Stock Exchange. He believes that public disapproval of the bill asking taxpayers to give $700 billion to save some of the same businesses they hold responsible for this financial crisis was poisoned by two decades of opulent perks and extravagant compensation for corporate executives who then fired millions and got rewarded for it, then lost millions and floated away on golden parachutes.
Mr. ALAN VALDES (Trader, Hilliard Lyons): Because Wall Street is frustrated with that too. The average person on Wall Street's embarrassed by what happened, and - because basically we're all just workers down here.
SIMON: But I think the feeling is, even beyond golden parachutes, it's the feeling that the people on this street in this institution who had a lot of money did most of the wrong things with it. They can't be trusted anymore than you can trust a 13-year-old kid with millions of dollars.
Mr. VALDES: Yes and no, but if you...
SIMON: Billions of dollars.
Mr. VALDES: What got us in this mess was housing. There's no question. Housing took us to where we are today. And that legislation was passed in '89 by a Congress that felt that you could just lower standards for lending and everything would be OK. It's a great - it's great if it works, but it really doesn't work. So, what happened was you had so much defaults - which Wall Street knew 10, 15 years ago this was going to happen - but nothing was done. Nothing changed. And as a result, we are in this mess right now. Was there greed on Wall Street's part? On real estate? Without a doubt. But the legislation, we don't write. They wrote the legislation.
SIMON: Jason Weisberg, a trader, and Alan Valdes, a member, speaking this week on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
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