I first wasted time some time squinting at pictures of Angelo Mozilo and Bernie Madoff trying to figure out what their eye colors were, but then I gave that up as hopelessly literal-minded. Obviously, Dowd (a red-haired Irish Catholic who felt undervalued because she has brown eyes) is using the code terms "blue eyed" and "white bread bankers" to refer to Northern European Protestants. So, it made more sense to look up ancestry, religion, and self-identification directly.
But, who to look up? I ended up making up a list of 40 figures important in the finance story of the last couple of years, drawn from both my writings and a list of about a dozen Wall Street figures sent me by a reader who long worked on Wall Street.
This is not the proper way to do it. The better way is to be staring at somebody's list of the Top Whatevers and then have it suddenly dawn on you that you could use this list to answer a question that the people who made up the list never considered. But, I already had my question and I didn't have a list. Also, I'm not sure if I could find a list that would fit my needs. So, I made up a list, trying not to be biased. It's not a very good list, but it's a start. It's got Wall Street bosses, national bankers, politicians, bureaucrats, and crooks on it.
So, here's what I found.
- The old stereotype that the financial world is run by Northern European Protestants from the Northeast appears outmoded. I came up with six WASPs out of 40, but three were politicians (George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Phil Gramm, only one of whom grew up wealthy); one was an accused crook of working class rural origin (Sir Allen Stanford); one was a Southern army sergeant's son (Ken Lewis of Bank of America); and one was from the Northeastern media elite, Daniel Mudd of Freddie Mac, son of newscaster Roger Mudd and a descendant of the doctor who set John Wilkes Booth's broken leg, who has managed to make the family name mud again. (If you want to count Barack Obama as half-WASP, you can make it 6.5.) This 6 out of 40 feels a little low, but that's what I've got.
- A lot of people assume that anybody with a German name who is famous for anything having to do with money was raised Jewish, but both Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Clinton adviser and former Fed chairman Paul Volcker were raised Protestant. I'm also guessing that Kerry Killinger of Washington Mutual is gentile German by background. So, that's three German gentiles.
- There was one Presbyterian Scotsman: John Thain of Merrill Lynch.
- There was one Norwegian name -- Treasury secretary and Goldman Sachs boss Hank Paulson (who was raised as a Christian Scientist).
So, I come up with 11 out of 40 names on the list being Northern European Protestants.
- Jewish individuals make up the largest single ethnic group on the list, but they might be less numerous than you'd think: 11 out of 40: Roland Arnall (Ameriquest subprime mortgages), Ben Bernanke (Fed), Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs), Rep. Barney Frank, Dick Fuld (Lehman Bros.), Hank Greenberg (AIG), Alan Greenspan (Fed), Bernie Madoff (Ryker's Island), Robert Rubin (Treasury and Citigroup), Larry Summers (Treasury), and Sandy Weill (Citigroup).
- There were four Irish, largely in political roles: Sen. Chris Dodd, John Taylor of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Richard Syron of Freddie Mac, and Sheila Bair of the FDIC (I'm just guessing with her because her middle name is Colleen).
- There were three blacks: Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae, President Barack Obama, and Joy Jackson of Stripper Fraud Mortgages. And there was one Mexican-American, Henry Cisneros of HUD.
- Two Asians: Vikram Pandit of Citigroup and rocket scientist statistician David X. Li.
- That leaves 8 of the 40 names belonging to one general group that has been overlooked in most ethnic theorizing about finance: Mediterranean gentiles.
- Two Italians: Angelo Mozilo (Countrywide) and Joe Cassano (AIG Financial Products).
- Two Lebanese Christians: John Mack (Morgan Stanley) and Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Black Swan)
- And four Greeks. Two are whistleblowers: Harry Markopolos, who tried to get the SEC after Madoff, and David Andrukonis, the chief risk officer of Freddie Mac, who clashed with his boss Richard Syron. Two are Wall Street big shots: Tom Kalaris of Barclay's and Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase.
So, what does it add up to?
Well, first, Maureen Dowd's media stereotype about the financial world as dominated by an Old Boy's Network of blond, blue-eyed WASPs is badly out of date. Finance has evolved from an old Relationship Model to a newer Transaction Model about who can make you the most money in a New York minute.
Second, as the largest single group, Jews tend to set the tone, yet don't seem to be as dominant as some posit.
Third, the large numbers of Jews and Mediterranean gentiles suggests, unsurprisingly, that the financial world has a quite New York City flavor to it, with a lot of Outer Boroughs as well as Park Avenue.
Fourth, there is a sizable meritocratic element in the financial world. Of course, the emphasis on keeping objective score can lead to some of the problems we've seen, such as paying bonuses at the end of the year for transactions that appear profitable in the short run that might blow up the company in the long run.
A note about looking up ancestral backgrounds: if bigshots have parents or grandparents who were immigrants, they will generally boast about them to reporters. The people who tend to be hard to figure out are the Midwesterners like Killinger and Bair.