A Necessary Evil?

Down with the capitalists; long live capitalism. Such is the dual attitude of Americans these days, to judge by a new Harris Poll. As you can see in the chart, people are unimpressed by the ethics of those who toil in high finance. In fact, the survey also found 61 percent of respondents agreeing with the statement, “Most people on Wall Street would be willing to break the law if they believed they could make a lot of money and get away with it.” And 57 percent said, “Wall Street is dominated by greed and selfishness.” Nevertheless, the same poll found 66 percent subscribing to the statement, “Wall Street is absolutely essential because it provides the money business must have for investments.” Though that number is down from the 72 percent recorded in a 2000 survey, a two-thirds endorsement isn’t shabby. A surprisingly large minority assented to the statement, “In general, what is good for Wall Street is good for the country”—down just a bit from the 43 percent in a 1998 poll. In an odd way, perhaps the scandals at corporations around the country have cut into Americans’ old suspicions of Wall Street financiers as a uniquely shady bunch.