At Obama's Town Hall meeting recently, I asked the President when he was going to "stop whacking Wall Street like a piñata?" Critics took the comment and ran with it, indicating that I'm a Wall Street elitist who is out of touch with Main Street. The piñatas started coming to my office and Jon Stewart said that I was a new cast member for "Jersey Shore." "What's up with the piñatas being filled with regular candy?" I joked, "After all I am a Wall Street elitist deserving of Godiva." As for Mr. Stewart, my 18-year-old son who enjoyed his invective (what kid doesn't like seeing their old man roasted) said, "Dad, how can you be a Jersey Shore cast member and a Wall Street elitist at the same time?" One of the huge misconceptions that I want to state clearly is that I am one of the founders of two small businesses in asset management, and have not been the recipient of bailout money. Both of these businesses were small enough to fail and had to be managed prudently in the crisis.
Something is rotten with the rhetoric in our society; it is divisive and polarizing and doing nothing to heal our nation's current woes. Perhaps the way I worded my question was off, but I do not feel apologetic for the underlying message. Wall Street has been beset with problems. The cycle of greed and personal aggrandizement and lifestyle grandstanding is an affront to any American. Yes, there are nefarious rogues on Wall Street who have contributed to the financial crisis and helped to exacerbate the steep recession. There is no debate about that. The fact that banks accepted federal bailout money, and with the tone deafness of a chimpanzee trying to play Mozart paid out egregious bonuses, has certainly contributed to the collective societal anger and the horrific public perception of Wall Street. The sentiment is so bad that perhaps here I need to apologize to all of the world's chimpanzees for the comparison.
Many people did the wrong thing and collectively the financial services leaders needed to act with a greater social conscience. We can and need to do better. The better side of Wall Street is when it is acting as an efficient mechanism of capital formation and capital flow, which helps businesses invest. I am certain that if our goals are to have more jobs, wage growth and a return to the economic prosperity that we as a nation are capable of, this angry dialogue is doing more harm than good.
I understand that it is easy to vilify the world of Wall Street and finger point at the wealthy, especially in a time when so many are struggling. However, by attacking all of Wall Street, the pundits and the President are failing to recognize several key facts. Making sweeping over-generalizations is classically un-American. Was every person in the oil industry responsible for the BP spill or everyone at Enron responsible for bankruptcy and scandal? Are we saying everyone who works in real estate and finance is responsible for the sub-prime mortgage crisis? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 7.576 million employees working in the "financial activities" sector as of August 2010. Are all of these people to be criticized and ridiculed? I am just not going to accept that and I am going to implore you not to as well. Most of these people are honest, charitable and have their clients' interests and families at heart. Scapegoating the whole industry is unfair and demoralizing.
In addition to the executive responsibility of handling and managing the government, the President has an important voice that sets the tone for much of our national discourse. He is President for all of the people and while the populist rhetoric may result in some short term applause and positive polling, it is hurting our ability as a nation to heal; Main Street, Wall Street and Washington. It also sets the President up for the perception that he is anti-business. Despite the fact that the President and his staff view themselves as pro-business, by continuing to bash an industry that represents approximately 15% of the S&P 500's market capitalization, the anti-business perception will remain and cause huge damage to the national psyche. Intuitively we all know that we need the nation's business communities to do well and if the President is out there seeking populist applause our collective fears become irrational. What if he is a socialist? What if he is going to tax me or over regulate me into a state of poverty? How can I, as a business person, really know what all of the costs are to hire more people and grow? This uncertainty is aiding and abetting the new normal of stagnant to little private sector job creation. Until businesses start hiring again, Main Street will suffer. We will watch as countries like China, India and Brazil outpace us by close to three to one and that will not be easy. Bring down the rhetoric of anger and raise up that of healing and it will have a dramatically positive psychological effect on the country and the economy. Let us all heal together.
The other problem with the angry, unforgiving rhetoric is it lays the foundation for class warfare. The experiment that is America, what Lincoln described as the "hope of the earth" became so when it was abundantly clear that here in this great land you could accomplish anything with enough grit and hard work. Here you could move economic classes in one generation and through the mechanisms of the free market achieve what everyone wants in this country -- our own individual piece of the American Dream. Our ancestors that came from Europe or other parts of the world recognized the lack of class mobility and personal freedoms when a government becomes too intrusive or a country too set in its aristocratic ways. Americans want America to stay America, not turn into the statism and stagnation of the countries that our forefathers took enough risk to leave. When we trample "fat cats" we are setting up a division that none of us truly want.
There are many in this world who set out looking to make money, but also enjoy or have a passion for what they do. How is Wall Street different from people who set their sights on making a career as a doctor or lawyer, school principal or rock star? If you work hard at your craft and are successful at it does that make you greedy? Or just living the American dream? Most who walk on Main Street and Wall Street recognize that we are connected and much about our lives are the same. Some people are rich and some are poor, but all are trying to do the best they can and set up the next generation for success. My parents were raised humbly; neither attended college but also never once begrudged anyone who was perceived to have money. What they wanted is what just about all of us want -- for their children to do better than themselves. It is classically American never to begrudge the success of others but through the processes of our meritocratic system to reach our own level of success.
When American entrepreneurs and business leaders are doing better it is better for the nation. Jobs are created, capital is invested and our living standards improve. There is no doubt that we need greater responsibility and accountability from our business leaders, not only on Wall Street but throughout the society. The legendary Goldman Sachs senior partner, John Weinberg, often said, "Some people grow; other people swell. You better figure out quickly who you are." Growing right now at this moment in our history means forgiveness and putting aside the anger for what happened and focusing on what we can do together. It has been a humbling time, but if we come together now, we can recapture the American can do-ism and the optimistic spirit that has made us the most economically powerful and philanthropic people in the history of the planet. The American Dream is all we have. It is the dream that we cling to and want to keep alive for all Americans. We have done it before and will do it again. The roads we each travel on, Main Street, Wall Street or Pennsylvania Avenue are all connected. We need to be conscious of this symbiosis in order to be mutually successful. It's time now for all of us to move from piñata to peace pipe.
Anthony Scaramucci is founder and managing partner of SkyBridge Capital, a global alternative investment firm. He is a regular contributor to CNBC and is the author of Goodbye Gordon Gekko: How to Find Your Fortune Without Losing Your Soul.