Edward Conard is a Big Fat Idiot (with apologies to Al Franken)


The word “connard” in French is often translated as “arse,” “jerk-off,” “dipshit,” “douchebag,” and too many other epithets to list. Which is exactly what went through my mind as I read, a few weeks back, a New York Times article about one Edward Conard, former partner of presidential nominee Mitt Romney in his years at Bain Capital.

Actually, I should qualify: I kind-of respect Conard for doing what few, if any, of his fellow “one percenters” have done — take a stand for their team and lay out, chapter and verse, exactly why they believe that the accumulation of immense, gargantuan, humungous — what many of us term “obscene” — wealth is not only alright, but is actually a virtue.

His book on the subject, which comes out this week, lays out his case. If the introduction and sample chapter are any indicator, it seems like a respectably written treatise on the economic situation today — how it evolved, how we got into this mess, and how various actors played their parts to make it so. In the absence of his complete tome, I had to make do with the samples and his bits of wisdom shared with the Times — and suffice it to say, it ain’t pretty.

First off, I will say that I agree with some of what this haughty fellow posits: that risk-taking ought to be rewarded, that people who are in a position to do so ought to be encouraged (partly in the form of generous remuneration) to take said risks. Though frankly, I can’t believe we’re still having this “Communism led to mass starvation and we won the Cold War” argument. Yes, capitalists: your system is better. Everyone cannot, and should not, a priori, be granted equal reward no matter what their contribution is to the world. And yes, there is, somewhere in our social conditioning or DNA or from our expulsion from Eden (or whatever worldview you choose) a deep-seated human tendency to socially stratify (though I maintain that’s a tendency we can overcome). Old-school Bolshevism, that simplistic bit of Victorian-era social over-engineering, failed to account for all that… and so it crumbled. The few remaining “Communist countries” of the world are either destitute (North Korea, Cuba) or are (to paraphrase the Tea Party epithet for moderate Republicans) CINOs — Communists in Name Only (China).

I can also accept that the received opinion and conventional wisdom about why our economy crashed in 2008 might be flawed — and that a fellow with insider knowledge of “the system” might have a thing or two to say about it: his “bank run” hypothesis actually sounds rather compelling. Heck, I’m not even against mortgage-backed securities: when I started work at the former Countrywide Home Loans some fifteen years back, I learned that the presence of a secondary market in the United States allowed for a deeper, more diverse, more flexible housing market than existed in my native Canada. Back then, the overwhelming number of loans were conventional 30-year fixed-rate loans (something the rather monopolistic banks in Canada could never offer); subprime and exotic loan products were small-scale, specialty niche items either for skilled investors or for the occasional borrower with adverse credit. I still recall one of our more expert staffers scoffing at the then-newfangled negative-amortization, no-money-down or interest-only loans, calling them “junk bonds” and claiming “we’ll never do those.”

So much for that.

And here’s where I part company with Conard and his ilk, who draw a false connection between legitimate innovation and risk-taking, and the pathological foolishness that’s gone on these past fifteen — nay, thirty — years, ever since the real-life Gordon Gekkos promulgated the cult of “greed is good”. Conard’s true colors come out about halfway through the Times article, right when he spots, at a cafe off Madison Avenue, “three young people with plaid shirts and floppy hair.”

“What are they doing, sitting here, having a coffee at 2:30?” he snarls. Apparently coffee breaks are reserved only for jacketed-and-tied one-percenters. He goes on to deride “art history majors,” his blanket term for anyone who isn’t in one of his club of risk-taking “job creators.”

Asshole. First off, who knows what these young folks are doing on their coffee break? Perhaps taking the very risks and innovations he celebrates. Furthermore, Conard seems clueless to the gargantuan risks many “liberal arts majors” are in fact taking: entering professions with chronic underemployment and socio-economic uncertainty in the hopes of “making it” as a writer, artist, filmmaker, web designer, advertising creative director, or countless other professions that involve tremendous sacrifice, risk, and hard work. What’s a bigger risk: having your well-to-do parents pay for your MBA at Wharton that practically guarantees you a six-figure salary on Wall Street, or working multiple jobs while slogging away nights on a screenplay that (you hope) sells for a handsome sum and becomes a box-office smash?

There’s nothing new, of course, about Conard’s elitism. To him, “job-creators” or “risk-takers” is just shorthand for “our crowd,” an elect group of like-minded people — often from educated, comfortable (if not already wealthy a la Romney or Bush) backgrounds with a thorough knowledge of how to attain or further their wealth and power and with that as their sole objective. Somehow, they posit, the sum of all these greeds is supposed to lead to a better world — even though it never, ever has when such a system’s been tried out in its purest form.

And so, I believe Conard and his crowd are actually crushing the “you can be anything” promise of America, replacing it with their gang of technocrats, educated at a small number of schools and ensconced in a select set of professions, who are busy quite successfully lobbying for a government that continues to pander to their every whim (and boy, do they howl mightily like spoiled children when a moderate such as Obama even tries to reform the system). In their full-throated, uncompromising belief in deranged, 18th century Adam Smith fantasies about the “free market,” they seem set on bringing America back to an “earlier time” — a Dickensian gilded-age nightmare wherein the biggest, richest economy in the world is to be transformed into a corrupt uber-scale banana republic with a tiny, wealthy elite astride a horde of poor and near-poor who keep the system afloat by constantly believing in a promise of a “better life” that’s ultimately unattainable.

Good luck, Conard. Just don’t expect the rest of us to take this one lying down.