In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review August 18, 2009 / 28 Menachem-Av 5769

Are Wall Street traders' salaries obscene?

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q. Is it fair for Wall Street traders to be making tens of millions of dollars a year?

A. In the wake of the financial market crisis that began last year, many people in the general public became aware of the customary compensation system for Wall Street traders. Many are scandalized. Attention has intensified in recent weeks as people read of the Citigroup trader Andrew Hall who is due about a hundred million dollars for his work over the last year.

The job of traders is to guess which way markets are going and invest accordingly. The techniques they use to predict markets are quite varied. Many rely on careful market research, poring over balance sheets and sales projections to find companies whose underlying earning potential is much greater or less than the one reflected in the market price. Some use purely statistical techniques to identify prices that are out of alignment; for example, the same asset in two markets should be the same. Many other approaches are also in use.

Typically, traders get a "modest" base salary — modest by Wall Street standards means in six figures — and get a fraction of trading profits that is commonly in the millions of dollars, not infrequently in the tens of millions, and sometimes reaches over a hundred million dollars in a year.

Many ethical questions are directed at these compensation schemes.

1. Do the traders really earn their pay doing something socially productive, or are they bandits who are skillful in ripping off the investing public?

2. Is it fair for an ordinary salaried employee, not someone who built a business, to be getting so much money?

3. Is it fair that some people are getting nine-figure paydays when others live in poverty?

4. Is it right for anyone to control so much wealth?

In this column we will relate to the first issue, and in subsequent columns some of the other issues.

Traditionally, economists assume that speculators, such as today's Wall Street traders, create value by aligning asset prices with their true economic value, thus ensuring that investment capital is directed to its most productive uses. There is certainly nothing unfair about earning money by knowing how to buy cheap and sell dear. The Shulchan Aruch states that if a person knows of a bargain he is entitled to the profit from it; if he sends an agent to purchase on his behalf but the agent profits himself, that agent is considered unethical. (1)

However, some observers think that today's Wall Street traders today don't have any particular ability and actually make money because of the quirks of the bankruptcy system. Trading firms get all the upside of risky trades, but if there is a crash their creditors bear the loss. So it is a "heads I win, tails you lose" proposition for the public. If this is true, it wouldn't make trading unethical but it would make obligate regulators to close this loophole. In any case, I have trouble accepting this approach because it wouldn't explain why the firms pay traders such high salaries. After all, no special skill is necessary to engage in risky trades.

Another claim that is occasionally made against traders is that they prey on uninformed investors. This practice runs afoul of many principles of Jewish law. Legally, it may violate the requirement to disclose any defects in merchandise. Ethically, there is an additional problem. The Talmud states when someone is ill-informed about the odds against him, there is a lack of informed consent gambling against him. Maimonides states that this is considered a form of stealing. (2) This is not quite the same as selling a financial asset, which does have some inherent value, but ethically I think that it is in many ways comparable regarding a risky asset.

I believe that this is a widespread problem, but not among traders. The problem is very widespread among unauthorized people selling different kinds of get-rich-quick schemes, and to a lesser extent it is found among registered brokers. There was a high profile case a few years ago where brokers at a major firm pushed stocks to clients while privately they referred to them as "dogs". But the particular expertise of the high-flying traders is in arcane instruments which are not usually traded by amateurs at all.

So regarding the first question, my answer is that I do not find any grounds to doubt that traders earn their pay based on a combination of skill and good luck just like any other business person. It's just another way to make a living, with its own ethical challenges but without any unique ethical opprobrium.

SOURCES: Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 183:4 in Rema (2) Maimonides' Code, Gezeila veaveida 6:10

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JWR contributor Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, formerly of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, is Research Director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, Jerusalem College of Technology. To comment or pose a question, please click here.


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© 2009, The Jewish Ethicist is produced by the JCT Center for Business Ethics