Monday, February 8, 2010

Runaway Boys on Wall Street

Scenario: Mother inherits valuable 100 year-old family heirloom, instructs son, 8, to never, ever touch it. Bad angel on shoulder pipes up, "Awwww, g'wan. What could happen?" Boy shatters heirloom. Mother scolds and punishes. Boy runs away. Smirking, cynical uncle takes boy in so he avoids consequences. Prodigal is eventually welcomed home and such is relief of mother that he's never truly punished. Mother places  freshly acquired heirloom in conspicuous spot...

So goeth Wall Street's boys. Without giving home buyers who fed of the poisoned trough a free pass, we all know who fashioned and filled the trough. 

Rumbling like a runaway train come reports of bonuses that have been "cut."  Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase will get $17 million. Goldman's Lloyd Blankfein is facing the bleakness of 2010 with a cut to a mere $9 million. Bank of America sets aside $4 billion for 2009 bonuses. Click here for Tom Petty's Runaway Train

(It would take a somewhat above-average worker earning $60,000 a year about 150 years to earn the same amount as Blankfein's one year bonus, and almost 283 years to earn what Dimon will make.)

While there are certainly ample social good arguments against such bonuses, and ample remedies through taxes to help Mainstreeters return to productive lives, there is little talk of either the morality of the doling out of such great bacon slabs, or of any sort of compensatory, voluntary actions by the recipients to right their wrongs. (How about creating a few hundred community banks with the cash?)

Instead these executives are stuck in Neverland, boys clothed in $5,000 suits instead of woodland-inspired togs.

Never gonna be a man,
I won't!
Like to see somebody try
And make me.
Anyone who wants to try
And make me turn into a man,
Catch me if you can.
I won't grow up. 

They argue straight-faced that these goitrous bonuses are necessary to "retain talent." There are about 125,000 people in the United States alone with MBAs. (In 1960, there were about 5,000). Then there are people with advanced degrees in economics, all those with undergraduate degrees in some sort of finance or business related field, and finally there are legions of smart, tough people who learned finance through working retail sales. The domestic pool of talent is enormous. And, because the world economy is globalized, the pool is now the size of an ocean. So much for the need to retain talent through sacrilegiously sized bonuses.

Now to the trickier issue of morality. Everyone's happy the bank bailout loans and other funds are being repaid to our treasury. But, that is like chipping in on gas money if you've wiped out someone's family in a car crash.

Until the financial world's leaders - leaders with names and faces and homes and private, interior lives like you and I have - take full responsibility, they will and should remain pariahs in our country. And the heaviest hammer of economic justice available should come down on them for waging war on the middle class, and the aspiring middle class.

Finally, the best part: as Democrats push harder for restitution through higher taxes and tighter control of the industry, the Wall Street boys are beginning to give more money to the Republicans. 

The NY Times reported today: Senator John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he visited New York about twice a month to try to tap into Wall Street’s “buyers’ remorse.” 

“I just don’t know how long you can expect people to contribute money to a political party whose main plank of their platform is to punish you,” Mr. Cornyn said."

Lost the boys of Wall Street may be, but ever so slick and ever so self-serving.

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