The mighty Atlases upon whose shoulders we sit are getting angry at our ingratitude. They give, we take; they build wealth, and we sponge off it; they motor the world, and all we do is unthinkingly criticize and complain when the invisible hand of the market rewards them. Well, Mr. and Mrs. American whiner, they want you to know they’ve had it, as reported by Gabriel Sherman in this article in New York Magazine:
“No offense to Middle America, but if someone went to Columbia or Wharton, [even if] their company is a fumbling, mismanaged bank, why should they all of a sudden be paid the same as the guy down the block who delivers restaurant supplies for Sysco out of a huge, shiny truck?” e-mails an irate Citigroup executive to a colleague.
“I’m not giving to charity this year!” one hedge-fund analyst shouts into the phone, when I ask about Obama’s planned tax increases. “When people ask me for money, I tell them, ‘If you want me to give you money, send a letter to my senator asking for my taxes to be lowered.’ I feel so much less generous right now. If I have to adopt twenty poor families, I want a thank-you note and an update on their lives. At least Sally Struthers gives you an update.”
You might think your life is tough, what with losing your job, your home, your retirement, but you just don’t get it. Your perspective is warped by the distorting prism of reality. You should have gone to Columbia or Wharton. Maybe then you’d understand that the rich have special needs. They also face special problems, the likes of which you and I could never hope to understand. For example, cost structures. Cost structures are an invisible web of interlocking expenses that, well, force you to be a greedy snob. A former Goldman Sach’s man explains:
To Wall Street people who have grown up in the bubble, the meaning of the crisis is only slowly sinking in. They can’t yet grasp the idea of a life lived on less. “Without exception, Wall Street guys have gotten accustomed to not being stuck in the city in August. So it becomes a right to have a summer home within an hour or two commute from Manhattan,” says the Goldman vet. “There’s a cost structure of going with your family on summer vacation that’s not optional. There’s a cost structure of spending $40,000 to send your kids to private school that is not optional. There’s a sense of entitlement, that you need that amount of money just to live, that’s not optional.”
Do you get it yet? If you happen to be stuck in the unemployment line this August, just know it could be worse: you could be stuck in a dreary penthouse in Manhattan. But then again, you didn’t go to Columbia or Wharton, so it’s probably not sinking in. It’s all about cost structure, which never enters our beautiful minds, or the beautiful minds of those lucky Sysco delivery drivers who get to idle away their days in huge, shiny trucks.
There’s one more thing. A lot of these beneficient Wall Street people were willing to vote for Obama. You know, because they care about you, me, America in general. But this liberal sense of entitlement he’s been spreading around violates their free market principles, and not even the billions of dollars in TARP money that he’s giving them is enough allay their concerns. Thus, they warn, Wall Street just might do something unheard of in the history of American finance — turn right!
During the campaign, Obama was never shy about his promise to undo the Bush tax policies. But it was easy to ignore his occasional lapses into populist rhetoric and focus on his intense intelligence and Ivy League education. Now, in the wake of the crisis, Wall Street’s politics are shifting rightward. “All the rich people I know took George Bush for granted,” says an analyst at a midtown hedge fund. “I’m a Democrat, but I agree with Rush Limbaugh on a lot of this stuff,” rails the wife of a former AIG executive.
The argument that Obama has in fact done a great deal to help Wall Street—to the tune of trillions of dollars—doesn’t have much truck with these critics. “If you really take a look at what Obama is promising, it’s frightening,” says Nicholas Cacciola, a 44-year-old executive at a financial-services firm. “He’s punishing you for doing better. He doesn’t want to have any wealth creation—it’s wealth distribution. Why are you being punished for making a lot of money?” As a Republican corporate lawyer puts it: “It’s the politics of envy, and that’s very dangerous.”
There you have it. We’re pushing Wall Street right into the arms of Rush Limbaugh. When they deliver us to another Republican regime, we’ll only have ourselves to blame.
I bet you feel really stupid now about complaining over paying their bonuses.