As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Two Of A Kind

I don't think it's possible to improve upon this Digby post, so I'll just offer an excerpt.

Read this petulant whine from someone who made a $750,000 bonus from AIGFP and feels so hurt and betrayed by all the mean things that are being said about him that he's going to quit and give his bonus to charity. No word about whether he thinks he should get his charitable deduction, but I'll bet he'll scream bloody murder if he doesn't get it.

This person said that despite the fact that he worked for AIGFP he was in the commodities division and had nothing to do with the CDOs and is, therefore, blameless. And for all I know, that's true. But what he seems not to want to recognize is that the whole company would have gone down without the government intervening and he would have been left with nothing. It happens every day. Bonus contracts with bankrupt companies really aren't worth the paper they're printed on.

This crisis in AIG required that people such as this, who admittedly made a ton of money over the years, work for very little for a time until they could get the company back on its feet. They might not be rewarded to the tune of 750 thousand dollars for a years work, but if they made arrangements for deferred compensation down the road, after the taxpayers were repaid, I have little doubt they would have made out very well in the long run. Instead they are having a public tantrum at a time when they should be keeping the lowest possible profile. (Why are we supposed to believe these people are so smart that thes ecompanies can't do without them, again? I keep forgetting.)

Not only that, but apparently all of the subsidiary businesses of AIG are in serious trouble and aren't profitable, so I'm struggling to understand how essential this guy's service was. All of the supposedly sound parts of the business are coming to the government for bailouts one by one, so the possibility of the whole enterprise going under, leaving this guy with nothing, was and remains very real.

Digby concludes:

The smart move for all of them is to shut up rather than whine publicly at a time like this. But corporate narcissists can't help themselves. All you have to do is think of names like Kenny Boy Lay, Jeff Skilling, Bernard Ebbers,Bernie Madoff, Joseph Cassanno and the list goes on, to know that this personality type is rampant among our Masters of the Universe. Rather than being the rational heroes of their Randian dreams (who would be smart enough to STFU at this moment) they are actually seriously screwed up human beings who found the perfect outlet for their disorder in our millennial gilded age.

Risk and growth are absolutely necessary for a dynamic capitalist economy. But this isn't that. This is an organizational and cultural disease and it's landed the economy on life support. These people either need to submit to the cure or be quarantined in their gated communities.

This personality disorder was further explored by Moe Tkacik today. The market goes up 20% and suddenly these creeps are cock of the walk again, telling politicians and the unwashed masses where to stuff it. In a New York magazine profile of Tim Geithner that Tkacik mentions, the sense of entitlement just breaks through your computer screen:

A lot of the pushback he's getting from Wall Street is about their lack of self-awareness about how the world has changed...They feel marginalized and put-upon by the administration's rhetoric about the greedy bankers...They see their taxes going up and their compensation going down. And what they don't do is go to the New York Times and say, 'My feelings are hurt. I don't like what the new president is saying about our character and our competence.' What they say is, 'These guys are incompetent, we need a real policy, the Treasury secretary has got an unsteady hand--he's not up to the job.' They're thinking one thing and saying something quite different."

It does pain my heart so to see their feelings hurt in all of this. After all, they only destroyed trillions of dollars' worth of wealth and very nearly the entire global finance system. They don't deserve a bad word.

Through this all I have wondered why the Obama Administration, but really why Barack Obama, a guy who spent two years talking to Americans all over the country who have essentially been traumatized by this behavior on Wall Street, someone who is able to talk about how an expanded middle class is the key to a stable economic future, could possibly take this bilge and decide to placate the investor class rather than knocking a two-by-four over their heads. I think Ezra Klein comes close to explaining it.

My sense of the situation is that this is the artifact of a fairly odd wrinkle in the Wall Street recruitment process: In recent years, the most constant talent pipeline has come from Ivy League schools where students had generally liberal politics and a background social conscience. They didn't, of course, have so much in the way of liberal politics that they decided to do turn down hundreds of thousands of dollars the very year they graduated college in order to do something that wasn't working at a hedge fund, but they have enough in the way of liberal politics that they wanted to find a way to quiet that gnawing sense that their life choices are increasingly defined by greed and materialism. As such, they often become very enthusiastic fundraisers for liberal politicians -- like Obama -- which in turn gave them some access and contacts in the eventual administration and assured some level of continuing communication when their industry became politically salient.

These are, in general, the folks Obama's staffers are talking to, and they are sympathetic to them: A Democratic-leaning high-achieving Ivy League economics major who decided to seek political success relates more intuitively to a Democratic-leaning high-achieving Ivy League economics major who decided to become very rich than he is to someone who isn't a high achieving Ivy League economics major with the ambition to excel in a high profile industry. I'm not sure how to correct for it or what the precise impact is, but there's a class sympathy that's been evident in the response to this crisis -- oh, don't take their bonuses, they did nothing wrong -- and will continue to affect the federal response.

Not to totally put Obama on the couch, but this makes sense to me. Aside from racial and even class divides in this country, there remains a socio-cultural divide, where those high-achieving Ivy Leaguers of a certain age have a certain kinship to one another, and seek to understand their concerns perhaps more than someone not of that world. The rub being that the recent past shows us that high-achieving Ivy Leaguers, by and large, run the government, and so that perspective will be reflected in policies well into the future.

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