Your Eight Weeks Waiting Tables Don't Matter
This New York Magazine article about the whines of the Wall Street rich officially marks a trend in journalism, wherein a writer finds a bunch of Wall Street guys and turns on the tape recorder while they speak a bunch of cringe-inducing quotes into it. It's not very revelatory after the 5th or 6th article, since by now we know pretty well that these are a collection of Randian jerks with a massive entitlement complex who think they rule the world by selling worthless pieces of paper to one another. Sure, it's good to know that they never gave charity out of a sense of, you know, charity, but for the tax cut and the hope of accumulating more power, and it's telling to recognize that the same people so concerned with being personally denigrated by the White House and the public decided not to publish their names. But all in all, this story has been told, and while I guess I understand why establishment media would want to run the same "poor, poor rich people" story over and over, it's certainly telling that you couldn't find a story quoting all members of the middle class that live in Manhattan (the median salary in NYC is about $65,000, so you have 4 million or so making less) if you sat in front of Lexis Nexis every day for a week.
But this part, as DougJ notes, was crucial to understanding the mindset of these people, and also reveals the nexus between the financial establishment and the DC Village establishment:
Jake DeSantis, a 40-year-old commodities trader at AIG, was an unlikely face of Wall Street greed. Stocky and clean cut, with an abiding moral streak, he’d worked summers for a bricklayer in the shadow of shuttered steel mills outside Pittsburgh; he was valedictorian of his high-school class and attended college at MIT.
He laid bricks one summer as a teenager, and so he simply deserves million-dollar bonuses for a company effectively owned by the federal government. I'll turn it over to DougJ at this point.
It’s striking how much we now see the idea that a working-class childhood justifies an adulthood of careerist whoring. Somerby’s been all over this for years, but I think the most blatant example I’ve ever seen is this bit from a chat with Howard Kurtz recently:
Reader: Much of the scalding tone many of your writers on these chats are subjected to from readers is based on this premise. We know that the Post, the Times, the networks are working to support the establishment at all cost. (In Broder’s famous and haughty dismissal of Bill Clinton “this is not his town”). But the problem is that you guys don’t like to portray yourselves as defenders of the establishment. You are the “little guy.” No you are not. Be honest with your audience.
Howard Kurtz: Talk about sweeping generalizations! Evan Thomas declares himself part of the establishment and suddenly every member of the major newspapers and networks are pillars of that establishment as well?
That would be news to Brian Williams, who was a volunteer fireman as a young man and washed out in his first job at a tiny Kansas station. And news to me, a guy who went to a state university. And news to Katie Couric, who started out on the University of Virginia’s student paper and washed out in her first national job, at CNN. And news to longtime Post editor Len Downie, who went to Ohio State University and started here as an intern. And also news to me, a kid from Brooklyn who never met a professional journalist until my junior year at a state university.
If you want to say these are big corporations, if you want to criticize what they do, be my guest. But let’s not assume that everyone in the business grew up in the bosom of the establishment.
An even more amazing example is George Bush’s claim (from a 2000 Nick Lemann piece that’s subscription only) that the biggest difference between him and Al Gore is that Bush went to San Jacinto Junior High.
How did this idea of humble, or humbler, beginnings become so important? It’s worth noting that it’s Randian as well—her heroes usually come from the working class, even if they spend their adult lives spitting on it.
It's mixed up with the idea of virtuous selfishness, that if you "picked yourself up by your bootstraps" that it's necessary and good to cut the bootstraps of everybody else. After all, if they can't make it they lack character. And this imagined "rough childhood" gets used by the establishment to delude themselves into thinking they are jus' folks, in touch with the needs and concerns of the people and just like everyone else. There was a study a while back (can't find it now) showing that something like 80% of the public considers themselves middle class, which is functionally impossible. But these biographical data points have nothing to do with present circumstance. As far as I know, robbery remains robbery whether or not you preceded that robbery with a stint landscaping in the heat.
In fact, we have a grossly unequal society, with little upward mobility, and dangerous implications from such inequality, creating the bubble-based economy which is now bursting. In the past 25 years, top salaries have increased by 256% while low-income salaries increased by 11%. In real dollars that's an obscene difference in income. It's also a major difference in access to media and raw power, which is why we have to endure multiple waves of articles about the persecuted overclass.
Somebody spare us.