Friday, 30 January 2009

What Could I do with 18.4 Billion Dollars?

In stunning acts of avarice and colossal greed that would make Bernie Madoff shudder with pride, the titans of Wall Street were bellying up to the bonus trough to the tune of 18.4 billion dollars in 2008, the New York Times reported yesterday.
Despite crippling losses, multibillion-dollar bailouts and the passing of some of the most prominent names in the business, employees at financial companies in New York, the now-diminished world capital of capital, collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year. 
That was the sixth-largest haul on record, according to a report released Wednesday by the New York State comptroller.

While the payouts paled next to the riches of recent years, Wall Street workers still took home about as much as they did in 2004, when the Dow Jones industrial average was flying above 10,000, on its way to a record high.

Some bankers took home millions last year even as their employers lost billions.

There have been reports of multi-million dollar packages for corporate bigwigs, spa weekends as perks, office redecoration bills in the millions and corporate jets still being flown with regularity, all while the markets have tumbled in record fashion, job losses are mounting daily, foreclosures are becoming commonplace and taxpayers are footing the bill for these assholes' companies bailouts. Can you say disconnect? President Obama (Wow! That really rolls quite easily off of the tongue) was almost apoplectic. (Ok! He was the Obama version of apoplectic. I think I saw his nose twitch a little, which obviously meant that a nostril must have flared!) 
"It is the height of irresponsibility for employees to be paid more than $18 billion in bonuses last year while their crumbling financial sector received a bailout from taxpayers. "It is shameful," Obama said from the Oval Office. "And part of what we're going to need is for the folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint, and show some discipline, and show some sense of responsibility."
Restraint, you say Mr. President? Don't you really mean a cultural sea-change? John Thain, the former CEO of Merrill Lynch which was recently sold to Bank of America as a direct result of a 15.4 billion dollar fourth quarter loss, has been trying to wrangle his 14 million dollar bonus and severance package out of the wheezing company that forced him out. This comes after it was revealed that all the while the bailouts were being negotiated, Mr. Thain was redecorating his downtown Manhattan offices to the tune of 1.2 million dollars. These bills included a $1400 wastebasket and a $35,000 toilet. (Insert obvious crap joke here!!) Mr. Thain has become the poster boy for the Wall Street bandits. 

I ask you? What do these people do that is so special, that makes them think that they deserve bonuses of this magnitude? I always thought that the word bonus meant "extra". If a job is done and done well, there are bonuses tied to exceptional performance. Shouldn't that also mean that if you have put a company into the crapper ($35,000 one notwithstanding) you must be held responsible? I have heard the argument that they work hard for the money, but do they work any harder than the emergency room physician on-call for 48 straight hours or the construction worker repairing a damaged bridge in -40 degree temperatures? No, there is an obvious disconnect between the financial sector and the average person. There is a sense of entitlement that is frighteningly apparent, that hasn't dissipated one iota, even as their worlds have begun to crumble around them. 

This disconnect extends to politicians as well. Here in the Great White North, Sweatered Stevie just brought down his much anticipated budget; the one that was supposed to kick-start the economy and keep the evil Liberal empire from usurping his turf. One of the centrepieces of the document is a much discussed tax break for home renovations and re-fittings. The idea is to help the ailing trades. Steve, baby! Why would somebody put new windows in their home, when they can't even pay the mortgage because their job has magically disappeared? Do you honestly think that the tax cuts proposed are going to be spent in the economy or isn't it more likely that they will be saved for essentials like food and heat? 

This economic recession that the world finds itself in will be studied and debated by smarter people then me for many years to come, and I would hazard to guess that it will probably get much worse before it gets better, but at the very least it is time to "bitchslap" the so-called financial wizards who hastened our arrival at this point. I realize that recovering that 18.4 billion is probably a lost cause, but it would be nice to see someone try.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful set of observations. It looks as though there's no better understanding of the impact of this debacle on ordinary middle-class families up there in the north than there is here.

    This time, we used the ballot to try to bring about the changes needed to turn the country around. If that doesn't work, the next steps will, I fear, be much more violent and destructive.