The new issue of New York Magazine features a cover story called “The Wail of the 1%.” The piece describes what a bummer it is for rich Wall Street execs to have to put up with all the populist rage that’s being levied against them–just because they helped bring down the world economy, and got paid seven-figure salaries while doing so. It’s especially difficult for the poor bankers and brokers to endure all these bad vibes while they’re having to tighten their own hand-tooled Italian leather belts due to lost jobs and lost bonuses.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this sort of peevish lament from the rich–I’ve written about it before myself. But the article’s author, Gabriel Sherman, gets some truly shameless quotes out of these guys (most of whom refused to use their names). A few examples:
“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.”
There’s nothing surprising about greed on Wall Street, of course. What’s remarkable is the fact that after all the damage they’ve done, these execs still believe that they were entitled to everything they got, including a multi-trillion-dollar bailout from the very people they screwed. As Sherman notes, their statements reveal
the belief shared on Wall Street but which few have dared to articulate until now: Those who select careers in finance play an exceptional role in our society. They distribute capital to where it’s most effective, and by some Ayn Rand–ian logic, the virtue of efficient markets distributing capital to where it is most needed justifies extreme salaries—these are the wages of the meritocracy. They see themselves as the fighter pilots of capitalism.
Now that they aren’t flying so high, these executives see themselves as victims, their wings clipped not by their own incompetence, amorality, or avarice, but by an overbearing government and an envious proletariat. “Why are you being punished for making a lot of money?” one asks.
If you require an antidote (or a barf bag) after reading the article, I suggest this musical response from Gene Burnett. [Warning: Contains (appropriately) strong language.]