(Print, Southern Labor Archives. Caption: History Repeats Itself–The Robber Barons of the Middle Ages, And The Robber Barons of To-Day)
Guess what? The fat cats on Wall Street not only think that they will be doing as well or better this year than last, they think that any attempt to limit their outrageous salaries and bonuses will stifle innovation. The following is from a Bloomberg.com story, “Bankers Expect Rising Bonus Pay to Break Records in Global Poll,” (Oct. 30, 2009).
Having shaken off the biggest economic decline since the 1930s, almost three in five traders, analysts and fund managers believe their 2009 bonuses will either increase or won’t change, according to a quarterly poll of Bloomberg customers. Only one in four see a decline. Asians are the most optimistic about pay and Americans and Europeans somewhat less so.
“The large banks are knocking the cover off the ball,” said Daniel Alpert, managing director of New York-based investment bank Westwood Capital LLC. The industry is “making money, though with government help.”
Worldwide, a majority of market professionals in the survey also turn thumbs down on government attempts to limit compensation, with 51 percent saying restrictions will stifle useful innovation. Only about 38 percent think pay limits will control excessive risk-taking.
In the U.S., where President Barack Obama has chided Wall Street for being “motivated only by the appetite for quick kills and bloated bonuses,” 65 percent say the restrictions will damp innovation.
So, we are supposed to believe that if “market professionals” lose some of their bonuses, it will decrease their capacity and motivation to think about new ways to make money. This claim is as lame as it is self-serving. You would think that some loss would only drive them to new heights of creativity, given their alleged professionalism. Yet they keep managing to get away with offering ever weaker rationalizations for why they need ever increasing salaries and bonuses. Laughing all the way to the bank(s). It seems that we have our own version of the Robber Barons. They may oppose tariffs, but they have the equivalent of monopolies in many areas. They work for institutions that are, after all, too big to fail. Yet these “professionals” should remember that Americans have a limited tolerance for aristocrats, and they are beginning to skate on the thin ice of class: they are becoming an entrenched moneyed aristocracy.
If you question my assumption about Americans’ limited tolerance for self-inflated moneyed folks, I ask you to take the Gilligan’s Island test. Which character or characters on Gilligan’s Island do you least trust: Gilligan, the skipper, the millionaire and his wife, the movie star, the professor or Mary Ann? (Hint: notice that there is only one character not looking at you.)