Thursday, March 26, 2009


I guess someone didn't read the NYT OpEd the same way I did. My reply in a bit:
I think you completely misconstrue this letter. Do you seriously think a millionaire would be dumb enough to try to elicit sympathy for giving up his bonus during the worst recession in decades? MIT people are known for lacking social skills, and Wall Street people are known for being out of touch, but no way could this guy be that dumb. You have to read this letter in the context of the events of the past week in which people were essentially accusing anyone who worked at AIG financial products division of being a lazy, incompetent rich prick at best or criminal at worst. I think he was simply trying to rebut that caricature by showing that he is an honest, hard-working guy who had nothing to do with the downfall of AIG. I don't think he was trying to portray himself as some kind of martyr.

You call him out for saying that the downfall of AIG wasn't his fault, but what if that is the truth? Your only evidence for it not being true is the assumption that everyone who worked at AIG-FP is at fault. As to your comment about him blaming it on shadowy people elsewhere--what could he have said that would have satisfied you? Do we have to assume that he's full of shit unless he drops a footnote with the names and addresses of the people he was referring to? Ultimately, whether or not he is telling the truth is a factual question that neither of us can answer definitively, but there are some reasons for believing what he says is true: (i) he submitted this letter to the New York Times, so it would be pretty easy for read this and out him as a liar; and (ii) he worked in the commodities group, and according to the information I have seen, the vast majority of AIG's losses are from credit default swaps related to mortgage backed securities.

Another thing that bothered me about your response is your criticism of him for saying that he worked hard. It seems like you are essentially saying that white collar work can't be considered hard work. Yes, reading documents and sending emails are not inherently difficult activities, but I don't see anything wrong with calling an 80-hour week of white collar work "hard work." Picking strawberries is more physically demanding and could be conisdered harder work, but so what? This guy never said that strawberry pickers don't work hard. Also, there is no law or coherent ethical principle dictating that everyone's income must be contigent on working hard and/or everyone's income must be proportionate to how hard they have worked, so it is somewhat irrelevant (though he is the one who brought it up). Finally, if you are going to criticize this guy for congratulating himself on his hard work while not giving enough credit to how lucky he is then, to be consistent, you should voice the same criticism at virtually anyone in America. We are all very lucky to be live here rather than Somalia. A person earning the US median income of $43,000 is in the 98% percentile with respect to the rest of the world ( So if you overhear a strawberry picker complain about their pay being reduced from $8 to $7 an hour, please call them out on your next blog for how ungrateful they are for living in the US.