Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Whom amongst us?

In an attempt to put a human face on the other side of the AIG bonus debacle, an about-to-be-former employee pens an OpEd for the New York Times. The idea is to make us feel sympathetic for him and others of his ilk, to show that politicians are engaged in somewhat of a grandstanding witch hunt. While I totally agree that the latter is occuring (that is what politicians do), it doesn't then follow that I'm receptive to the former, and that's where I think DeSantis errs in judgement. I imagine that most folks will have a similar reaction.

While I agree that there are politicians grandstanding given the current populist winds (I mean, I'm sure Cuomo has accepted tons of campaign contributions from the financial sector), I'm still not going to feel sorry for a guy who received a bonus of $750,000 in very lean times for playing a slightly different version of Liar's Poker, and then has the balls to humbly compare himself to a plumber. This is grandstanding, just like Cuomo.

"Many of the employees have, in the past six months, turned down job offers from more stable employers." I'm pretty sure that Mr. DeSantis of five years ago wouldn't feel sorry for Mr. DeSantis of today -- that's the free market at work, he would say -- you made a bad choice, you lose. (By the way, I'm calling bullshit on the many other job offers out there). DeSantis is actually trolling for sympathy!

This is the sort of bullshit that drives people nuts about Wall Streeters. First, the it's-not-my-fault part -- blame the shadowy people elsewhere, who apparently have vaporized from this earth: "Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage." And then the faux-populism, I've-suffered-too: "I did, however, like many others here, lose a significant portion of my life savings in the form of deferred compensation invested in the capital of A.I.G.-F.P. because of those losses. In this way I have personally suffered from this controversial activity" No, sir, suffer is what happens when you watch someone you love die because you can't afford medical insurance, suffering is not what occurs when you can return a $750,000 bonus to make a political statement.

This guy wraps himself in "the American dream" and "hard work" (a mover getting paid $8 an hour is hard work, an immigrant picking strawberries for less than that is hard work, wandering around an office in lower Manhattan talking to people, writing emails, and taking phone calls is not hard work). He argues for an honoring of commitments: "We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised." That line didn't work too well for the auto unions, who have seen their promised benefits cut time and time again because someone in management made a dumb decision. Call me nuts, but I don't think DeSantis was all that upset when UAW members saw their "perks" cut due to the necessity of hard economic times.

Here's a telling line: "I know that because of hard work I have benefited more than most during the economic boom and have saved enough that my family is unlikely to suffer devastating losses during the current bust." Again, I think this guy is living in a different universe. First, note how he attributes his benefits not to lucky circumstances, not to being in an industry that lavishly compensates those who generate short-term profits, but rather to hard work, which I suppose also means that those who didn't benefit "more than most" must not have been working too hard -- take that you lazy teachers! Further, "more than most" as a clarifier means something like more than half, maybe 3/4. It certainly does not mean >99.999% percent of everyone on the planet, but that's how this guy views himself, someone whose situation isn't all that abnormal, just someone on the plus side of the normal distribution of things.

Obama was on to something the other night when he suggested that bankers need to "get out of New York." There's a whole 'nother world out there, and DeSantis' attempt to make it seem like Wall Street is a blameless victim is not only tone deaf but also dead wrong.