Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Earth to Wall Street: It's Over

Here's an even better quote by Eugene Robinson:

Earth to Wall Street: It's over, people. You had a terrific run, better than you deserved, but now you'd be wise to pay attention to those citizens outside, the ones with the pitchforks and the torches.

The offending bonus payments suggest that Wall Street utterly fails to comprehend how its standing in the nation and the world has changed. As long as the Masters of the Universe kept producing wealth with their mumbo jumbo about collateralized debt obligations and credit-default swaps, we mortals were willing to tolerate their preening excesses. But it turned out that they were generating only the illusion of wealth -- and that the mumbo jumbo was as nonsensical as it sounded. Ordinary Americans are now paying with their jobs, their homes, their mental and physical health. Respected economists are talking about the worst crisis since the Great Depression. And Wall Street has the gall to break out the champagne?

Things have changed. No longer does it seem reasonable -- if it ever did -- that the average CEO makes 344 times as much as the average worker, as was estimated last August by the Institute for Policy Studies and the nonprofit group United for a Fair Economy. No longer does it seem acceptable that John Thain, the since-ousted Merrill Lynch chief who ordered the accelerated bonuses that so irked McCaskill, would spend $1.2 million of his fast-sinking firm's money to redecorate his office -- and then, with Merrill's losses being revealed as even greater than feared, request a bonus of up to $10 million for himself.

No longer does it make any sense to reward those who work in the financial industry so lavishly compared to the way we compensate those who, say, build tractors or write software or teach our children. Salaries should be reasonable and bonuses -- much more modest ones -- should be reserved for those who actually, you know, make money. If some of Wall Street's vaunted "talent" balks and flees, terrific. It was "talent" that got us here.

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