It is hard to be a “Master of the Universe” when the universe is collapsing.
One might think that Wall Street’s recent implosion would provide American financiers with an opportunity to cultivate the virtue of humility, but one would be mistaken. Instead, Wall Street’s denizens are mad as hell and determined to maintain a belief in their own superiority and their privileged place in American society.
This group psychology is on display in the current issue of the magazine New York. In “The Wail of the 1%,” the magazine uses candid (yet generally anonymous) interviews to show that “in a witch hunt, the witches have feelings too.”
On the industry’s pay structure:
‘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.
On the industry’s societal value:
‘One of my relatives is a doctor, we’re both well-educated, hardworking people. And he certainly didn’t make the amount of money I made,’ a former Bear Stearns senior managing director tells me. ‘I would be the first person to tell you his value to society, to humanity, is far greater than anything that went on in the Bear Stearns building.’
On the government bailouts that have kept the industry afloat:
‘When I talked to my friends in November and December at firms like Goldman [Sachs], they would tell me, ‘If the government doesn’t bail us out, we’re going down.’ They really thought they were going to zero, and without exception, they all forget that now,’ he [a former Goldman employee] says . ‘They forget that their company’s stock was going to zero. It’s a state of delusion; they don’t remember those days. The flip side of that is, every guy except the Goldman guy remembers that Goldman was bailed out.’
On proposed tax changes to help pay for the industry bailout:
‘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.’