Mar 062012
 

Did you hear the one about the hedge fund employee complaining that he’s got to scrape by on $350,000 this year because of his lower bonus?

This is not an anti-banker joke, it’s a Bloomberg News story.

In the story, reporter Max Abelson gets finance industry workers to open up about their feelings about their financial sacrifices in the wake of a reduction in bonuses this year.

One hedge fund marketing director acknowledges that he is “freaking out, like a rat in trap on a highway with no way out” because he will be unable to keep up with his kids’ private school tuition, summer rental and the upgrade to his Brooklyn duplex.

Bonuses were down about 14 percent across the financial industry last year in the wake of a second annual plunge in profits of more than 50 percent.

Noting that profits plunged a lot more steeply that the bonuses, the New York Times Dealbook column, which often takes the Wall Street view, couldn’t summon much sympathy. Reporter Kevin Rose sniffed, “It is apparently going to take more than shrinking bank profits to put a big dent in Wall Street bonuses.”

Wall Street bankers remain by any measure well paid, with an average annual compensation, including bonuses, of $361,180 in 2010, the last year for which averages are available. That’s 5 ½ times the average pay for Americans.

So to help put the bankers’ problems in perspective for the rest of us who might be having a hard time working up any empathy, Bloomberg rustles up a high-priced accountant.

“People who don’t have money don’t understand the stress,” said Alan Dlugash, a partner at accounting firm Marks Paneth & Shron LLP in New York who specializes in financial planning for the wealthy. “Could you imagine what it’s like to say I got three kids in private school, I have to think about pulling them out? How do you do that?”

What a load of malarkey.

What the Bloomberg report neglects to mention is that the financial industry actually compensated for the lower bonuses by raising bankers’ salaries.

While some bank defenders claim the brouhaha over bonuses is just envy, a report from New Bottom Line earlier this year puts the bankers’ bonuses into sharp focus. It found that bankers’ total compensation at the six biggest banks amounted to $144 billion last year – second only to the total paid out in 2007 before the meltdown.

Since the 2008 financial collapse, the banks we bailed have paid out a total of half a trillion dollars in compensation.

According to the report, if the bankers let go of just half of their compensation packages, banks could afford to underwrite principal on all the underwater mortgages in the country.

If bankers chose to forgo just 72% of their bonuses, they could fill the nearly $103 billion budget gap plaguing the nation’s city and states.

The bankers aren’t getting this money because they have contributed so much to the well being of the country. They’re getting it because they’ve captured both the political system and their regulators, who continue to do the bankers’ bidding. We can’t expect them, the bankers or the politicians or the regulators, to stop on their own.

We’re going to have to do it.

Check out our constitutional amendment to undo U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which opened the gates wide for bankers and other corporate titans to influence our government with an unlimited and anonymous tidal wave of cash.

 

About Martin Berg

Martin Berg, WheresOurMoney.org editor, is a veteran journalist.

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