Oblivious

Oblivious

From the AP:

“Banks that are getting taxpayer bailouts awarded their top executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and other benefits last year, an Associated Press analysis reveals.

The rewards came even at banks where poor results last year foretold the economic crisis that sent them to Washington for a government rescue. Some trimmed their executive compensation due to lagging bank performance, but still forked over multimillion-dollar executive pay packages.

Benefits included cash bonuses, stock options, personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management, the AP review of federal securities documents found.

The total amount given to nearly 600 executives would cover bailout costs for many of the 116 banks that have so far accepted tax dollars to boost their bottom lines.”

There are all sorts of delightful tidbits in the article. Banks that took bailout funds paid for their executives’ private financial advisors, club dues, home security systems, and chauffeurs and leased cars. Here’s what passes for an explanation of all this:

“Goldman Sachs’ tab for leased cars and drivers ran as high as $233,000 per executive. The firm told its shareholders this year that financial counseling and chauffeurs are important in giving executives more time to focus on their jobs.”

I’m sure they’re right. But the question is not: do chauffeurs contribute to peace of mind? It’s: why should companies who are receiving taxpayer funds because they (meaning their executives) got themselves into deep trouble be paying for these things? Couldn’t the executives, who are, after all, very well paid, pay for their own home security systems and financial planners and chauffeurs?

The super-rich seem to me, during the past few decades, to have wafted off into their own alternate universe, in which of course they are entitled to have their employers pay them not just large salaries, not just multi-million dollar bonuses every year, but the bills for everything that ordinary people pay for; in which flying on public airlines seems to them the way taking the public buses seems to much of the middle class; in which any possible contact with what the rest of us take to be reality has been airbrushed away by vast quantities of money.

Under normal circumstances, I’d think: nice work if you can get it, and worry about the effects of massive inequality on public life. But these are not normal times. The very people who are getting these bonuses and chauffeurs and private jets and financial planners have just sent the entire global economy into a nosedive. They have caused massive amounts of money to disappear. They are getting bailed out for their mistakes by the rest of us — the people who, if we’re lucky, get to fly coach, and if we’re not, drive across the country or take a bus.

If they had any shame at all, they would stop. More than that: if they had any sense at all of how angry a lot of us are getting, sheer prudence would do the trick. This is our money. We are giving it to them to get all of us out of a problem that they caused. They should bear that in mind, not treat us as if we were one great big cookie jar.