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For the Love of Money
January 20, 2014 7:45 AM   Subscribe

In my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million — and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough. I was 30 years old, had no children to raise, no debts to pay, no philanthropic goal in mind. I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted. … I wanted a billion dollars. It’s staggering to think that in the course of five years, I’d gone from being thrilled at my first bonus — $40,000 — to being disappointed when, my second year at the hedge fund, I was paid “only” $1.5 million.
For the Love of Money by Sam Polk
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear (188 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Greed. The word they are looking for is greed.

I think it's a sin or something?
posted by The Whelk at 7:47 AM on January 20 [37 favorites]


To me it's refreshing to find Wall Street brokers/bankers are exactly as loathsome as I thought.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:51 AM on January 20 [27 favorites]


Great insight:

Dozens of different types of 12-step support groups — including Clutterers Anonymous and On-Line Gamers Anonymous — exist to help addicts of various types, yet there is no Wealth Addicts Anonymous. Why not? Because our culture supports and even lauds the addiction.
posted by windbox at 7:53 AM on January 20 [20 favorites]


Guys like this create jobs. All of our policy as a nation should be directed solely toward making him feel even more special, lest he suddenly decide to stop creating jobs for the benefit of his lesser citizens. For what would we do then?
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:53 AM on January 20 [19 favorites]


I thought the article was fascinating. I could see how someone could totally lose all perspective working in that environment.
But in the end, it was actually my absurdly wealthy bosses who helped me see the limitations of unlimited wealth. I was in a meeting with one of them, and a few other traders, and they were talking about the new hedge-fund regulations. Most everyone on Wall Street thought they were a bad idea. “But isn’t it better for the system as a whole?” I asked. The room went quiet, and my boss shot me a withering look. I remember his saying, “I don’t have the brain capacity to think about the system as a whole. All I’m concerned with is how this affects our company.”

I felt as if I’d been punched in the gut. He was afraid of losing money, despite all that he had.

From that moment on, I started to see Wall Street with new eyes. I noticed the vitriol that traders directed at the government for limiting bonuses after the crash. I heard the fury in their voices at the mention of higher taxes. These traders despised anything or anyone that threatened their bonuses. Ever see what a drug addict is like when he’s used up his junk? He’ll do anything — walk 20 miles in the snow, rob a grandma — to get a fix. Wall Street was like that. In the months before bonuses were handed out, the trading floor started to feel like a neighborhood in “The Wire” when the heroin runs out.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 7:57 AM on January 20 [22 favorites]


Dad believed money would solve all his problems. At 22, so did I.

Money definitely solves a ton of problems. And it's normal to get upset if someone doing what you do is making more money, even if it's a ton.

This guy's story reads like one of those boring narratives that's supposed to be exciting where the guy's like,"Oh, look how exciting and complex and real I am! I was on coke! I'm so deep! I have so much pain, but I'm fine now and can tell you all these life lessons!"

Basically it reads like an exhausting first date with some obnoxious asshole who thinks he has all the answers and he's lived.

I've just been on one too many dates with annoying guys lately, though, so bias and exhaustion here.
posted by discopolo at 8:04 AM on January 20 [13 favorites]


The first half of this article absolutely turned my guts. What a clear portrayal of the vile sickness infecting the very heart of our society, a cancer that weakens the body that hosts it. I'm glad this guy had a moment of epiphany, but what about the many others who were like him?

And if you identify with what I’ve written, but are reticent to leave, then take a small step in the right direction. Let’s create a fund, where everyone agrees to put, say, 25 percent of their annual bonuses into it, and we’ll use that to help some of the people who actually need the money that we’ve been so rabidly chasing. Together, maybe we can make a real contribution to the world.

It would be a great start if this happened, but I wouldn't hold my breath. It also makes me think of other times, recently, where people who excoriate the very idea of government and taxation have, often with their very next breath, offered solutions to our current ills that are, well, government and taxation, just with a different name, or under a different system. It's like folks across the political spectrum are coming to realize we all really benefit from socialism, just as long as we never ever call it that.
posted by erlking at 8:05 AM on January 20 [22 favorites]


I wonder what it's life to live with absolutely no shame or capacity for reflection.

Seems like it would make things easier.
posted by The Whelk at 8:06 AM on January 20 [12 favorites]


Money won't solve all your problems, but the number it will solve is shockingly high.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:06 AM on January 20 [63 favorites]


Greed. The word they are looking for is greed.

Greed?

With a year of sobriety under my belt, I was sharp, cleareyed and hard-working. At the end of my first year I was thrilled to receive a $40,000 bonus. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to check my balance before I withdrew money. But a week later, a trader who was only four years my senior got hired away by C.S.F.B. for $900,000.

Envy. Also a sin and perhaps not just a character flaw amongst the 1%.
posted by three blind mice at 8:12 AM on January 20 [4 favorites]


Greed. The word they are looking for is greed.

It's human nature as much as greed. I don't think bankers magically become monsters, nor that banking exclusively recruits monsters.

If your 'worth' is measured in money, which it is in an investment bank or hedge fund, then your bonus is how you derive your status among your peers, and whether you are getting a fair shake from your company. This is accentuated in big banks where staff are encouraged give up an absurd amount of time and emotional energy to their jobs and literally start to lose their connection to the real world.

Of course it is an absurd amount of money. But by the same token, any trivial gripe over remuneration by people who are well fed, homed and clothed is also greed - from the perspective of the billion plus people have don't have that luxury.

The problem isn't bankers getting paid $1m or $2m. These are symptoms of the problem. It's the financial system that generates the profits that support those absurd levels of pay that is the problem.

A classic example is how private pensions are such a racket, endowment polices produce such crappy yields, but money managers are making like bandits. It's a crooked system that fundamentally is about extracting money from the many and channelling to the few through ownership of the investment system.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:15 AM on January 20 [13 favorites]


(curious at the folks who are weighing in calling this guy an asshole: how do you take his actions in the latter half of the article? I admire him for jettisoning his ideological programming - that isn't easy for anyone to do. Good for him for leaving high finance to work on things he considers more valuable and helpful to society, and good for him for cultivating the idea of "enough" to counter "money-addiction." What should people who were in his previous position do, if not something like that?)
posted by erlking at 8:17 AM on January 20 [20 favorites]


"He’ll do anything — walk 20 miles in the snow, rob a grandma — to get a fix."

Pretty sure there'd be a lot less antipathy toward the finance industry if they were defaulting to the former than the latter.
posted by griphus at 8:17 AM on January 20 [20 favorites]


In the three years since I left, I’ve married, spoken in jails and juvenile detention centers about getting sober, taught a writing class to girls in the foster system, and started a nonprofit called Groceryships to help poor families struggling with obesity and food addiction. I am much happier. I feel as if I’m making a real contribution.

I'm always bothered by this part of the story. Sure he's "found happiness" and is now making a positive difference, but he wouldn't be in that position with the money, resources, skills, and connections to do that sort of thing if he hadn't already been a greedy asshole, and I bet he's still living a pretty high life while the millions of people he screwed over are still paying the price for his misdeeds.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:18 AM on January 20 [36 favorites]


Pretty easy to live a relaxed life as a motivational speaker on the weekends with a few million collecting interest in your rainy day fund. See kids, greed is bad.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:20 AM on January 20 [11 favorites]


I think what's being discussed here goes beyond "greed" in the same way that an eating disorder goes beyond "gluttony." What he's suggesting is something that I think most mefites would agree with if it appeared in Mother Jones: the idea that an engineered, pathological addiction is at the heart of Wall Street.

That someone "inside the system" realized this is more than just rich-guy-wankery.
posted by verb at 8:20 AM on January 20 [27 favorites]


And it's even easier to get more for your new carrer when the paper of record is giving you free advertisement.
posted by The Whelk at 8:21 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


I'm always bothered by this part of the story. Sure he's "found happiness" and is now making a positive difference, but he wouldn't be in that position with the money, resources, skills, and connections to do that sort of thing if he hadn't already been a greedy asshole, and I bet he's still living a pretty high life while the millions of people he screwed over are still paying the price for his misdeeds.

Okay, but... what else can he do? He's given up his evil ways, and now strives to do good. Maybe he'll never fully make up for the wrong he did, but if we're going to criticize his past life for making things awful, the flip-side is approving of working to improve the world.

Imagine this guy had committed a lot of violent crime, robbed people, assaulted others, and now works to prevent violence and uses his old street contacts to try to get people out of that life. Do we shrug and say "Still not enough good to balance out all the wrong you did before," or do we acknowledge that you can't actually undo the future and acts that reduce the total Awful in the world are good on their own merit?
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:23 AM on January 20 [12 favorites]


Something about his cause being food addiction in the poor makes me feel weird. I guess I'm just used to the "feeding the hungry" causes.
posted by discopolo at 8:25 AM on January 20 [11 favorites]


Working on Wall Street sounds like playing a real-life version of Cookie Clicker.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:25 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Okay, but... what else can he do? He's given up his evil ways, and now strives to do good. Maybe he'll never fully make up for the wrong he did, but if we're going to criticize his past life for making things awful, the flip-side is approving of working to improve the world.

Give the money away.
posted by Benjy at 8:27 AM on January 20 [18 favorites]


I suspect a lot of the anger with this guy is due to pure envy. Most people would do exactly he did (probably without the epiphany at the end) given the chance to make that much money -- if they could even hack the job.

Bankers and traders are not horrible monsters and nothing suggests this guy did anything unethical to earn his dough.

The system is set up with bad incentives and a toxic culture, that's all.
posted by shivohum at 8:27 AM on January 20 [12 favorites]


I’m reminded of a recent interview with Stephen King. When asked about his huge book advances, he admitted that he, of course, didn’t need the money; it was just a way to measure himself against Grisham, et al.
posted by landis at 8:27 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


I'm always bothered by this part of the story. Sure he's "found happiness" and is now making a positive difference, but he wouldn't be in that position with the money, resources, skills, and connections to do that sort of thing if he hadn't already been a greedy asshole, and I bet he's still living a pretty high life while the millions of people he screwed over are still paying the price for his misdeeds.

I felt exactly the same way. I would love to walk away from my job and just pursue my interests and make the world a better place through volunteering etc. and I sure as hell would be a lot happier and peaceful but unfortunately I don't have 3 million etc in my bank account...so back to work I go. It's much easier to "find yourself" when you have already placed your "soul-sucking" money in the bank. And (on preview) admittedly, I do envy that freedom.
posted by bquarters at 8:30 AM on January 20 [4 favorites]


I suspect a lot of the anger with this guy is due to pure envy.

Yeah, I want that bank account. No argument. I'm not going to pretend to be holier than thou or purer somehow. I'm not. And a million dollars doesn't seem like a ton of money anymore---not when you know really wealthy people.

I probably wouldn't even volunteer all that much. Probably for animal rescue charities. I'd probably nap all day and party all night until I turned 40. And do yoga. And get a trainer. And decorate.

I use Pinterest. None of my boards reflect any time for charity work.
posted by discopolo at 8:30 AM on January 20 [5 favorites]


Imagine this guy had committed a lot of violent crime, robbed people, assaulted others, and now works to prevent violence and uses his old street contacts to try to get people out of that life. Do we shrug and say "Still not enough good to balance out all the wrong you did before," or do we acknowledge that you can't actually undo the future and acts that reduce the total Awful in the world are good on their own merit?

But there's a key difference here. This guy profited handsomely from his crimes, and now he's trying to buy a clean conscience on discount with only some of the same money he earned doing terrible things. He's had his cake, and now he's eating it.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:30 AM on January 20 [12 favorites]


shivohum :Bankers and traders are not horrible monsters and nothing suggests this guy did anything unethical to earn his dough.

The system is set up with bad incentives and a toxic culture, that's all.


Would you say the same thing about someone who robs a store at gunpoint to buy bread to feed a family?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:34 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


It's a bit hard to take someone seriously when they say "Yeah, after I got more money than I ever knew what to do with, after I got mine, I began to rethink my 'fuck you, got mine' ethos."

I happened to see a recent interview with Jim Cramer and what he said was: In addition to wanting all the money, these guys want to be loved and lauded, which is why there's so much squealing and whining anytime a hint of "hey maybe these guys with 40% of the wealth in the world should give a little bit of it back so we can have a society" comes up. They're basically big babies that even with all the money in the world want to be told they're good little boys that we all love. Obviously I'm vastly simplifying what Cramer said, but that part, that "In addition to giving me all the money you must accept me and love me" really struck me as an essential truth.

But when you think about what that kind of wealth allows--fawning servants, fawning press, fawning underlings, everyone telling you that you're a wonderful person--of course it hurts when reality intrudes on that bubble.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:34 AM on January 20 [39 favorites]


Must be nice to be able to look back and feel high and mighty about walking away from that - when you've got a multi-million dollar bank account to fall back on as a cushion.
posted by mrbill at 8:34 AM on January 20


He's had his cake, and now he's eating it.

I don't think so. The guy's obsessed with food addiction. He's forcing the poor to keep a food journal, if you look at that groceryships stuff.
posted by discopolo at 8:35 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


Give the money away.

I mean it's easy to say "give the money away," but how? Track down every person his firm screwed, figure out how much he was personally complicit, and write them a check? Give money to a non-profit or a charity instead of letting him start his own? Hand it over the to the government so they can invest it in some private contractor that screws people in a different way?

I can't empathize with the guy. I can't say anything about his life sounds appealing save for the High Score bank account digits. But I certainly don't have the answers to these questions. I have no idea what and why he should do or have done to him to make up for what he did while, at the same time, not dumping the baby out with the bathwater and keeping the clearly valuable skills and connections he has from being used for good rather than ill.

Much like all of these stories, I'm left with throwing my hands up in the air.
posted by griphus at 8:39 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Most people would do exactly he did (probably without the epiphany at the end) given the chance to make that much money -- if they could even hack the job.

If that's true, then why do we have doctors, engineers, math professors, accountants, etc? Plenty of people have great facility with numbers and don't ever consider working on Wall Street.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:40 AM on January 20 [4 favorites]


Jesus. His "first bonus" is an amount many working families would kill to see in a year.
posted by threeants at 8:41 AM on January 20 [10 favorites]


Obviously I'm vastly simplifying what Cramer said, but that part, that "In addition to giving me all the money you must accept me and love me" really struck me as an essential truth.

Jamie Dimon agrees explictly.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:41 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Give the money away.

It's telling how unthinkable it is to imagine him -- much less a group of former bankers -- saying that they are giving their fortunes away and starting over with nothing as penance.

Personally, while I'm happy for him and glad that he feels he is doing good in the world, I'm beyond sick and tired of "I made a fortune and now I'm going to write a book telling you how to be a more connected and organic person." I'm sure it's unkind, but my reaction is a big fuck you; being talked to by rich people about how to live my life isn't of interest to me.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:41 AM on January 20 [21 favorites]


I suspect a lot of the anger with this guy is due to pure envy. Most people would do exactly he did (probably without the epiphany at the end) given the chance to make that much money -- if they could even hack the job.

Just a guess: do you make tons of money the same way the author used to?
posted by 23skidoo at 8:42 AM on January 20


It's telling how unthinkable it is to imagine him -- much less a group of former bankers -- saying that they are giving their fortunes away and starting over with nothing as penance.

Yeah. This guy shouldn't be getting kudos and status for starting a charity and "making a difference". He should be cutting a check to his local food bank for 99% of his net worth and filling out a job application at his local WalMart.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:46 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


I’m reminded of a recent interview with Stephen King. When asked about his huge book advances, he admitted that he, of course, didn’t need the money; it was just a way to measure himself against Grisham, et al.

Obviously I'm vastly simplifying what Cramer said, but that part, that "In addition to giving me all the money you must accept me and love me" really struck me as an essential truth.
Leland: Mmm, you may not always be so lucky...You don't care about anything except you. You just want to persuade people that you love 'em so much that they ought to love you back. Only you want love on your own terms. Something to be played your way, according to your rules.

…..

Kane: A toast, Jedediah, to love on my terms. Those are the only terms anybody ever knows - his own.
posted by kewb at 8:47 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


David Adkins: "Wall Streeters often whine that people hate them without good reason. But of course that's not true. People hate them for very good reason.
...
But those with a moral compass read accounts like this, or ones by Michael Lewis, or films about Wall Street, and understand that while the boring business of loans, liquidity and investment has value, the destructive, wealth-addicted, deeply immoral and Objectivist culture of modern Wall Street cannot be salvaged.

It must be cleansed with the purifying fire of punitive taxation and regulation."
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:48 AM on January 20 [8 favorites]


That's a lot of green eggs and ham Sam Polk man.

Also I wish people would use reticent properly.
posted by nowhere man at 8:49 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Just a guess: do you make tons of money the same way the author used to?

Umm, nope. Never have, and likely never will.
--
Would you say the same thing about someone who robs a store at gunpoint to buy bread to feed a family?

Sure, if he didn't live in a society where welfare and food stamps and soup kitchens and charity existed, and there were truly no jobs, and he had truly zero other options.
--
If that's true, then why do we have doctors, engineers, math professors, accountants, etc? Plenty of people have great facility with numbers and don't ever consider working on Wall Street.

You think it's easy to get high paying jobs on Wall Street? No. They're very difficult to get. You often have to come from the right schools and then really, really want it.

Second, it's very tough, very stressful, and involves taking a lot of risk. You could be here today, fired tomorrow. A lot of people aren't interested in that level of volatility in their life.
posted by shivohum at 8:52 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


In the three years since I left, I’ve married, spoken in jails and juvenile detention centers about getting sober, taught a writing class to girls in the foster system, and started a nonprofit called Groceryships to help poor families struggling with obesity and food addiction. I am much happier. I feel as if I’m making a real contribution.

As someone in the nonprofit world, I'm a little annoyed by the "started a nonprofit" part, myself. Why start a nonprofit? There are plenty of effective and good nonprofits already doing good work. Go give your time and money to one of them. Why does he have to choose a way to "give back" that elevates his ego?
posted by aka burlap at 8:53 AM on January 20 [48 favorites]


I suspect a lot of the anger with this guy is due to pure envy. Most people would do exactly he did (probably without the epiphany at the end) given the chance to make that much money -- if they could even hack the job.

I don't agree at all. Are you saying that the doctors, international aid workers, etc. I know who come from middle- and upper-class backgrounds and went to well-ranked schools are just doing that because they couldn't cut it as day traders? I think you're projecting. Lots of privileged people could have thrown themselves into making a zillion dollars if they had invested time and effort into it, but they don't because they'd rather spend their time creating some sort of good. People really do get to make choices.
posted by threeants at 8:53 AM on January 20 [25 favorites]


Give the money away.

It's telling how unthinkable it is to imagine him -- much less a group of former bankers -- saying that they are giving their fortunes away and starting over with nothing as penance.
“What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:54 AM on January 20 [11 favorites]


The world is still licking his ass, just now he gets to feel good about it.
posted by The Whelk at 8:54 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


While this is redemption made possible by prior failings, it's still redemption. At least he's trying to do something positive in the end. Even though he's clearly an asshole, he's channeling his narcissism into helping people - even if it's only a side effect of his need to build himself up.

I do get a bit annoyed when people like this roll up, talk about their suffering, talk about their enlightenment, and then go back to their protective wealth, but at the same time I have my own life to live. I hope he ends up doing some good.
posted by elwoodwiles at 8:55 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


A quote from the author of a previous Wall Streeter Comes To Jesus essay here:
a man receives from the free market what he gives to it, his material worth is a running tally of the net benefit that he has provided to his fellow man. A high income is not only justified, but there is nobility to it.
posted by fatbird at 8:56 AM on January 20


You think it's easy to get high paying jobs on Wall Street? No. They're very difficult to get. You often have to come from the right schools and then really, really want it.

Yeah, I went to school with people who ended up on Wall Street. I also went to school with people who have gone to medical school, law school, into top-ranked Ph.D. programs, started their own successful businesses, etc., and they all wanted their careers at least as much and worked at least as hard.

On preview, what threeants said.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:59 AM on January 20 [6 favorites]


MetaFilter hates on everything, part the millionth.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:00 AM on January 20 [12 favorites]


Even with stories like this, I don't understand why all those poor people still chose to be poor.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:03 AM on January 20 [10 favorites]


shivohum: "I suspect a lot of the anger with this guy is due to pure envy. Most people would do exactly he did (probably without the epiphany at the end) given the chance to make that much money -- if they could even hack the job."

Oh good god no. I have no envy of the super-rich and am deliriously happy with my $200K house and $18K car and my middle-class life. I've been poor and and I've been not-poor and not-poor is much better. On a larger scale, I'm freakin' Uncle Scrooge McDuck because I have central heat and hot-and-cold water and transporation and good health insurance. I've lived check-to-check desperately trying to keep a shitty $500 car patched together and not get the house utilities shut off in winter and that just sucks.

You could make a chart pretty easily graphing wealth against satisfaction and yeah, it's going to go up and to the right fairly steeply up until the point where you can afford a stable life but then it'll go pretty close to flat after that point because anything beyond that is just accumulation. If you read the article, it says that he was never satisfied no matter how much he made. Why? Because at that stage, wealth just becomes a thing to itself, it's no longer a tool to make you any happier or more secure. Because if you don't feel happy at ten million, twenty isn't going to help.
posted by octothorpe at 9:03 AM on January 20 [21 favorites]


This is a big part of the reason I advocate for an absolute limit on personal wealth. At some point, more money doesn't actually make any meaningful difference to your lifestyle - it's a pure pissing contest from then on, just competition for status. As bad as income inequality is, it's even worse to know that when the 1% is robbing the 99%, the 99% loses things critical to a worthwhile life (medical care, retirement, etc) and the 1% doesn't gain anything but bragging rights against the other 1%.

I tend to draw the line at $5 mil/year and $10 mil total personal assets before all additional wealth should go to taxes.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:03 AM on January 20 [31 favorites]


A classic example is how private pensions are such a racket, endowment polices produce such crappy yields, but money managers are making like bandits. It's a crooked system that fundamentally is about extracting money from the many and channelling to the few through ownership of the investment system.

If these guys are looking for ways to repent, they could start by exposing this money extraction Snowden style and working to create a less criminal investment system.

Richest 85 boast same wealth as half the world
...the world's richest 85 people control about $1.7 trillion in wealth, equivalent to the bottom half of the world's population.

In the US, the wealthiest 1 per cent of the population grabbed 95 per cent of post-financial crisis growth between 2009 and 2012, while the bottom 90 per cent became poorer.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:14 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


At least Major Bloodnok was honest about it.

BLOODNOK: What do you want me to do? What do you want me to do? How much? Anything for money, you know, anything. Here's the advertisement I put in the paper, look here. 'Wanted -- Money! No reasonable offer refused'.
...

BLOODNOK: I won't do it. I won't do it, you hear me! You'll have to force me.

FU-MANCHU: What with?

BLOODNOK: Money.
posted by delfin at 9:16 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Sure, if he didn't live in a society where welfare and food stamps and soup kitchens and charity existed, and there were truly no jobs, and he had truly zero other options.

Funny, I see sitting on obscene amounts of wealth in similar terms: sure, if you don't live in a society with massively underfunded welfare, food stamp programs, soup kitchens and charities, where people don't need more jobs, and where you truly have zero other options.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:18 AM on January 20 [9 favorites]


and they all wanted their careers at least as much and worked at least as hard.

That's fine, but talents and interests aren't interchangeable. People who become lawyers are often afraid of numbers, for example. People who enjoy medicine don't necessarily want to give that up to be traders. People often work hard at certain things; that doesn't mean they'd be able to work hard at just anything. Not to mention that professionals or academics often don't want to deal with the wall street culture, lifestyle, riskiness, etc. So they might not want to do (or be capable of doing) what this guy did to get where he is, but that doesn't, of course, prevent them or anyone else from being envious of his money.
--
up until the point where you can afford a stable life but then it'll go pretty close to flat after that point because anything beyond that is just accumulation

Well but a stable life at what level? It really depends on the company you keep. If you run in jet-setting circles who summer in the Hamptons and take private jets, stability and happiness are going to be measured against that...
--
This is a big part of the reason I advocate for an absolute limit on personal wealth.

It would make more sense if we limited wealth-gaining activities which don't actually help society much. If Steve Jobs becomes a billionaire, ok, at least he built a giant business that made society better. Wall Street is not as useful.

The other thing is to find some way to make contribution to society a status thing. The more people pay in taxes or help the poor, the more they should be lauded and respected. Get the wealthy to compete over that.
posted by shivohum at 9:19 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


This is a big part of the reason I advocate for an absolute limit on personal wealth.

I think the we may be heading towards wealth taxes eventually. I very conservative friend of mine was actually advocating this to me the other day. I'd like to see wealth taxes be part of global trade agreements along with labor laws. Then we might really see crypto-currencies take off.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:21 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


That's fine, but talents and interests aren't interchangeable. People who become lawyers are often afraid of numbers, for example. People who enjoy medicine don't necessarily want to give that up to be traders. People often work hard at certain things; that doesn't mean they'd be able to work hard at just anything. Not to mention that professionals or academics often don't want to deal with the wall street culture, lifestyle, riskiness, etc. So they might not want to do (or be capable of doing) what this guy did to get where he is, but that doesn't, of course, prevent them or anyone else from being envious of his money.

You raise an interesting point in that maybe financial careers are attractive to particular kinds of people, and these may be more likely to abuse the system of rewards. Opening up the culture of that industry to a more diverse group may help, or even rearranging the different jobs and ways of working.
posted by Thing at 9:25 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


In regards to the notion that these robber barons want to be loved, in addition to all their worldly success:

Just this past Christmas my wife got me a boxed set of "Barney Miller", the entire series. It's awesome, a really great show. Anyway, there's an episode where they've busted a guy for snatching a woman's purse. It turns out that the woman and the man are both Wall Street finance industry insiders...but she's still in the business, and he's lost everything and been canned by his brokerage firm.

So, they're asking the guy why he took the woman's purse. Like, is he so broke that he can't buy food or something? And no, that's not it. The guy is hurting for money, sure, but he's not at risk of starving or anything like that. But he can't take being poor, being broke. He stole the woman's purse just to have some money in his pocket, $40 or $60 to carry around, so that he won't feel so much like a bum.

As the episode proceeds, it becomes clearer and clearer that the guy is something like a true sociopath. When they bring the woman in to identify him as the guy who snatched her purse, he starts berating her for wanting to press charges. It's really manipulative. And she finally decides to drop the whole thing, at least partially out of admiration for the sheer brazen selfishness of the guy's self-justification.

And then, as the police are giving her back her purse, and him back his coat, it comes to light that his coat still has the $60 that he stole in the pocket. And he convinces her to let him keep it. Because obviously letting him go without anything to show for his efforts, for stealing the purse and then having to spend all day in a police station, would be monstrous, right? Because he really wants the money.

The woman throws up her hands in disgust and flees the station. The cops shake their heads in disapproval and tell the guy that he's free to go. But he hesitates. The police captain looks up and sees him just standing there, looking around the room at the cops going about their business. "Is there something else I can help with, sir?" asks the captain.

"I..."

"Yes?"

"I just hate walking out of here feeling like I don't have your respect."

This is a mainstream television sitcom from 1974. I'm glad the author of the article had his moment of clarity, but his insight isn't particularly a new one, and neither is the notion that people in his line of work need a lot of personal validation in addition to all of their riches. I think a more interesting point is that we've collectively had the ability to spot what the financial industry is really about for at least 40 years now, without being bothered enough to do something about it.
posted by Ipsifendus at 9:40 AM on January 20 [95 favorites]


I walked away from a Wall Street job at which I was doing well, because I found the whole thing crass and annoying - and I did it before I got to the level of obscene salaries and bonuses.

The issue is simple - the work becomes dull fast, but you're always working 80 hour weeks. And the people are crass - though there are a lot of different types there, each of them quite interesting for a while. I simply couldn't stomach it ethically - and that was in an earlier, more honest day.

I must confess that, twenty years later, the thought of diving back in for a few years so I wouldn't have to work again has been in the back of my mind... but, well, how would I face my friends? I told that to a recruiter for some obscenely-paid job last year and he thought I was joking but I was serious.

I have savings, I have a tiny income (i.e. we're on Medicare!) and I have a reasonable expectation that I can go back into some computer-y thing and make more money when my savings run out... so I consider myself "blessed" (or whatever non-believers are when they are lucky).

I frankly cannot see how anyone can get a $10 million bonus and not quit right away - though this article explains it very well.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:49 AM on January 20 [6 favorites]


Oh, and Barney Miller, as always, hit the bullseye. One of the greatest shows ever to hit the air.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:51 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Okay, but... what else can he do?

Oh, I have lots of ideas.

1. Keep his money, but live on the interest and supplement with a minimum wage "day job" type of gig.

2. Better yet, give all the money away and just go do a normal middle class job.

3. Even better, give all the money away and go do a normal middle class job that actually helps people for real, not just by lecturing them about how money is the root of all evil. Teach. Work in development for a nonprofit. Become a social worker or a nurse.

It seems kind of bizarre to assume that a dude sitting on a multimillion dollar fortune can only retire at 30 and pursue a career as a motivational speaker.
posted by Sara C. at 10:10 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


My first reaction isn't to think about the greed, but to wonder about the system: what is it about the system that leads to these financial companies paying their employees such very high bonuses? What amazing talent do people coming out of an undergrad have that make them so desirable? Couldn't you get the same employees for bonuses of 5k per year, rather than 40? (And it's clear from the story that nepotism/family connections played no part).

Maybe it's because I was an excellent student, so much so that they allowed me to later teach Ivy League students, and not bad with numbers, but the jobs open to me upon graduation from my BA were things like bank teller or administrative assistant. I just don't understand the world of trading or the idea of having such a lucrative job on the strength of an undergrad degree. PhDs in physics being recruited into good Wall Street positions - that totally makes sense. Those people are brilliant, and very highly trained in mathematics. (And, sadly, probably caused the 2008 crash with the derivatives they devised - but still, highly skilled people.)
posted by jb at 10:16 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


I mean it's easy to say "give the money away," but how?

This is basically why nonprofits exist. The correct thing to do if you have 4-5 million dollars you feel you shouldn't keep is to call up a large, legit, pre-existing nonprofit and make a large gift. There are people whose entire jobs are for facilitating this sort of thing.

It's kind of shocking that we're at a point in capitalism where we're all throwing up our hands and saying "but however COULD someone get rid of their fortune if they tried?!"

At least the gilded age plutocrats started museums and libraries. Sheesh.
posted by Sara C. at 10:16 AM on January 20 [27 favorites]


This is basically why nonprofits exist. The correct thing to do if you have 4-5 million dollars you feel you shouldn't keep is to call up a large, legit, pre-existing nonprofit and make a large gift. There are people whose entire jobs are for facilitating this sort of thing.

And they'll send you really nice thank you cards for years afterwards. And waste money inviting you to galas and special events, etc. (I'm not terribly fond of the schmoozing of big donors by non-profits, but I realise why it's done).
posted by jb at 10:19 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


I wonder how his extended family members are doing financially.
posted by davejay at 10:22 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


I also wonder whether he nickel-and-dimes his service providers, or if he overpays and overtips.
posted by davejay at 10:23 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Giving away the money to work a middle-class job seems like the worst of all worlds. "I got this fortune unfairly, so what I'm going to do is give it away—and then work for a guy who's also out to make a fortune unfairly, except that now I have no choice except to continue to work because otherwise I (or my family) will have no home." Joy!
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:29 AM on January 20 [9 favorites]


I don't see how this guy giving up everything to work a minimum wage job at Wal-Mart or whatever does anything at all to address the ills of the system. It might make you feel better if he did, a grim sense of justice, but would it help cure the ills visited upon our society by unchecked capitalism? There is still a Wal-Mart that exploits people.
posted by erlking at 10:45 AM on January 20 [4 favorites]



This guy profited handsomely from his crimes

I didn't read it terribly closely, but I didn't see any crimes.
posted by jpe at 10:51 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Contrary to some expectations, he doesn't seem to be writing any big self-help epiphany books to get onto NYT bestseller lists, or doing motivational speaking for the sake of money. He does mention the philanthropy he's doing now, but not in a particularly showy way. So I don't understand the knee-jerk reaction in this thread to want to crucify him on his cross of gold.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:53 AM on January 20 [8 favorites]


Seems like there are at least two audiences that he's trying to reach - Wall Street and laypeople.

For the laypeople, I think it's an interesting inside insight that wealth/power addiction may be why things are so fucked up in Wall Street. It makes you rethink how you'd fix Wall St from the people level in addition to the institutional level (via regulations).

It's also a call to those on Wall Street. If what the author says is true, I hope those on Wall St will see themselves in this account and eventually realize that that they too have an addiction and start doing something about it.
posted by kuroikenshi at 11:02 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


greed certainly is a very real addiction. my step-dad's family has money, and when i went off to college my parents made the sorts of reasonable promises parents make to kids. we'll help out with # amount of tuition, if you buy your sister's car off of her she can't afford (one they talked her into buying) we'll pay half of it as long as you're in school.

of course, none of their promises came through. yet when i'd visit them, they'd always have new cars (that is, a new car on a 6 month or yearly basis), and every few years they upgrade to a nicer house. a few hundred dollars a month meant nothing to them, yet it means a ton to a 19 year old who works part time making minimum wage. a 19 year old who was relying on that money coming in from his well-off parents, and was confused and hobbled when it didn't.

i joined the military, and was self-sufficient for over a decade. i eventually decided to go to grad school, and had saved enough to be able to get by. but, a couple hundred bucks a month meant the difference between a really cruddy apartment and a much nicer one. i had mentioned this to my mom when apartment hunting, and she offered to make up the difference. "are you sure?" i said, remembering them pulling out the rug from me a decade earlier. "absolutely", she said. me and my sister had had a talk a couple years earlier about how not keeping their promises had hurt us so much when we were young, she agreed and swore that her and her husband had cleaned up their act.

low and behold, after a couple months she stopped paying. when i hounded her, she either blew me off or played like it wasn't a big deal. then i'd visit them: new house, new cars. she was having walls torn out, expensive tile put in, a new fireplace installed, they got a new speedboat, etc.

so i hounded her some more. i got a very hostile email about how i'm an adult responsible for my own finances, the money she offered was just a gift freely retractable if she chooses, her parents never helped her out, etc. yes you can argue, her parents didn't help her out when she was young: nor did they make promises and later screw her, then act like a golem guarding his precious ring when you ask them to keep their word.

at that point i had enough. i told her she clearly has an addiction and her and my step-dad need to go to debtors anonymous, or get some other sort of help with their addiction, as spending money on themselves took precedence over any promises they made to their offspring. i haven't spoken to her since.

my step-dad has three children from his first marriage, they're not on speaking terms with them either, for the exact same reasons. they're doubly mad as it is their inheritance has been blown (my step-dad didn't earn the money, nor inherit it; it's his family's, left to his natural-born kids in a trust. they're finally suing him, but once you've spent the money you're essentially judgment-proof.)

my experience is on a smaller scale than a wall street mogul, however the fact that wealth can be an addiction is very tangible to me: it's just like being a drug addict. my parents are just like drug addicts needing their fix, it takes precedence over anything, and they'll make any excuse they can to justify it.
posted by camdan at 11:07 AM on January 20 [10 favorites]


Giving away the money to work a middle-class job seems like the worst of all worlds. "I got this fortune unfairly, so what I'm going to do is give it away—and then work for a guy who's also out to make a fortune unfairly, except that now I have no choice except to continue to work because otherwise I (or my family) will have no home." Joy!

I was imagining a job that actually contributed to things in some way. There are lots of ordinary middle class people who don't work for huge mindless corporations, but instead actually contribute to life in their community.
posted by Sara C. at 11:12 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


Bankers and traders are not horrible monsters and nothing suggests this guy did anything unethical to earn his dough.

The system is set up with bad incentives and a toxic culture, that's all.


It's one thing to earn lots of money. It's another to earn lots of money based on a national model that increasingly asserts that poor people (in general, but especially poor black people) are amoral fucks who don't deserve food, shelter or healthcare and should be under constant supervision (including their urine, folks!), policing, and constraint.

Grotesque surplus in this kind of economy and political climate -- surplus which is politically reliant on fucking over the poor and middle class? Yes -- they're monsters -- and they can burn in hell.

This guy? I appreciate that he's entering with an alternate discourse and blowing the whistle a little bit. He gets kudos from me for suggesting that, in fact, there is something psychologically wrong with the super rich, and, frankly, I think they should be under surveillance, we should come up with a complex taxonomy for labeling them and curtail their activities, y'know, for their own good because I care.
posted by vitabellosi at 11:15 AM on January 20 [21 favorites]


Grotesque surplus in this kind of economy and political climate -- surplus which is politically reliant on fucking over the poor and middle class?

How does trading stocks negatively affect the poor and middle class?

Your rage sounds like envy seeking naïve justification.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:26 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


jb: "And they'll send you really nice thank you cards for years afterwards. And waste money inviting you to galas and special events, etc. (I'm not terribly fond of the schmoozing of big donors by non-profits, but I realise why it's done)."

In other words they'll invest some of the money into fundraising or relationship management, getting a much larger return on it than they could with almost any other sort of investment - that or use it to gain money and, often just as important, influence among the people who have power.

It sucks that we live in a system where this is necessary, but schmoozing rich people is an example of things that sometimes have to be done in order not to be sidelined. It would be great if everyone volunteered all their available charity-money freely and unprompted, and pursued every good cause they reasonably good with their fellow elites, but most people need reminders and thank you letters and nudges or they end up never bothering. Of course, just about any reputable organisation will respect your communication preferences if you actually let them know what they are. Anyway, the small amount of overhead this all represents is much better than needlessly trying to roll your own non-profit to do things the way you want, and incurring all the redundancy and inefficiency of that because you want to oversee the spending of every cent.

Naturally, as with every human endeavour, there are examples of people failing to do the right thing in the proper way, but sometimes it's as if people think no-one in the non-profit sector has ever heard of the idea of efficiency or return on investment, or that once you become a charity, all business/infrastructure costs just get handled by the magic volunteer fairy.

Harumph! Pet peeve.
posted by Drexen at 11:34 AM on January 20 [5 favorites]


How does trading stocks negatively affect the poor and middle class?

Your rage sounds like envy seeking naïve justification.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wealth_inequality_in_the_United_States
posted by jason_steakums at 11:36 AM on January 20 [11 favorites]


How does trading stocks negatively affect the poor and middle class?

Your rage sounds like envy seeking naïve justification.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wealth_inequality_in_the_United_States


How are stock traders responsible for wealth inequality? It's not as if earning money prevents other people from earning money. Or are you linking to that in support of my argument that this hate is all about envy?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:40 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


I dunno, what kind of policies does the financial sector use its considerable resources and sway to pursue? Framing this as being about individual stock traders is trying to ignore the forest for the trees.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:42 AM on January 20 [15 favorites]


It's another to earn lots of money based on a national model that increasingly asserts that poor people (in general, but especially poor black people) are amoral fucks who don't deserve food, shelter or healthcare and should be under constant supervision (including their urine, folks!), policing, and constraint.

Where does the financial system assert that, exactly? (assuming that a system can assert anything apart from the actors within it, of course)
posted by jpe at 11:46 AM on January 20


I'd note also that it's entirely possible that have highly paid bankers and a better social safety net. See, eg, UK, Germany, etal.
posted by jpe at 11:47 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Second, it's very tough, very stressful, and involves taking a lot of risk. You could be here today, fired tomorrow. A lot of people aren't interested in that level of volatility in their life.

Funny how they never settle on migrant farm work as a way to satisfy whatever it is in them that thrives on risk, stress, and volatility.
posted by hades at 11:52 AM on January 20 [21 favorites]


I dunno, what kind of policies does the financial sector use its considerable resources and sway to pursue? Framing this as being about individual stock traders is trying to ignore the forest for the trees.

So you're saying that in general traders vote differently than you, which is unfair? Don't you think that it would make more sense to invest your energy in the political struggle for promoting economic mobility, which to me means fair taxation, quality socialized education, health care, and public transportation. Inflicting your prejudice on the whole group (as you put it ignoring the forest for the trees) is unnecessarily divisive.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:53 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the person who helped recruit me into Salomon Smith Barney got some kind of vagina bonus, given we were the largest broker in the region and had THREE women out of 55, including me.

I never wanted that job, it just fell into place, but I reasoned with myself that if I did well, I could help my parents (who didn't have health insurance) and all kinds of other good stuff. I was 25. I'd bought my own house at 22. I wasn't doing badly, I had the chance to go FT somewhere I'd been consulting...

...but the MONEY was such a lure.

My coworkers WERE crass. Discussing the weekend high school football games was normal, I got funny looks if I said I'd gone to the museum over the weekend. There was a double standard with my male colleagues of the same level. Looking back, I'm pretty sure they got paid more, too.

By the time I figured out how awful it really was and got out, longtime friends, including my now husband told me what an asshole I'd turned into working there. You can't help it. The culture infects you no matter how high your level of resistance.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:55 AM on January 20 [5 favorites]


So you're saying that in general traders vote differently than you, which is unfair?

The considerable wealth of the financial sector means it isn't just getting one vote. It's getting a guy in the room when the policies are drafted. It's awfully naive to believe that the energy and wealth of the behemoth that is the financial sector can be overcome by singing kumbah yah and advocating for the policies we want . . . . hey progressives, how's that been working out for you?
posted by IvoShandor at 11:57 AM on January 20 [12 favorites]


…got some kind of vagina bonus…My coworkers WERE crass…The culture infects you no matter how high your level of resistance.

Case in point, eh ;)
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:57 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Also interesting that migrant farm labor isn't the best paid job in America considering the level of risk and uncertainty those workers carry.

It's a meritocracy, right?

Right?
posted by Sara C. at 11:57 AM on January 20 [8 favorites]


I was imagining a job that actually contributed to things in some way. There are lots of ordinary middle class people who don't work for huge mindless corporations, but instead actually contribute to life in their community.

They're still, normally, working for a "businessman;" and don't buy into the pretense that "small businesses" are somehow more moral than big businesses. They're just less capable of large-scale evil. I work for a moderately sized company now, which isn't vile; we provide a useful and needed service for our clients. On the other hand, I worked for a small company of about 50 people which was so immoral it gave me anxiety and digestive problems for the six months I was there.

Of course, the owner of that company "gave back" to the community in any way that would let him put his name up on something. One of my coworkers (who also escaped) called it "money shot charity."
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:58 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


The considerable wealth of the financial sector means it isn't just getting one vote. It's getting a guy in the room when the policies are drafted.

Well, now you're talking about a systemic problem that can actually be fought. What does hating wealthy stock traders have to do with this?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:00 PM on January 20



How does trading stocks negatively affect the poor and middle class?


Aside from how speculating on stocks might also hurt people, you might have noticed that the author of the essay was a "derivatives and credit swaps" trader. Now, you might now remember a certain collapse in the economy which occurred around 2007-2008 which coincided with the bursting of a huge speculative bubble in derivatives and credit swaps... but I suppose that happened because too many poor people bought houses they couldn't afford?

Well, then you might recall how Wall Street banks sold hundreds of municipalities on credit swap deals which were supposedly prudent but which ended up quickly costing the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and bankrupted the city of Birmingham,AL?

Your rage sounds like envy seeking naïve justification.


But what motivates you? 80's Tom Cruise fetish?
posted by ennui.bz at 12:01 PM on January 20 [24 favorites]


What does hating wealthy stock traders have to do with this?

Nothing? Everything? Does it really even matter anymore? At some point people just start lopping off heads.
posted by IvoShandor at 12:01 PM on January 20 [3 favorites]


Don't hate the players, hate the game?

Maybe.

But this player and his ilk bore the fuck out of me. These fucktards all think they are so clever at cloaking it but all they really want to do is boast about how they killed it.
posted by Colonel Panic at 12:05 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Now, you might now remember a certain collapse in the economy which occurred around 2007-2008 which coincided with the bursting of a huge speculative bubble in derivatives and credit swaps... but I suppose that happened because too many poor people bought houses they couldn't afford?

To be honest, I don't totally understand the causes of the economic collapse, but when I was reading more about it at the time it seemed that deregulation was a major cause and something to fix going forward. No one suggested that a cause was that traders were insufficiently hated.

Nothing? Everything? Does it really even matter anymore? At some point people just start lopping off heads.

Sometimes, it seems like they've started with their own head.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:06 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


So you're saying that in general traders vote differently than you, which is unfair? Don't you think that it would make more sense to invest your energy in the political struggle for promoting economic mobility, which to me means fair taxation, quality socialized education, health care, and public transportation. Inflicting your prejudice on the whole group (as you put it ignoring the forest for the trees) is unnecessarily divisive.

For one, the difference between how individuals in a group vote and how large, powerful groups spend political capital is absurdly huge. I'd take a financial sector where 100% of the people working in it merely voted for selfish policies over one where in general they use their resources to push selfish policies any day of the week. And it isn't prejudice towards a group to say "that group is pushing selfish political policies which hurt lower economic classes for their own gain" when they are.

And to step back a moment and look at the simple act of stock trading, political power aside - the markets only care about profitability, not socially responsible company policies. It is far, far easier to make a profit without worrying about your company being socially responsible. A company with socially responsible policies is an outlier - look at Costco, where the question is typically not if, but when the shareholders will force them to drop all this "paying a livable wage" malarkey for a jump in share price.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:06 PM on January 20 [6 favorites]


For one, the difference between how individuals in a group vote and how large, powerful groups spend political capital is absurdly huge. I'd take a financial sector where 100% of the people working in it merely voted for selfish policies over one where in general they use their resources to push selfish policies any day of the week.

What do you mean?

the question is typically not if, but when the shareholders will force them to drop all this "paying a livable wage" malarkey for a jump in share price.

This is a political problem called a "minimum wage".
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:11 PM on January 20


Sure, I'll get my team of highly paid lobbyists right on that minimum wage tip.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:13 PM on January 20 [8 favorites]


And have a talk with my news organizations about framing it sympathetically.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:13 PM on January 20 [6 favorites]


If your point is that you've been disenfranchised by wealthy lobbyists and media magnates, then that is a problem that can be focused on and worked on. Don't you think that your sputtering about an individual trader is distracting you from your true goal?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:16 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


This is a political problem called a "minimum wage".

Lets's ask the author where he stands on raising the minimum wage.
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:16 PM on January 20


Lets's ask the author where he stands on raise the minimum wage.

As an aside, I would rather see “fair taxation, quality socialized education, health care, and public transportation” as I said above than an increase in minimum wage. The former is an effective wealth transfer from rich to poor. Increasing minimum wage has other effects beyond your desired one. For one, it is potentially inflationary.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:20 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


If your point is that you've been disenfranchised by wealthy lobbyists and media magnates, then that is a problem that can be focused on and worked on. Don't you think that your sputtering about an individual trader is distracting you from your true goal?

I haven't once gone on about an individual trader in this conversation. But, you know, thanks for the condescension.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:21 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Your rage sounds like envy seeking naïve justification.

But what motivates you? 80's Tom Cruise fetish?


I have the same motivation as most people here: I want to live in an equitable society. It seems to me that the people who should be my allies are wasting a lot of energy on petty vendettas based on envy.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:22 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Don't you think that your sputtering about an individual trader is distracting you from your true goal?

I haven't once gone on about an individual trader in this conversation.


You're right that you're not talking about individuals. You are talking about "traders" since you started this back-and-forth when you suggested that wealth inequality was a way that trading stocks negatively affects the poor and middle class. I should have said that "complaining about traders is distracting you from your true goal" then.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:27 PM on January 20


As an aside, I would rather see “fair taxation, quality socialized education, health care, and public transportation” as I said above than an increase in minimum wage. The former is an effective wealth transfer from rich to poor. Increasing minimum wage has other effects beyond your desired one. For one, it is potentially inflationary.

My understanding is that the data show that that putting more money in the hands of the poor, whether through welfare or a minimum wage, pays considerable economic dividends. The claim that minimum wage raises inflation rates more than it benefits the economy is not a majority position among economists when the field is surveyed, and has little factual support.

Additionally, you probably need to clarify what you define as "fair taxation." Everyone calls their taxation scheme fair, and since you seem to think your interlocutors here don't know what they're talking about, you probably shouldn't assume they share your definition or assumptions regarding that term.

I have the same motivation as most people here: I want to live in an equitable society. It seems to me that the people who should be my allies are wasting a lot of energy on petty vendettas based on envy.

You are visibly more interested in telling others that they're a bunch of envious boobs than you are in convincing them to support the things you claim to want to do. If you'd wanted to advocate these positions, you could've done so in your first post in the thread.
posted by kewb at 12:33 PM on January 20 [22 favorites]


Today's individual traders are suckers. No individual trading strategy has ever been shown to beat the returns of simply investing in the market as a whole, and when you factor brokerage fees in, you'd be much better off playing the pass line at your local casino. The ones that do consistently beat the market are generally doing so using inside information, which is woefully under-policed by the overworked regulatory agencies.

This dynamic has been magnified in recent years by the fact that so many of the "traders" you're trying to beat are of the high-frequency variety -- big players using algorithms to create their own market dynamics and then reap the rewards as the shock waves reverberate through the market. Your average E-Trade customer doesn't have access to those kind of tools.

Simply put, today's Wall Street investor class are coasting to easy returns atop a mountain of technology that's enabled them to reap rewards from a constant influx of rubes willing to pay them immensely for the same net returns they could get from an index fund. Think of how easy it was for capable poker players to win big when the poker craze first started and you had a massive pool of low-information players. Except there's a very small number of "capable players" with a lot of tech, and a whole lot of schmucks with no access to it. That's what today's trading landscape looks like. The only winning move, etc.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:39 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


You're right that you're not talking about individuals. You are talking about "traders" since you started this back-and-forth when you suggested that wealth inequality was a way that trading stocks negatively affects the poor and middle class. I should have said that "complaining about traders is distracting you from your true goal then".

I wasn't complaining about traders. Traders gonna trade, whether or not the larger financial culture they work in has negative effects on lower classes. And this whole "doing x is distracting you from your true goal" condescension/concern troll thing where you're just kind of making up both an argument and true goal for me is maybe where you should look if you're wondering why "people who should be [your] allies" aren't lining up. And honestly, when you ask the opening question, you start the back-and-forth.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:41 PM on January 20 [3 favorites]


As an aside, I would rather see “fair taxation, quality socialized education, health care, and public transportation” as I said above than an increase in minimum wage. The former is an effective wealth transfer from rich to poor. Increasing minimum wage has other effects beyond your desired one. For one, it is potentially inflationary.

My understanding is that the data show that that putting more money in the hands of the poor, whether through welfare or a minimum wage, pays considerable economic dividends. The claim that minimum wage raises inflation rates more than it benefits the economy is not a majority position among economists when the field is surveyed, and has little factual support.


The problem with just "putting more money into the hands of the poor" is that education, health care, and transportation are much more expensive for individuals than for government. Also, these things directly contribute to economic mobility, which is the social justice issue we're talking about.

As minimum wage increases, it becomes increasingly inflationary. If the breadmakers all need to be paid more, the same loaf of bread costs more. The reason to increase the minimum wage is to ensure that everyone has a living wage, but that has to be balanced against the inequity of inflation eroding the savings of people who have worked hard for their retirement (for example).

A big part of fair taxation in the context of stock traders is taxing short term stock trading as income rather than capital gains.

If you'd wanted to advocate these positions, you could've done so in your first post in the thread.

In fairness, this thread was full of vitriol when I made my first comment, which was a question put to one of the more outrageous. I wasn't sure whether there was a good justification for that vitriol and when I saw that there wasn't it seemed worthwhile to point out the hidden motivation.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:46 PM on January 20


> How does trading stocks negatively affect the poor and middle class?

> How are stock traders responsible for wealth inequality?

In the last 20 years, a great amount of wealth has been transferred from poor and middle class Americans to the rich. During that time, the financial services sector has ballooned to the point that it's taking over one dollar in every twelve made in America - and has also been revealed as a, quite literal, den of criminals, one so powerful that they can blatantly commit crimes like money laundering for some of the most violent criminals in the world, for years, after being warned over and over again, and simply pay a fine for literally thousands of felonies any of which would land you or I in jail for over a decade, because these companies are so big that it's impossible for anyone responsible to pay criminal penalties.

As someone with not just Wall Street experience but professional experience in mortgage-backed securities and their derivatives, there's no possible way for me to see the whole mortgage crisis as anything other than a systematic rip-off of gullible and greedy consumers through criminal fraud, finally passing the buck off to the taxpayers. The last two decades have been a systematic looting of the economy and the Treasury by bankers knowingly committing crimes, and in world where the law was enforced, hundreds of these financial "professionals" would be rotting in prison right now...

...and please don't tell me that this is impossible, because they did it to Michael Milken when I worked at Drexel, and the force of their use of RICO and general aggression was such that he couldn't have defended himself under any circumstances and had no choice but to plead guilty to criminal charges - but this was in the late 80s when there was still attention given to securities law enforcement and the SEC by both parties in government (and SHAME on America in 2014 that we aren't even as good as enforcing the securities laws as Ronald Reagan and Rudy Giuliani were in the 80s!)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:47 PM on January 20 [48 favorites]


there's no possible way for me to see the whole mortgage crisis other than a systematic rip-off of gullible and greedy consumers through criminal fraud

It's hard to believe that people working in the industry didn't see exactly what was going on. It is hard to believe that Wall Street doesn't see that they are effectively steeling money from our pension funds and 401k's at a rate far greater than gub'ment caused inflation.
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:51 PM on January 20 [3 favorites]


Increasing minimum wage has other effects beyond your desired one. For one, it is potentially inflationary.

So are there any negative effects from the perspective of the bottom 90% of the wealth curve?

Wage inflation at the lower end has been painfully absent for some time now. For one, it would reduce the real burden of debt, which is probably the primary boat anchor on the economy.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:35 PM on January 20 [9 favorites]


involves taking a lot of risk. You could be here today, fired tomorrow. A lot of people aren't interested in that level of volatility in their life.

No one is, but we all have it. Not being a Wall Street trader sure as hell doesn't insulate you from being "here today, fired tomorrow". In fact, I challenge you to show me that traders are more at risk of being fired thn anyone else. You know what they also won't do after being fired? Starve or go homeless. What a load of sycophantic bullshit.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:52 PM on January 20 [15 favorites]


"I was a derivatives trader, and it occurred to me the world would hardly change at all if credit derivatives ceased to exist. Not so nurse practitioners."

Congratulations on your epiphany.
posted by prepmonkey at 2:03 PM on January 20


I don't totally understand the causes of the economic collapse, but when I was reading more about it at the time it seemed that deregulation was a major cause...

"Honestly, officer, I was just stand there, when the financial industry all of a sudden deregulated. No idea how it happened — I guess it just deregulated itself, right? But I'm just picking up some of the stuff that shook our from that. Lucky I was here, right?"
posted by benito.strauss at 2:16 PM on January 20 [16 favorites]


So, exactly how does one get into the line of trading he was doing? I read this article yesterday so I may need to reread it, but it sounds like he went and got a job at Bank of America and then from there became a trader in no time at all. Is that all it takes?
posted by gucci mane at 2:31 PM on January 20


Imagine this guy had committed a lot of violent crime, robbed people, assaulted others, and now works to prevent violence and uses his old street contacts to try to get people out of that life. Do we shrug and say "Still not enough good to balance out all the wrong you did before," or do we acknowledge that you can't actually undo the [past] and acts that reduce the total Awful in the world are good on their own merit?

America isn't exactly the most forgiving place, so I'll put my money on "still not enough good to balance out all the wrong you did before."
posted by cosmic.osmo at 2:38 PM on January 20


Yeah, if this guy was caught with drugs, not only would he go to prison and "pay for his crime", but when he came out he would be an ex-felon and potentially find it impossible to get a job. Not to mention that he could lose his right to vote, own firearms, all sorts of other things.

I'm sorry, but the idea that we over-penalize people who quit Wall Street to become motivational speakers is outrageous.

You suck, you're an asshole, people hate you. Go cry into your bank statement.
posted by Sara C. at 2:56 PM on January 20 [11 favorites]


Increasing minimum wage has other effects beyond your desired one. For one, it is potentially inflationary.

So are there any negative effects from the perspective of the bottom 90% of the wealth curve?

Wage inflation at the lower end has been painfully absent for some time now. For one, it would reduce the real burden of debt, which is probably the primary boat anchor on the economy.


Inflation doesn't necessarily transfer wealth from the top 10% like you're implying it would. For one because non-cash assets appreciate in response (like gold, stocks, properties, etc.) People who have a lot of cash like retirees are the hardest hit by inflation.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:31 PM on January 20


You suck, you're an asshole, people hate you. Go cry into your bank statement.

Compared with the article, this comment seems like the more detestable sentiment.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:33 PM on January 20 [4 favorites]


Why do we have to pretend to like Wall Street folks?
posted by Sara C. at 3:42 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]


Do you think that any human being deserves that sentiment?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:43 PM on January 20


I think tons of people are assholes, and undoubtedly you do, too. Everyone does.

I fail to see why, on top of millions of dollars and a career "running his own nonprofit" and a piece published in the NY Times magazine, this guy also needs my approval.
posted by Sara C. at 3:51 PM on January 20 [9 favorites]


> Do you think that any human being deserves that sentiment?

What, you mean "You suck, you're an asshole, people hate you. Go cry into your bank statement."? Why, yes, I think a lot of people deserve this sentiment, and a lot stronger than these very mild words.

We're talking about people who callously broke the law for their own greed and caused a catastrophe that the World Bank, hardly a radical organization, believes will cause literally millions of infant deaths in the third world. We're talking about millions of homeless people in the first world - we're talking about an entire generation who is dramatically under-employed - we're talking about trillions of dollars taken from the poor and middle classes and handed to the rich.

And worst of all, when the consequences of all this became public, did we get any apologies? No, with very few exceptions like this article, we got more arrogance and entitlement - and we get the same behavior that caused the crash continuing to this day.

Calling the architects of our misfortune "assholes" is not at all unreasonable when almost all of them have profited obscenely from their crimes. As I said before, if we lived in a just society, we'd be calling them much worse than "assholes" - we'd be calling them "felons", "prisoners" and even "lifers".

Can you explain why you keep defending these morally abhorrent people, these unpunished criminals, even to the point that you call people who are justifiably angry with them "detestable"?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:55 PM on January 20 [26 favorites]


Yeah, if this guy was caught with drugs...

His high-dollar legal team would have had him released with low bail (or, more likely, on personal recognizance because he's such a "low flight risk") quicker than you can say 'just visiting'.

The media component of his team would have spun the usual narrative of a bright young man who succumbed to the pressure created by his wild successes - but totally repentant and ready
to fly right - while their cohort in the press responded to any umbrage about sentencing disparity between rich/poor with the usual bleats of "envy" and "class warfare".

Meanwhile, his legal foot soldiers have bought him a deal: he pleads to a misdemeanor, pays some minuscule fine, and, of course, enters a substance abuse counseling program.

A short time later, the guy emerges from 'rehab' an even more insufferable asshole with an even more puerile schtick about his 'twin epiphanies' that freed him from his 'twin addictions'.

It's enough to make Gandhi punch a kitten.
posted by Pudhoho at 3:55 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


We're talking about people who callously broke the law for their own greed and caused a catastrophe that the World Bank, hardly a radical organization, believes will cause literally millions of infant deaths in the third world.

This tenuous logic could be applied to you as well as a citizen of a country that supports people who caused the disaster. Maybe you're the asshole?

I agree that a lot of wall street gains might be based on insider trading and politically facilitated deregulation and might therefore be a kind of stealing, which is obviously terrible behaviour. What can we do about it? This is an important question.

What I find sadder though is the desperation in this thread to believe in assholes. I wonder if it's a response to personal insecurities that incites us to blame others rather than ourselves?

In response to Sara, I don't think any people are assholes. I think people act badly, often out of ignorance or insecurity or weakness. In my experience, this vitriol takes more of out of the hater than the hated. I think if you really examine the causes of personal hatred (as opposed to opposition of an inequitable system), you will find that the causes are personal rather than external. This is my experience.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:07 PM on January 20


[Folks, let's dial back the asshole comments right about now and keep this thread a discussion among everyone, please?]
posted by jessamyn at 4:10 PM on January 20


People who have a lot of cash like retirees are the hardest hit by inflation.

But generally, people with a lot of cash are richer than people with a lot of debt. Cash-heavy retirees may feel the pinch, but it's telling that this is less acceptable in the mainstream discourse than gutting Social Security, which is something that around 40% of all retirees rely on for almost all of their income. I doubt cash under the mattress is the primary source of support for many retirees not made of straw.

Yes, in general, inflation takes from the old, who tend to have more assets, and gives to those in debt with future earning potential. Quite frankly, this is pretty needed after 30 years of booming asset prices and stagnant wages. Inflation hasn't been a problem in my lifetime, as someone born in '83. Some wage-push inflation from the bottom end of the scale would be nice for all those struggling young families with mountains of student loan debt that not even bankruptcy can get rid of, who keep falling further behind as they string a bunch of part time, no set schedule, low wage jobs together.

Corporations, on the other hand, are currently sitting on mountains of cash; maybe some moderate inflation will induce them to invest in physical capital, since public investments of that kind are anathema today. Shareholders, bondholders and other creditors can take the pinch.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 4:13 PM on January 20 [7 favorites]


esprit de l'escalier:

Ok, you do bring up some interesting points about why the hate for traders, but I have a few answers that are not in the general consensus.

First, go read The Systems of the World by Neal Stephenson. It is a fictionalized account of how the stock markets were formed. It's also an awesome swashbuckling story and has lots of fun stuff about Isaac Newton in it (again, fictionalized), but it's worth reading mostly for the account of how commodity markets and capitalism were originally created. It does a good job of explaining WHY market based economies are better than command based economies, and details how a decentralized market is more efficient than a centrally controlled market. It also has one explicit detail that should never be missed when discussing Wall Street and stocks in general. Asymmetrical Information. There is no such thing as perfect information in any trade. This is why the markets are always considered volatile and irrational. The belief that they are rational is the first mistake that most people make. The main component of a market is humans, and humans are inherently irrational. We try to be rational some of the time, but more often than not, we are unable to meet that lofty goal.

Ok, so that part is set up, now on to the Wall Street traders themselves. The main problem with Wall Street is again the part about Asymmetrical Information. The collapse of 2007-2008 was ENTIRELY based upon this principal. The other grievous issue is that when money for the sake of money becomes it's own goal, it completely breaks the capitalist system. Capitalism, in and of itself is a means for utilizing money to allocate and distribute goods and services. It is the blood in the veins of the economic body. It, in and of itself, is not useful. You cannot eat it, it burns too quickly to be a reliable heat source per volume and mass, and in general, there are many much better materials to insulate your home. So, when a person is motivated solely by the acquisition of money, they are in general seen as misguided, if not demented. This is the sole reason so many people see someone who has a lot of money not doing productive work with said resources. And if you apply this to Wall Street in general, you can understand that while the gains for stockholders and traders since 2009 has been enormous given that the economy was essentially seized up like a patient in cardiac arrest, none of those gains have done any good in the "Real Economy". It is like all the blood is circulating in only one area of the body, and the rest of the body is starving for blood to do actual productive work. This is the sickness of our current economic system. The major income disparity is just a symptom (like chest pains) of the problem. The real issue is that those who are in control of the flow of money have shifted all the resources of the body into keeping the blood in that one area of the body, while killing the rest of the system. It will eventually collapse, but the Federal Reserve has been acting as a life support system for everything, and the Federal Government "Welfare State" has been keeping the rest of the body limping along.

Now a lot of people will try to say that it is the Federal Reserves fault, or the governments fault that all of this is happening, and they are only partially correct. The government SHOULD have the power to fix this, and the fix that we know of that actually works is TAXES and REDISTRIBUTION and REGULATION, but since there is such a huge collection of wealth in one part of the system, they are using that resource to prevent any action being taken against them. Again, where this article is useful is in illustrating just how myopic and selfish the mentality of Wall Street traders can be. They are making fortunes and leveraging the power of wealth to maintain their wealth, but these actions are directly and indirectly starving the economy in general, and making it harder for the whole of the economy to thrive.

Then, to get to the actual direct vitriol against this former Wall Street asshole, it is that he could be doing 10 times the good he is currently doing if he was actually willing to address the problems, and not trying to make himself look good and feel better about himself. Instead of entering the non-profit sector with yet another non-profit doing charity work (and I will go into the problems with him forming a non-profit in another comment), he could have done some research and found existing non-profits in which to donate his time and money. It might even make him feel even better because then he is surrounding himself with people who will actually appreciate his time and money instead of him having to try and force people to like him by writing ego inflating rationalizations for why he is now a good person.
posted by daq at 4:20 PM on January 20 [26 favorites]


As too the problems presented by a millionaire forming his own non-profit.

The main reason he is doing this is to protect his money. It is primarily a tax dodge. He could not get the same tax coverage for spending money by creating a grant for an existing non-profit.

This also allows him, if he wants to, to apply for grants from donors, which, again, have a lot of tax benefits, since the donors get a tax deduction, and he gets to realize that money as income for the non-profit, and gets to spend it tax-exempt.

Mind you, it's a "smart" thing to do if you don't want to have to pay taxes on your wealth, and still have the ability to spend a whole lot of money doing what you want to do. In this case, "helping" poor food addicts (that seems like such a small segment of the poor population. Like, seriously, when I was poor, eating more than once a day was impossible, so I have major cognitive problems trying to figure out how the fuck someone who is poor can be a food addict). I mean, really, that's a weird thing to focus on. I know it is only mentioned once in the article, but it still strikes me as a very odd thing to do as a non-profit.

And, digging deeper into Groceryships.com (really, a .com for a non-profit? This guy really needs some help), the fact that Sam is the Executive Director AND sits on the Board of Directors is a funny way to organize things. Also, his brother Ben is on the Board, as is everyone else in the leadership team. Again, a very odd way in which to organize a non-profit that is actually doing non-profit work, as opposed to a means of protecting his capital from the IRS. Oh, and they have 2 interns. No other staff listed, just Partners (one of which is Daniel Polk, a Sous Chef at Akasha). Oh wait, Daniel has struggled with food addiction his whole life.

I do see they are working with other non-profits to accept applicants, but what I am seeing them offering is kind of weak, honestly. A 6-month supply of gift cards to buy fruits and veg, required health monitoring of BMI and other invasive tests, free copies of some rather weak Eating Healthy documentaries. I mean, I guess they are just starting out, but something doesn't seem entirely like it's going to last very long. Oh, and donated kitchen appliances. Also, the only way to enroll in any program is if you are already working with another non-profit in the LA area.

Better use of the money? Oh, there are plenty. How about addressing the realities of food deserts, instead of the palative of gift cards. Maybe instead of offering gift cards to people to buy fruits and veg, you could offer a free shuttle service to get out to a real grocery store. Probably cost you less, AND have a greater impact on a whole community, not just select families.

Sorry, I have a low tolerance for non-profits that don't actually do anything useful.

As a side note, I am not saying that having family members as part of this organization are a bad thing in general, but when you do something like this, it raises a lot of red flags. And the whole purpose of a tax-exempt status organization is that the work that they do is worthy of that status. I think a lot more could be done by offering grants to existing non-profits, instead of forming a whole new entity. Especially when many of the red flags that all of these things raise make this look way more like a vanity charity than an actual organization that wants to provide a realistic service for a community that is in need.
posted by daq at 4:51 PM on January 20 [22 favorites]


> This tenuous logic could be applied to you as well as a citizen of a country that supports people who caused the disaster. Maybe you're the asshole?

No, I am not an asshole, because I did not break the law. I am not an asshole, because a shitload of people actually have a place to live, fixed teeth, and a fucking septic tank due to me simply giving them money when they needed it (and was happy to do so). I am not an asshole because ethics trump pretty well everything for me.

Can you really not see the difference between "criminals and deeply unethical people taking a lot of money" and "being in the same country as these people"?

> I agree that a lot of wall street gains might be based on insider trading and politically facilitated deregulation and might therefore be a kind of stealing, which is obviously terrible behaviour. What can we do about it? This is an important question.

There's actually an easy solution - enforce the existing laws with the same zeal they were enforced in the Reagan era. Insider trading is a serious felony. Misreporting the value of assets is a serious felony. Looting a corporation is a serious felony. When an investment bank declares huge profits one year and gives massive bonuses to its management, then a few months later we discover that those profits never existed, this isn't an "oops" - it's a serious felony. Heck, since Soxley, just doing your accounting wrong is a serious felony!

> What I find sadder though is the desperation in this thread to believe in assholes. I wonder if it's a response to personal insecurities that incites us to blame others rather than ourselves?

What?! Why should we blame ourselves for the actions of rich criminals?

Why should I blame myself for other people's crimes? I worked on Wall Street 20 years ago and more, in a much more ethical period, and I still left before I got involved in anything at all unethical or bad for society.

No, I am not "personally insecure", I am very angry about the looting of our Treasury and our whole society. I'm angry because my relatives are suffering, because my friends are suffering, and because the people who caused the suffering took great profit from that suffering.

The idea that you're trying to deflect completely justified criticism of Wall Street by claiming that this is due to some sort of personal failing in us is just baffling. Since when was the only reason to want to see crimes punished "personal insecurity"?

Again, why are you working so hard to defend bankers? Why are you implying that their actions are due to "ignorance or insecurity or weakness" when the article in question made it clear that insecurity and weakness were the very very furthest thing from these people's lives, and that they knew exactly what they were doing? Where are these "insecure, weak" traders and investment bankers anyway?

If you actually read the article, it should be copiously clear that the reason for all this was greed, an addiction to wealth, and a desire to triumph over others at all costs.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:00 PM on January 20 [16 favorites]


People who have a lot of cash like retirees are the hardest hit by inflation.

But the rich don't hold their money in cash, they hold it in other assets that rise with inflation. Meanwhile wages are stagnant or deflationary hurting middle and lower incomes. The wealthy invest their money in low tax assets that rise with inflation, lower and middle incomes probably have less protection against inflation and pay higher tax rates. Inflation sucks because it is not progressive. It seems to me we may be better off with a tax system that is based on increase in wealth not income, or even better is based on total wealth in addition to increase in wealth and factors in cost of living.
posted by Golden Eternity at 5:04 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Interesting; I was having this conversation over the weekend, trying to work out how these sick fucks could be forced into some type of addiction therapy. They have absolutely no idea of the value of money. It's a numbers game and how they come out on top just doesn't figure in their reckoning. Sometimes a I feel a little bit of revolution is more than called for, but then I see how getting of your arse and doing anything is something most of the 99% is adverse to.
posted by adamvasco at 5:31 PM on January 20


Wealth addiction was described by the late sociologist and playwright Philip Slater in a 1980 book, but addiction researchers have paid the concept little attention. Like alcoholics driving drunk, wealth addiction imperils everyone. Wealth addicts are, more than anybody, specifically responsible for the ever widening rift that is tearing apart our once great country. Wealth addicts are responsible for the vast and toxic disparity between the rich and the poor and the annihilation of the middle class. Only a wealth addict would feel justified in receiving $14 million in compensation — including an $8.5 million bonus — as the McDonald’s C.E.O., Don Thompson, did in 2012, while his company then published a brochure for its work force on how to survive on their low wages. Only a wealth addict would earn hundreds of millions as a hedge-fund manager, and then lobby to maintain a tax loophole that gave him a lower tax rate than his secretary.
Emphases mine. This is really the moral takeaway of the story, whether or not you approve of the man himself in his public attempt to make good. The law is not enforced. Criminals get away with ruining lives by the thousands. Citizens pay twice over, first for the fraud and then for the bailouts of the men who defrauded them. And then the same men complain whenever Congress threatens to raise their taxes a little or to force their companies to pay the meanest of us a little more. It's an evil business and I'm glad the writer is getting out of it and telling everyone why, even if he shouldn't have been in it in the first place.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:50 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]


When I met my husband, he was interning at a hedge fund doing computer simulations, trying to analyze patterns in the market and what not. When he was there part time, it was ok... he'd come home exhausted and be a bit edgy that evening, but no big deal. Then he decided to go full time.

He was a nightmare to live with. We've never been the fighting type, but the types of comments that are "all business" at a hedge fund become "being a complete tool" to your girlfriend. He would occasionally show me emails that... well, you can about imagine how they talked amongst themselves and I think the stereotypical longshoreman has a kinder and gentler vocabulary.

He decided to leave after some shenanigans involving massive firings at his company. Immediately, living with him became infinitely easier. No more being around aggressive power hungry assholes meant that he was no longer acting aggressive towards me. He went down the academic track for a while, and when he decided that he needed something a bit more hands-on, I made one rule: NO. HEDGE. FUNDS. By this point we had an infant son, and the hours weren't as much a concern for me as "Daddy is a tightly wound ball of stress and rage."

He did interview at a few financial companies and each time came back with the same sentiment: "Thank God I don't have to work with those assholes."

Absolutely he makes a lot less money than he could, but we're not struggling and having an easy going partner and coparent is worth its metaphorical weight in gold.

Also...

MetaFilter: It's enough to make Gandhi punch a kitten.
posted by sonika at 6:36 PM on January 20 [4 favorites]


The ultimate cause of the problem is the asshole gene. We need GMO humans.
posted by Golden Eternity at 6:45 PM on January 20


I suspect a lot of the anger with this guy is due to pure envy.

Your rage sounds like envy seeking naïve justification.


This is the "argument" (in as much as character assassination is an argument) people make when they know they don't have a good justification for this type of behavior.
posted by dirigibleman at 6:52 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


> We need GMO humans.

There have been a few starts towards this. They didn't go very well.

/It's not Godwinning when the Nazis are the real actual best example.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:03 PM on January 20


I also thought there was an interesting parallel between this quote from the article:
I felt so important. At 25, I could go to any restaurant in Manhattan — Per Se, Le Bernardin — just by picking up the phone and calling one of my brokers, who ingratiate themselves to traders by entertaining with unlimited expense accounts. I could be second row at the Knicks-Lakers game just by hinting to a broker I might be interested in going. The satisfaction wasn’t just about the money. It was about the power. Because of how smart and successful I was, it was someone else’s job to make me happy.
And the following quote from the earlier MeFi post on Indian sex tourists who go to Uzbekistan:
I also come to suspect that there’s a thrill that comes from exercising power over another that may be as or more enjoyable than the boom-boom itself. The delight on the faces of men as a girl dances for them is no doubt owing to some erotic self-validation, but also at the fact that the taunting clutch of currency notes in their hand gives them the power to acquire that validation at will. (This power dynamic is well-understood in dance-bars in India, where a feudal component is serviced as well: all the men working in these bars—the doormen, the waiters —in return for tips will affect a cowering smarminess intended to make the most hapless patron feel like Timur himself.) The pinnacle of power I’d guess is at the moment of selecting a girl from a fawning line-up, which might render the subsequent boom-boom somewhat anti-climactic.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 7:07 PM on January 20 [7 favorites]


Yup, not gonna blow this guy for his half-assed tax write-off scam. Oh, excuse me, his ~epiphany~ that has since ~blossomed~ into a half-assed tax write-off scam. Smug dipshit.

I'm just happy they run editorials on Sundays instead of Mondays, so at least it missed being printed on MLK Day proper.
posted by rue72 at 7:23 PM on January 20


I did a quick Google search on Sam Polk. As long as people didn't know how much money he had, I think he'd fit right in at MetaFilter.

Sam Polk: Rising inequality has serious health ramifications
You can't talk about obesity without talking about the destruction of the middle class.

We usually blame the obesity crisis on portion sizes, the amount of sugar, salt and fat in processed food, and the marketing of junk food to children. When we do mention economic causes, we focus on how government subsidies distort corn supply and prices. Or the correlation between obesity and poverty, how there are no Whole Foods in South Los Angeles, but over 1,000 fast-food restaurants. But only 15 percent of Americans live at or below the poverty line, while more than 70 percent are either overweight or obese.

The scope of the obesity crisis goes far beyond poverty. And it goes far beyond food. The American obesity crisis is a tip-of-the-iceberg symptom of a problem that's ripping apart our country – vast and widening economic inequality. ...

Today, 76 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.

In that same span of time, obesity in America exploded. This isn't a coincidence.

The economic hardships experienced by a majority of Americans since 1970 has had huge repercussions for eating habits. Instead of cooking, families eat fast food or at inexpensive, corporate chains. Motivated primarily by cost, people seek the biggest caloric bang for their buck.
Yuppies Watching Documentaries:
...starvation in America looks different. A lot of American children who are hungry are also overweight. Junk food is cheap, and in many neighborhoods it's the only food available. In the span of a day, a kid can go from being hungry, missing lunch, to eating KFC for dinner. That fact--that many kids are both starving and obese--was what got to me.

They used to call my brother and me "The Pork Brothers," riffing on our last name. It's not just the physical costs of obesity we had to pay, but the emotional ones, too: the teasing, the bullying, the shame. I'd spent years in counseling dealing with that pain.

What's more, I knew what it was like to be hungry. Not in the same way that poor kids in South LA do, but close enough. I grew up in Glendale, a middle-class suburb. There was food in the fridge, but my dad was sort of crazy when it came to money. He was always trying to save by cutting corners. He'd order pizza--just one pie for a family of six (I also have a younger brother and sister). You had to wolf down a slice in record time if you wanted another. I once took a slice into my bedroom, hid it in a drawer. Then I got another and savored it, knowing I had one waiting for me.

A Place At The Table brought all that back. I was hit with the raw emotion of what it feels like not to have enough to eat, of what it feels like to be always wanting one more slice, one more bite. I was struck with the notion that ten miles away from where we sat in our two story Westwood home, a million kids were lusting over a bit of food that not only wouldn't satisfy them, but would make them fat.

... A few days after we watched A Place At The Table, my friend Joe came by and we started tossing around ideas. There were many resources for hungry families--food stamps and food banks--but so many people still fell through the cracks. "What if we just bought groceries for one family for a couple of months?" I said. In my newly plant-based mind, I pictured bags of tomatoes and avocadoes, kale and yellow peaches. Joe liked the idea, and suddenly we weren't just talking about doing something. We were doing something.

I started calling people and felt stupid because I had no idea what to say, and zero experience in this arena. "I have this idea about individuals buying groceries for a family," I told a woman who ran a non-profit in Inglewood. I thought she was going to tell me to get a better idea, but she loved what I proposed. She said I'd "awoken to my responsibility." She suggested we incorporate nutrition education and some healthy-cooking classes. "Teach a man to fish, you know," she said. "Nobody knows what to do with a bag of kale."
posted by russilwvong at 7:30 PM on January 20 [3 favorites]


They have absolutely no idea of the value of money. It's a numbers game and how they come out on top just doesn't figure in their reckoning.

People will compete to have the most Metafilter favorites or Reddit karma, you think they're not going to want to have the most electronic points that can actually buy something, regardless of the actual numbers involved?
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:49 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Calling the architects of our misfortune "assholes" is not at all unreasonable when almost all of them have profited obscenely from their crimes. As I said before, if we lived in a just society, we'd be calling them much worse than "assholes" - we'd be calling them "felons", "prisoners" and even "lifers".

Can you explain why you keep defending these morally abhorrent people, these unpunished criminals, even to the point that you call people who are justifiably angry with them "detestable"?


I never called anyone detestable. What I said was that the sentiment "You suck, you're an asshole, people hate you. Go cry into your bank statement." is detestable.

Your idea that someone in being a part of a greater system is "an architect of your misfortune" is diffused hatred. You have no idea whether this particular man broke any laws (and therefore should be a felon) or has anything to do with whatever misfortune you are living. Someone living in a developing country might similarly consider you an architect of their misfortune for your participation in the neocolonialism that oppresses them.

The arrogance of judging an individual based on a few tiny signifiers is the same lazy thinking and petty tribalism that permits racism, sexism, and homophobia.

It may help you to understand that many people I know who became similarly addicted to money had rocky childhoods with periods stability punctuated with intense poverty, which galvanized the craving. I hope you that you won't be tempted to look at your own economic situation and suggest that this should mitigate your empathy for others. Empathy for other people doesn't mean that we think they're right. It means that in recognizing our shared humanity, we don't pray for their misfortune, their detestation, or their tears.

If you can't be happy for other people, I think it is really sad for you. Part of our humanity, maybe the most important part, is loving people and wanting them to be happy. Of course, if people are doing terrible things, we want them to realize their error; we want them to change. But what could have happened to you that embittered you so profoundly that it is easier to hate someone than to empathize with them? I have found that there is a profound truth that where there is hatred, there is insecurity, whether it's hatred of a gender, race, sexuality, or even an ex-lover.

My suggestion to you is that you should not dare venture judgement on any person unless you can empathize with them.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:31 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Not in the same way that poor kids in South LA do, but close enough. I grew up in Glendale, a middle-class suburb

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHA *wheeze* HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA *cough* oh fuck, someone call 911 before I laugh my intestines out all my orifaces.

The economic differences between Glendale and South-Central LA might as well be the difference between, say, Switzerland and Nigeria.

Sure, parts of Glendale are middle class. Mostly upper middle class. But much of Glendale is richer than Beverly Hills. Glendale and the surrounding area is very tony if not mainly stinking rich, and it has been that way since the first golden age of Hollywood.

Even if he grew up in the cheaper, more industrial parts of Glendale - comparing it to South Central is just absolutely tone deaf and clueless well past the point of simple cultural myopia.

This guy has never had to go "grocery shopping" in a liquor store where you have to point at things through a wall of bullet proof glass, and the healthiest food on the shelves might be a tin of vienna sausages or a loaf of white bread, and the closest thing to fresh fruit might be a fruit snack pie.

And I know South Central LA knows what to do with kale. Stuff like chard and kale were long staples in black communities long before it was a "superfood" for the Whole Foods demographic. It was originally slave food, considered too coarse for white tables.

You wilt it and fry it up with bacon and/or bacon fat, and it's fucking delicious.
posted by loquacious at 3:03 AM on January 21 [8 favorites]


When money/wealth addiction becomes systemic, we're talking about fetishism of commodities.
posted by eviemath at 5:26 AM on January 21


My suggestion to you is that you should not dare venture judgement on any person unless you can empathize with them.

Hmm, you mean judging like making pronouncements on people's motivations, and empathizing like trying to consider first what other understandings of how the world/economics works that other people's comments might be based on, and checking in that one has the correct understanding before making judgements? Focusing on individuals rather than lumping them in with a whole class (eg. in responding to a general tone of a metafilter thread rather than clearly indicating individual comments being responded to)? Empathy like not treating others' comments on issues that they have strong emotional connections to because they feel that their lives are directly impacted as a rhetorical game or challenge that must be won, as an opportunity to tell them that and how they are Doing It Wrong, or as a fun opportunity for honing one's debating skills or trolling, as the case may be? Empathy like thinking ahead to how one's own comments might come across as judgemental?

(I totally empathize with you, trust me. So the judgy tone of this comment is both intentional and justified!)
posted by eviemath at 6:09 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


And I know South Central LA knows what to do with kale. Stuff like chard and kale were long staples in black communities long before it was a "superfood" for the Whole Foods demographic. It was originally slave food, considered too coarse for white tables.

You wilt it and fry it up with bacon and/or bacon fat, and it's fucking delicious.


I first started eating greens in the UK, because they were the cheapest vegetables and my SO liked them. When I got back to the US, I was buying collards and kale at a grocery store, and the African-American checkout clerk was surprised to see a white person buying greens. He asked me about it, I said "My husband likes collards," and he asked "Is your husband black"?

And we cook it by not wilting it because that's an unnecessary step, but frying it directly with bacon, or olive oil and Kikoman soy sauce.
posted by jb at 6:37 AM on January 21


This tenuous logic could be applied to you as well as a citizen of a country that supports people who caused the disaster.

THIS is incredibly tenuous logic which only applies if you agree that citizens have direct control over: a.) the behavior of these guys or b.) the regulators, neither of which I agree with.

So, no.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:58 AM on January 21


If you can't be happy for other people, I think it is really sad for you. Part of our humanity, maybe the most important part, is loving people and wanting them to be happy. Of course, if people are doing terrible things, we want them to realize their error; we want them to change. But what could have happened to you that embittered you so profoundly that it is easier to hate someone than to empathize with them? I have found that there is a profound truth that where there is hatred, there is insecurity, whether it's hatred of a gender, race, sexuality, or even an ex-lover.

My suggestion to you is that you should not dare venture judgement on any person unless you can empathize with them.


Ugh, this kind of self-righteous, condescending effluvia is the grossest type of comment on MetaFilter. Absolutely disgusting. I assure you, it is both possible to love some people and be happy for them and hate others. I think it is really sad for you that you can't experience more than one emotion!
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:14 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Could we drop the various derails about the morality of metafilter commenters vs. the morality of the man who wrote the article in the OP? It's a tiresome, smarmy argument that has nothing to do with the piece's critique of the rotten culture at the top of high finance. If we all have to be saints to advance an idea, and if we all have to advance it in a saintly way, then we may as well all shut up, because some captious idiot will always find a detail with a devil in it.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:38 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


The animosity and almost 'eat-the-rich' attitude on display here is somewhat frightening. Income inequality should be addressed and a "fairer" tax-system is not hard to imagine - but someone who orients their life around making money is no more selfish than someone who wants to have a family, or a strong relationship with god, or whatever.
posted by rosswald at 9:32 AM on January 21


[We appear to be getting to the circular firing squad point of this thread. Ask yourself "Am I trying to have a discussion with the people in this thread, or am I just grumpy and don't really want to talk to anyone at all?" It's fine to be grumpy but it sort of inhibits community discussion sometimes.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:36 AM on January 21


omeone who orients their life around making money is no more selfish than someone who wants to have a family, or a strong relationship with god, or whatever

To the extent that the choices of the people who want a family or a strong relationship with god negatively impact the rest of society (and they often do!), I agree. That doesn't make it "not selfish," though.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:05 AM on January 21


Actually, maybe I don't agree. It depends on how negatively those choices affect the rest of society. Greed has done an enormous amount of harm to the world.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:10 AM on January 21


If you can't be happy for other people, I think it is really sad for you. Part of our humanity, maybe the most important part, is loving people and wanting them to be happy. Of course, if people are doing terrible things, we want them to realize their error; we want them to change. But what could have happened to you that embittered you so profoundly that it is easier to hate someone than to empathize with them? I have found that there is a profound truth that where there is hatred, there is insecurity, whether it's hatred of a gender, race, sexuality, or even an ex-lover.

My suggestion to you is that you should not dare venture judgement on any person unless you can empathize with them.



Damn dude. You're like, the Buddha of concern trolls.
posted by stenseng at 4:57 PM on January 21 [11 favorites]


Trickle-down economics is the greatest broken promise of our lifetime
The richest 85 people in the world have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5bn. That should be a wake-up call to the deepest sleepers.
posted by adamvasco at 9:45 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]


You have agency in what job you choose to do.
You are not exculpated of responsibility because 'It was my job'.
You cannot rely on society/government making your moral choices for you in what job choices are 'legal', as the system may be, and is, corrupt.

You can make money doing a lot of things, therefore why should we view it as any different or less morally reprehensible, when a money addict works for wall street rather than dealing heroin?
These choices affect other people.
posted by Elysum at 1:42 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


We don't know that the person in this article did anything wrong, and so I don't understand this comparison to heroin dealers. Is it inherently wrong to work as an investment banker?

Maybe you don't realize that investment banking creates liquidity, which reduces inefficiency and therefore prices.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 6:18 PM on January 22


Is it inherently wrong to work as an investment [broker]?

Yes.

I mean, for those of us who are anti-capitalist, this is a no-brainer. Investment brokering (and the sort of short-term, high stakes investing where you really don't care about the use value of the products or services provided by the companies being invested in, most egregiously) is one of the primary support mechanisms for private ownership of capital in our present economy.

For other folks who are not strictly anti-capitalist, there is still an argument to be made for investment banking being not particularly ethical as a general enterprise. I'll let folks with this viewpoint make this argument.

Regardless of the ethics of economic systems as a whole, one can definitely argue that it is inherently wrong to make as much money above median incomes as investment brokers make, and therefore that investment brokerage is, under these circumstances, an unethical occupation. To wit:

1. My understanding is that primate behavioral studies have demonstrated, and human behavioral studies are less advanced but seem to indicate similar results, that primates pretty much universally view unusually large reward discrepancies as unfair, leading to instability in social groups. If one believes that ethics are mostly just rationalizations for more biologically determined pro-social tendencies that we, as an animal that lives in social group settings, have; then yes, extreme income/wealth disparities, and the activities that produce them, are inherently unethical.

2. If one believes that income, even within a capitalist economy, should more-or-less reflect the value of an individual's contributions to the economy and society as a whole (eg. assuming that the capitalist economy is working properly), then one would either have to believe that some humans are so much more valuable than others that it is reasonable that their mere bonuses are on the order of triple the median annual income, or one would have to conclude that the system regulating this distribution of incomes (albeit indirectly and through market mechanisms, in the case of an ideal capitalist economy) is broken. I believe it to be unethical to think that one is that much more valuable than another. I also believe it to be unethical to profit from such a broken system.

3. Capitalism is an economic system based on scarcity. If investment brokers are making so much, that means others are making very little - there is not an infinite amount of money and profit to go around, so distribution matters. I believe it to be unethical to not ensure that all humans are provided with a basic level of resources to meet their survival (physical and mental/emotional) needs. Even without assuming that there is anything unethical with income or wealth inequality on it's own, in a finite system there comes a point where you making more money means that someone else is not making enough. The remuneration described in the article exceeds this point, at least in my judgement, and that is unethical.
posted by eviemath at 6:56 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Maybe you don't realize that investment banking creates liquidity, which reduces inefficiency and therefore prices.

esprit de l'escalier, is it so surprising that there's so much animosity towards the financial sector in general? Unlike eviemath, I'm not anti-capitalist. Before the 2008 financial crisis, my view was that bankers might be paid huge amounts of money, but presumably they knew what they were doing. But the crisis and its aftermath revealed that this wasn't the case at all--the banks and their CEOs didn't understand the risks that they were taking. Their incompetence basically crashed the economy, with devastating consequences for millions of people.

In this context, the financial sector's strenuous resistance to regulation, and its continuation of giant bonuses, are both infuriating.

(I liked the article, myself -- it reminded me of the scene in Breaking Bad where Walter White is standing in front of the giant pile of money in the storage unit, realizing that there's no way his family would ever be able to spend this much money.)
posted by russilwvong at 7:06 PM on January 22


broker -> trader, to be more accurate
posted by eviemath at 7:08 PM on January 22


Polk himself argues about trading, as it is presently practiced, being an unethical occupation:
Like alcoholics driving drunk, wealth addiction imperils everyone. Wealth addicts are, more than anybody, specifically responsible for the ever widening rift that is tearing apart our once great country. Wealth addicts are responsible for the vast and toxic disparity between the rich and the poor and the annihilation of the middle class. Only a wealth addict would feel justified in receiving $14 million in compensation — including an $8.5 million bonus — as the McDonald’s C.E.O., Don Thompson, did in 2012, while his company then published a brochure for its work force on how to survive on their low wages. Only a wealth addict would earn hundreds of millions as a hedge-fund manager, and then lobby to maintain a tax loophole that gave him a lower tax rate than his secretary.
posted by eviemath at 7:14 PM on January 22


I really don't understand how anyone can be "anti-capitalist" without being totally communist. If you can own something, then why can't you sell it? If you own your home, why can't you sell it? If you don't own it, then what's the incentive for investing time and energy in maintaining it? If you own a restaurant, and you need money to invest in your business, why can't you mortgage your business? Or if instead of borrowing against the assets, you sell a piece of the company, why should that be illegal? Once someone has bought it, why can't they sell it?

With all due respect, I think anti-capitalism is ridiculous.

Your idea that inequity upsets people's primate selves might explain the animosity, but it doesn't defend it. Primates have all kinds of urges that we try to rise above. If your point is that high earnings make people jealous, then, I think tough luck.

Your idea that "income should more-or-less reflect the value of an individual's contributions" is based on that sense of fairness, and while it's understandable, I don't see how anyone can decide how valuable anyone's contribution is. Ultimately, the market in its stupid matter-of-factness decides. I think fair taxation and social spending can mitigate extreme poverty.

the financial sector's strenuous resistance to regulation

—and that is the biggest problem. Not bonuses or wealth addiction or the fact that traders even exist. We should just enforce the laws we have and tax people a bit more.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 7:19 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Drug dealers haven't necessarily done anything morally wrong.
However, given the number of derivatives traders working at his level, there has absolutely been a human cost from his trading in the derivatives market. It was one of the major drivers of the global financial collapse, and continues to be a major risk factor.

Are we going to have a discussion about the extent to which the derivatives trading should be regulated/banned?
Because I'm far closer to the banned side for banks etc, FYI, given how it is being used in world markets.
posted by Elysum at 7:28 PM on January 22


3. Capitalism is an economic system based on scarcity. If investment brokers are making so much, that means others are making very little - there is not an infinite amount of money and profit to go around, so distribution matters.

No, there is an infinite amount of potential wealth because the velocity of money is unbounded. There is no truth to the idea that someone else making money inherently prevents you from making money. It is not a zero sum game.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 7:32 PM on January 22


Are we going to have a discussion about the extent to which the derivatives trading should be regulated/banned?
Because I'm far closer to the banned side for banks etc, FYI, given how it is being used in world markets.


How can you ban trading in derivatives without banning all trading?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 7:33 PM on January 22


I really don't understand how anyone can be "anti-capitalist" without being totally communist.

Please, please tell me you understand that there are economic systems other than "capitalism" and "communism" and that capitalism is an economic structure which emerged in the last few hundred years rather than being some grand prehistorical force.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:51 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


I really don't understand how anyone can be "anti-capitalist" without being totally communist. If you can own something, then why can't you sell it? If you own your home, why can't you sell it? If you don't own it, then what's the incentive for investing time and energy in maintaining it? If you own a restaurant, and you need money to invest in your business, why can't you mortgage your business? Or if instead of borrowing against the assets, you sell a piece of the company, why should that be illegal? Once someone has bought it, why can't they sell it?

With all due respect, I think anti-capitalism is ridiculous.

Your idea that inequity upsets people's primate selves might explain the animosity, but it doesn't defend it. Primates have all kinds of urges that we try to rise above. If your point is that high earnings make people jealous, then, I think tough luck.

Your idea that "income should more-or-less reflect the value of an individual's contributions" is based on that sense of fairness, and while it's understandable, I don't see how anyone can decide how valuable anyone's contribution is. Ultimately, the market in its stupid matter-of-factness decides. I think fair taxation and social spending can mitigate extreme poverty.


-----

My suggestion to you is that you should not dare venture judgement on any person unless you can empathize with them.

-----

With a probably matching level of respect: (a) no, you really don't understand the distinction between capital and private property, communism, or other anti-capitalist economic philosophies it would seem (but it would probably be a bit of a derail to get into the details in this thread); (b) but fortunately you don't have to in order to respectfully disagree, eg. by noting, "ah, this is the difference in our world views that has led to our discrepant ethical judgements of this situation."

Now, that's for why I think trading is inherently unethical. As for the other arguments I put forth; on preview I see that you did notice the third point. And... as a mathematician, I must say that you seem to have an inaccurate understanding of the definition of infinite. Physicists might take issue with your use of the term velocity as well, but that's not really my concern. At any given time, there is a finite amount of money, and also a finite amount of wealth in any given economy. That this total amount might grow in future years is irrelevant to questions about its distribution in a given year: the people not receiving enough need the money that year, because it's awfully hard to defer stuff like eating, and still be around in future years.

As for growth of an economy into the future: the upper bound on the rate of growth is flexible but there is one. While modern capitalist economies are no longer on the gold standard for their currencies, governments do make decisions about limits on the amount of currency that they will print, and thus how much of this medium of exchange is available. Money is also created through lending, but here again there are regulations limiting the amount that banks can lend out relative to the amount of actual deposits they hold. So in any given year, there is a finite amount of money in the economy; and there is a finite upper bound on the rate of growth of the amount of money in the following year.

Now, wealth includes capital assets as well as money; but capital assets are physical things, and thus, given that the earth is finite, there is a finite supply of them. This means that the monetary valuation of a given capital asset might grow with demand, independent of the amount of money available in the economy at a given time, so those owning the capital asset see their wealth grow, and there is no physically-based limit to the monetary valuation of the asset that they own; but this does nothing for everyone else who does not own the capital asset. "But!" you say, "despite capital assets themselves being single physical things, ownership of capital assets can be subdivided into shares!" True, and this is one way to distribute the wealth tied up in capital assets across more people. But in any given year there are still finitely many shares of capital assets available, and there are regulations around when and how and into how many pieces these shares can get subdivided, as well. So: in a given year, finite. And if I don't have enough income or wealth to eat in a given year, that I might theoretically get more in a later year does me no good.

In addition to these physical and regulatory constraints on the total amount of wealth in an economy at a given time, the market mechanisms that make capitalism function are also based in many ways on scarcity. We couldn't have supply and demand curves and the idea that markets will set efficient prices for goods and services in a Star Trek world where anything we want can be requested from a computer and picked up out of a little cubby in the wall. The year-to-year increase in overall wealth of an economy is called inflation (or deflation if it's a decrease), and when the rate of change is too large (in either the positive or negative direction), it breaks the economic system.

So to say that we needn't worry about wealth or income inequality resulting in some people not having enough resources for survival because "there is an infinite amount of potential wealth" is disingenuous, and ignores the time scales over which humans need to consume resources for basic survival.
posted by eviemath at 8:17 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


How can you ban trading in derivatives without banning all trading?

Banks can absolutely be banned from derivatives trading.


Further: The velocity of trading real world objects is bounded. To entirely separate the two, to treat money as an arbitrary number, a game, absolutely affects people being able to use it for its 'original' purpose, ie that as a medium of exchange for real world objects. The bartering of food, clothing, and housing.
The real world does have resource and time limitations.

The transfer of resources, and leases on employable time, leads to actual increases of efficiency, productivity, and goods.
'Velocity of money' is used as a marker of that, as if it is a good thing in and of itself. But by itself, it's meaningless.
You can generate a (nearly) 'unbounded velocity of money' just by having computers transfer digits between accounts, endlessly - without having ANY real world impact.
posted by Elysum at 8:18 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Now, that's for why I think trading is inherently unethical. As for the other arguments I put forth; on preview I see that you did notice the third point. And... as a mathematician, I must say that you seem to have an inaccurate understanding of the definition of infinite. Physicists might take issue with your use of the term velocity as well, but that's not really my concern.

What are you talking about? "Velocity of money" is basic economics.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:09 PM on January 22


Finiteness of the economy and the role of scarcity are basic economics. Velocity of money is more of an econ 201 terminology.
posted by eviemath at 9:22 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


At any given time, there is a finite amount of money, and also a finite amount of wealth in any given economy.

The reason that potential wealth is infinite is because you can potentially do less and less to make other people happier. It doesn't matter that the number of things is finite. Services are infinite. Your neighbor might pay you $5 to get his mail while you're getting yours. You might pay that money back to your neighbor who happens to be a coffee store owner. This whole cycle of transactions might not happen unless you both realize that you can do something for each other that would make the other one happy. This is why the GDP can rise without limit. There are an infinitum of undiscovered economic relationships. This is one way that trading adds value.

You said that you believe that trading is unethical. I don't really see what's wrong with a guy buying coffee or a house or getting a mortgage. I don't know what kind of world you're imagining without trading.

The year-to-year increase in overall wealth of an economy is called inflation

No, inflation is the increase in prices for equivalent goods or services. Essentially, people asking for more money for the same work.

How can you ban trading in derivatives without banning all trading?

Banks can absolutely be banned from derivatives trading.


I'm not sure that's true. What stops a bank from creating the derivative internally while only communicating to the stock market trades about the underlying equities? If you make that illegal, what stops people from thinking in terms of derivatives and then betting on the underlying equities. Ultimately, the mind wants to abstract details.

You can generate a (nearly) 'unbounded velocity of money' just by having computers transfer digits between accounts, endlessly - without having ANY real world impact.

That's right, but in real life, transactions usually make people happy. When you buy something, it's because you thought it was worth at least as much as you paid for it. Usually it's worth more, and that extra bit is the value in "happiness" that you're taking for yourself. I believe that that is unbounded.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:26 PM on January 22


The velocity of trading real world objects is bounded. To entirely separate the two, to treat money as an arbitrary number, a game, absolutely affects people being able to use it for its 'original' purpose, ie that as a medium of exchange for real world objects. The bartering of food, clothing, and housing.

It would be better if the negative things you imagine "affecting people" were injecting into the abstract equation in the form of laws or financial disincentives and incentives. Fighting the mind's desire to abstract things is futile. I'm sure that as a mathematician, Evie will tell you the same thing.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:40 PM on January 22


I believe that that is unbounded.

And now for the religion portion of our broadcast.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:55 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


The reason that potential wealth is infinite is because ...

I don't care about potential wealth in the future if I'm starving now. It's really that simple.

It doesn't matter that the number of things is finite. Services are infinite. Your neighbor might pay you $5 to get his mail while you're getting yours. You might pay that money back to your neighbor who happens to be a coffee store owner

It takes time to perform services. Per year, time is finite. Our individual lifetimes are finite. The lifetimes of our planet, our solar system, though very long, are finite. It may well be the case that the entire universe is finite - in both space and time.

As well, my neighbor can only pay me $5 to get his mail if he has five actual dollars. In capitalism, money, currency, is used as a medium of exchange. If we don't have the money, we don't exchange the services. Exchange of services is thus limited by the finiteness of money.

No, inflation is the increase in prices for equivalent goods or services.

This is not actually different from what I said. Inflation is an increase in the total numerical value given to an economy. You can talk about that as the wealth of an economy in loose big-picture wording, or as the GDP in more technical terms. Since goods and services are finite, this means that inflation is when their prices go up. So you can take increases in prices of goods and services as a definition of inflation, or you can take increases in GDP (or other measure of the total wealth of an economy) as a definition of inflation. They are equivalent. Though this equivalency argument does rely on the fact that goods and services are finite, which I acknowledge that you do not believe to be the case.

You said that you believe that trading is unethical. I don't really see what's wrong with a guy buying coffee or a house or getting a mortgage. I don't know what kind of world you're imagining without trading.

I'm imagining a world where we understand the distinction between capital and personal property, and where we understand the distinction between stock trading as a profession and the generic concept of exchanges between two or more people.
posted by eviemath at 9:59 PM on January 22 [4 favorites]


Fighting the mind's desire to abstract things is futile. I'm sure that as a mathematician, Evie will tell you the same thing.

Nu? I probably spend more of my time fighting, possibly futilely, to instill in other minds a desire to care the least bit about abstraction.
posted by eviemath at 10:06 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


When you buy something, it's because you thought it was worth at least as much as you paid for it.

Or because it is an inelastic good, need it for survival, and you can't find a cheaper substitute. Which is the case for most of the purchases of people on the end of the social scale that many of the rest of us here are worrying about, when we think of the harm caused by the actions of or the salaries and bonuses paid to derivatives traders.
posted by eviemath at 10:10 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Nu? I probably spend more of my time fighting, possibly futilely, to instill in other minds a desire to care the least bit about abstraction.

Maybe those people aren't cut out to be mathematicians?

When you buy something, it's because you thought it was worth at least as much as you paid for it.

Or because it is an inelastic good, need it for survival, and you can't find a cheaper substitute…


Yeah, supply factors into value.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:22 PM on January 22


As well, my neighbor can only pay me $5 to get his mail if he has five actual dollars. In capitalism, money, currency, is used as a medium of exchange. If we don't have the money, we don't exchange the services. Exchange of services is thus limited by the finiteness of money.

In this scenario, if a person doesn't have anything to offer anyone else, then of course no transaction can take place. But, you can presumably always invent something more or better you can do for someone else, and something they can do for you. Then, you have a transaction. It's reallyonly limited by inventiveness.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:30 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


No, inflation is the increase in prices for equivalent goods or services.

This is not actually different from what I said. Inflation is an increase in the total numerical value given to an economy. You can talk about that as the wealth of an economy in loose big-picture wording, or as the GDP in more technical terms. Since goods and services are finite, this means that inflation is when their prices go up. So you can take increases in prices of goods and services as a definition of inflation, or you can take increases in GDP (or other measure of the total wealth of an economy) as a definition of inflation. They are equivalent.


I'm sorry, it's totally different. Some GDP growth is due to inflation, but some GDP growth is also due to increased productivity. Inflation is not the same thing as GDP growth.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:32 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


We can have a barter transaction. But barter transactions aren't factored into "the economy" in a capitalist economy. In capitalism, the transactions that count are mediated by money. We can very much have services that we could each benefit from the exchange of, and still not make that exchange due to lack of money. This is precisely why there have been various experiments with alternative currencies: LETs, time banks, etc.
posted by eviemath at 10:35 PM on January 22


barter transactions aren't factored into "the economy" in a capitalist economy.

They absolutely are. In fact, they're taxed by many governments.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:38 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


[esprit de l'escalier, you're sort of flooding the thread at this point and discussion is really getting into the weeds. This needs to be more of a conversation about the post and less of a last-man-standing "defending the ramparts" thing.]
posted by taz at 10:43 PM on January 22


eviemath: If one believes that income, even within a capitalist economy, should more-or-less reflect the value of an individual's contributions to the economy and society as a whole (eg. assuming that the capitalist economy is working properly), then one would either have to believe that some humans are so much more valuable than others that it is reasonable that their mere bonuses are on the order of triple the median annual income, or one would have to conclude that the system regulating this distribution of incomes (albeit indirectly and through market mechanisms, in the case of an ideal capitalist economy) is broken.

I like Paul Krugman's analogy of an economy based on gold prospecting: compared to a more "normal" economy, luck plays an outsized role.
A few find rich mother lodes and become wealthy. Others find smaller deposits, and many find themselves working hard for very little reward. The result will be a very unequal distribution of income. Some of this will still reflect effort and skill: Those who are especially alert to signs of gold, or willing to put in longer hours prospecting, will on average do better than those who are not. But there will be many skilled, industrious prospectors who do not get rich and a few who become immensely so.
I work in high tech, which definitely feels like a gold rush. Skill matters, but so does being in the right place at the right time.

In finance, there's a huge number of super-smart people applying for jobs, with only a handful being selected.

To me, a big problem with the huge salaries and bonuses in the finance sector (besides fairness) is that it drains talent away from other sectors of the economy. In fact, I would imagine that a lot of young people reading Sam Polk's op-ed will be thinking, "$3.6 million! How do I get a job like that?"

Michael Lewis, author of Liar's Poker (based on his three years at Salomon Brothers):
I had no great agenda, apart from telling what I took to be a remarkable tale, but if you got a few drinks in me and then asked what effect I thought my book would have on the world, I might have said something like, "I hope that college students trying to figure out what to do with their lives will read it and decide that it's silly to phony it up and abandon their passions to become financiers." I hoped that some bright kid at, say, Ohio State University who really wanted to be an oceanographer would read my book, spurn the offer from Morgan Stanley, and set out to sea.

Somehow that message failed to come across. Six months after Liar's Poker was published, I was knee-deep in letters from students at Ohio State who wanted to know if I had any other secrets to share about Wall Street. They'd read my book as a how-to manual.
posted by russilwvong at 11:17 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


Of course they did. I find it hard to credit that Lewis could really be so naive.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:49 AM on January 24


Obviously I'm vastly simplifying what Cramer said, but that part, that "In addition to giving me all the money you must accept me and love me" really struck me as an essential truth.

Jamie Dimon agrees explictly.


It ain't easy being Jamie Dimon. Maybe his new raise will cheer him up.
posted by homunculus at 1:20 PM on January 24


The thing is, if you are rich, you create new problems that money can't solve. When you are poor, nearly all of your problems would be solved by money. You could move to a safer neighborhood, you could have more time with your family, you could eat healthier, you could finally see the doctor about that thing.

I think the cut-off is probably around $70k for an individual. Up to that point, getting more money will make your life measurably better. After that point, it probably won't. Most misery that exists beyond that point has some cause other than a lack of funds.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:47 PM on January 25


aka burlap: "As someone in the nonprofit world, I'm a little annoyed by the "started a nonprofit" part, myself. Why start a nonprofit? There are plenty of effective and good nonprofits already doing good work. Go give your time and money to one of them. Why does he have to choose a way to "give back" that elevates his ego?"

Bingo. You sort of answered your own question there.

daq: "
Better use of the money? Oh, there are plenty. How about addressing the realities of food deserts, instead of the palative of gift cards. Maybe instead of offering gift cards to people to buy fruits and veg, you could offer a free shuttle service to get out to a real grocery store. Probably cost you less, AND have a greater impact on a whole community, not just select families.
"

Or invest in creating grocery stores in areas that are currently food deserts. If you want to do good, you don't have to start a non-profit. You can start a for-profit too! The truth is, plenty of for-profit companies do just as much good as non-profit organizations. There are plenty of for-profits that never really make a profit, and plenty of non-profits that bend over backwards to have a zero-balance profit sheet at the end of the year, even after giving their "employees" pretty generous "salaries".

In the end, your IRS classification has way less to do with how good you are. Your impact on your environment is much more powerful. In my neighborhood, there are a lot of local businesses run by good people, who make the neighborhood better, friendlier, etc. My doctor's family practice is for-profit. Meanwhile, there are non-profit organizations for hate groups. Many groups that lobby for the wealthy and work to disenfranchise the poor and weak are non-profit member associations.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:13 PM on January 25 [2 favorites]


Jamie Dimon's Raise Proves U.S. Regulatory Strategy is a Joke
posted by homunculus at 3:12 PM on February 1


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