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Heads I win, tails you lose...
March 19, 2010 10:04 AM   Subscribe

"Although the word “entitlement” fits, it’s been used so frequently as to have become inadequate to capture the preening self-regard, the obliviousness to the damage that high-flying finance has inflicted on the real economy, the learned blindness to vital considerations in the pay equation. Getting an education, or even hard work, does not guarantee outcomes. One of the basic precepts of finance is that of a risk-return tradeoff: high potential payoff investments come with greater downside. But how did that evolve into the current belief system among the incumbents, that Wall Street was a sure ride, a guaranteed “heads I win, tails you lose” bet?"
Yves Smith writes an essay on 'indefensible men.'
posted by ennui.bz (38 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can't help thinking it's partly because this:

You do not know how hard you can work, short of slavery, unless you have been an investment banking analyst or associate.

has become such a credo that even Yves Smith takes it as truth rather than hyperbole.
posted by sallybrown at 10:17 AM on March 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


You do not know how hard you can work, short of slavery, unless you have been an investment banking analyst or associate.

You don't say.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:22 AM on March 19, 2010 [18 favorites]


life is hard.
posted by infini at 10:24 AM on March 19, 2010


Sorry, I'm all out of outrage. I spent it all on hipsters buying lemongrass and coconut milk with Food Stamps.
posted by [citation needed] at 10:28 AM on March 19, 2010 [11 favorites]


Really, I don't think there's any stopping Wall Street looting the American economy short of full-scale legislative reform of the banking and finance law. I don't think its possible to change American culture such that people with ambition, privilege and intelligence are going to stop trying to make millions of dollars by any means possible.
posted by gagglezoomer at 10:32 AM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Interesting article, thanks!
posted by Kwine at 10:34 AM on March 19, 2010


Exhaustion and loss of personal boundaries are an ideal setting for brainwashing, which is why people who have spent much of their career in finance have such difficulty understanding why their firm and their worldview might not be the center of the universe, why they might not be deserving of their outsized pay.

I realized a couple of years ago that whenever I thought I worked hard, it was really that my anxiety needed so much managing that I was expending double the amount of energy to work on something than what it would have been had I not been so worried.

It's a trap. People getting paid less to do whatever they believe they're passionate about also seems to be a trap. I've often thought recently that the justification for doing something for low pay was to get an employee to believe or agree that he was very passionate about it, help him create his identity around his work and employer's objectives, and pay him very little. I used to say how passionate I was about international development, and then I realized how tired I was and how depressing it was that my identity was built around my career and job and the desire to move up the ladder and be known as someone who helped people because I thought then everyone would think I was great and I would think I was great, and I could say, oh look how little I make but this is who I am, like a modern Mother Teresa. I could say that I one upped the bankers because I was helping the poor and not getting paid as much as I thought I should for it (which was based on what my non-NGO/non-nonprofit worker friends were making).

I don't doubt that the i-banking culture is one where you're at risk for being turned into an anxiety-prone maniac and you feel like you deserve so much money for your pains, because outside of the money, you have no idea who you are, unless you leap ship to something related and then you're again defining yourself in terms of your job and career.

It's what we do now, especially in the US, where people ask constantly, "What do you do?" My friends who went into i-banking claimed that they loved it, and I suspect they felt pressured to say they loved it because it's not cool to be in a job you don't love (and our college was always encouraging us to contribute to the world and some of them felt like they were contributing alot to making the economy move yikes) and it's not cool to not tie who you are to your work. So I'm not surprised that highly paid bankers think they're the ones running the core of the universe and demand the pay for it. They think we're all sitting here doing sketchings and doodling and having a good time at our jobs. That's all they have to go on and they can't figure out that it's just not true.
posted by anniecat at 10:41 AM on March 19, 2010 [43 favorites]


Really, I don't think there's any stopping Wall Street looting the American economy short of full-scale legislative reform of the banking and finance law. I don't think its possible to change American culture such that people with ambition, privilege and intelligence are going to stop trying to make millions of dollars by any means possible.

The only hope is that like any pestilence, once they've exhausted their supply of food, they'll simply abandon what they've raped and move on to the next most fertile field. Then maybe those of us left can pick ourselves up and rebuild and hope they never come back.
posted by spicynuts at 10:42 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a trap. People getting paid less to do whatever they believe they're passionate about also seems to be a trap. I've often thought recently that the justification for doing something for low pay was to get an employee to believe or agree that he was very passionate about it, help him create his identity around his work and employer's objectives, and pay him very little.

This is very thoughtfully put.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:43 AM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


That’s why the great unwashed public is furious. They may lack the sophistication to grasp the arcana of the financial crisis, but they sense that the explanations for the costs they are bearing are insufficient; they see that a lot more people were feeding at the trough, directly or indirectly, than the poster children served up for public ridicule. And they’re right.

This seems pretty right on to me.
posted by ghharr at 10:46 AM on March 19, 2010


That’s why the great unwashed public is furious. They may lack the sophistication to grasp the arcana of the financial crisis, but they sense that the explanations for the costs they are bearing are insufficient; they see that a lot more people were feeding at the trough, directly or indirectly, than the poster children served up for public ridicule. And they’re right

Except they're not furious.They're more concerned with the local sports team, or who's getting voted off Survivor. Very few will even investigate this themselves to decide how they should vote, if indeed they even bother to vote. Even if they do, they'll just take the talk radio guy's advice on whom to vote for.
Greed and entitlement aren't the biggest problems here. Apathy is.
posted by rocket88 at 10:59 AM on March 19, 2010 [12 favorites]


Very few will even investigate this themselves to decide how they should vote, if indeed they even bother to vote.

Which party am I supposed to vote for if I want to see a crackdown on Wall Street — the party that cut taxes on the rich to 19th-century levels, or the party that repealed Glass-Steagall and signed NAFTA?
posted by enn at 11:08 AM on March 19, 2010 [14 favorites]


The great unwashed public need to take a shower. They're beginning to get a bit ripe.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:08 AM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


The FPP made me think this was going to be another gender discussion. Which maybe it should have been. Wall Street seems like one of the last great boyzones, and the obscene amounts of money they make might be part of why women make on average less than men.
posted by msalt at 11:21 AM on March 19, 2010


Except they're not furious.They're more concerned with the local sports team, or who's getting voted off Survivor.

This sounds to me like input from someone who doesn't spend any time talking to "these people".
posted by hermitosis at 11:21 AM on March 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


Except they're not furious.They're more concerned with the local sports team, or who's getting voted off Survivor.

When you get angry, you're only hurting yourself. At least that's what my father says.
posted by anniecat at 11:24 AM on March 19, 2010


Which party am I supposed to vote for if I want to see a crackdown on Wall Street — the party that cut taxes on the rich to 19th-century levels, or the party that repealed Glass-Steagall and signed NAFTA?

The best crackdown on Wall Street would be letting the banks that use risky methods of profit-making fail when those methods fail. Losing the company will stop the feeling of entitlement to bonuses (you don't hear much bitching on either side about Lehmen bonuses). It would make the companies who abused innovations suffer the most when they fail. They would shape up right fucking quick. Therefore you should vote for the party which stands strong for non-corporatist values.


TARP Votes
HR 3997
Ayes: D - 140 R - 65
Noes: D - 95 R - 133
HR 1424
Ayes: D - 172 R - 91
Noes: D - 63 R - 108


Shit. Maybe Greens or Libertarians, then?
posted by FuManchu at 11:28 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


This sounds to me like input from someone who doesn't spend any time talking to "these people".

But I do. Most of them aren't on MetaFilter, though.
posted by rocket88 at 11:29 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The FPP made me think this was going to be another gender discussion.

I thought the title was inaccurate and played to the misperception that i-bankers are all Type A macho go-getter men. The people who built and maintained this golden tower of bullshit were men and women (for example, glaucoma/diverticulitis woman in the article), and they're not as "other" as often portrayed. Most of us probably went to college with a few of them, some of us are related to one or two of them, and a few of us are them. Honestly, I think it lets them off the hook a little when we discuss i-bankers as a subset of our society, as totally different from the rest of us. They took the poor decision-making and self-involvement and hunger for more more more that we all have and indulged and gloried in it, like pigs rolling around in crap.
posted by sallybrown at 11:32 AM on March 19, 2010


The great unwashed public is always furious about something. That is why they (we) are so easily exploitable.
posted by spicynuts at 11:33 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The FPP made me think this was going to be another gender discussion. Which maybe it should have been. Wall Street seems like one of the last great boyzones, and the obscene amounts of money they make might be part of why women make on average less than men.

I'd like to believe that women are genetically inferior to men in the ability to become the kind of total fucking sociopathic asshole greedhead fucks that have attached themselves to the bloated shark of the American economy like so many diseased remoras; but sadly, I don't. I think it's just institionalized gender inequity. Women will probably abuse the system with equal gusto once given half the chance, which I hope happens soon. This town deserves a better class of criminal.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:45 AM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


rocket88: Except they're not furious.They're more concerned with the local sports team, or who's getting voted off Survivor.

hermitosis: This sounds to me like input from someone who doesn't spend any time talking to "these people".

NB: I first must point out that rocket88 did not in fact use the exact phrase "these people" in her/his comment. So for you to use quotation marks is imprecise, and implies that rocket88 said something that s/he did not actually say.

That acknowledged: I understand the point you're trying to make, Hermitosis. I disagree with both of you.

I spend a lot of time around the 'kind' of people to whom rocket88 was referring. I find them to be apathetic as well. However, I find their distractions to be more quotidian: did everyone in the house eat today? Did Larry make it OK from the plasma donation center to the phone company before 6pm? God that would suck if the phone got shut off. Did Sara show that note to her teacher? If she calls CPS because she thinks we're beating our daughter, we're totally f*cked. God I want a cigarette. Should I make 2 boxes of Hamburger Helper for lunches tomorrow, or 3?

My point is not to glamorize or justify anyone or anything. It is merely to demonstrate that apathy is not always the of the insidious, pop culture variety. Sometimes it's just exhaustion. It's hard to pull yourself up with your own bootstraps if the system has cut off your hands.
posted by CitizenD at 11:52 AM on March 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


The letter from DeSantis from which he quotes was discussed here last year.
posted by MtDewd at 11:57 AM on March 19, 2010


I agree, Citizen D, and admit that my examples were overly cynical. Outside of dedicated polital blogs and news media, I just don't see much fury.
posted by rocket88 at 12:06 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not to defend the scum of the Financial Class, but they provided "the great unwashed public" (or many of them) with a service 'we' really wanted (although they could not do it forever), inflation-free growth protected from a real-world economic-cycle. While Americans' jobs stagnated, our 401Ks and home resale values grew like kudzu, making millions of us into 'paper millionaires' or at least 'paper hundred-thousndaires'. Too bad up to 90% of that 'growth' (and up to half the 'underlying value') wasn't real. Even at the nadir of "The Great Recession", there is so much still grossly overvalued and so little undervalued.

So we want the economic pushers who gave us that euphoric monetary-narcotic high to be punished for not being able to keep us high forever? Because we have not fully 'come down'; Obama's economic policies, IMO, did save the American Economy - from facing the full brunt of reality - and the only alternative was to admit that the entire U.S. banking system was as much a Ponzi Scheme as anything Bernie Madoff ever dreamed up. And the same scum who created the last big bogus boom are needed to create the next one.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:11 PM on March 19, 2010


There's no point in speaking about the banking crisis in the past tense, since all the evidence suggest we are still in the midst of the crisis. For instance, consider the continued derivatives exposure of the big banks, the reality of current unemployment rates, and the fragility of some of the usual suspects:

AIG Draws $2.2 Billion More From Treasury to Bolster Units (3/17/10)
AIG CDOs Sold to Fed Put on Review for Downgrade by Moody’s (3/19/10)
I.M.F. Chief Suggests ‘Fire Brigade’ for Europe’s Banks (3/19/10)
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 12:27 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


AIG Draws $2.2 Billion More From Treasury to Bolster Units (3/17/10)

I read things like this, and I strongly get the feeling that in about a hundred years, historians are going to be absolutely amazed at the amount of financial chaos, graft, and general disregard for anything other than what was to the benefits of the shareholders, that was allowed to happen in this last decade.

I imagine them describing it as "continually shoveling money into furnaces of the rich" or something like that.
posted by quin at 1:06 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


how did that evolve into the current belief system among the incumbents, that Wall Street was a sure ride, a guaranteed “heads I win, tails you lose” bet?

Does this man not know history? Wall Street from the outset has striven for nothing less than the guaranteed one way bet. Joe Kennedy made his first fortune that way, and he's far from the first, much less the last. Sure, the government is supposed to discourage that kind of thing, but the government has nothing like the motivation that Wall Street does. Nor do the honest men in government have anything like the access to law makers that Wall Street does.

Nothing new under this sun.

(Man on the street has neither the time nor the energy for fruitless outrage. See above under "access to law makers". Can't say I blame him.)
posted by IndigoJones at 1:36 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


On gender: Yves Smith is probably aware of the existence and minority status of women in finance, since she's a woman, and in finance.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:47 PM on March 19, 2010


Trying to sneak in with a man's name, eh? Well, it won't work, I tells ya.

And she still needs to bone up on her history
posted by IndigoJones at 2:17 PM on March 19, 2010


I often wonder if we haven't gotten to a point where shit like this isn't ever going to change unless some deadly serious violence isn't employed. I mean, it's a fool's bet to think government is ever going to turn "Wall Street"* around. That would simply run against Washington's best interests. Of course, the cynic in me says that Washington works for "Wall Street" anyway...

Of course, the level and duration of violence that is probably necessary to turn WS around is the sort that would also probably signal a complete breakdown of our society, so...

I hate thinking like this, mind you. But, if anyone could point me to a solution that actually has even a marginally realistic chance of working, I'd love to hear it.

* - "Wall Street" in this usage stands for the entire financial industry as a whole.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:36 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


You do not know how hard you can work, short of slavery, unless you have been an investment banking analyst or associate.

Please. Investment banking is fun. Saying that investment bankers "work hard" because they pull 16 hour days is like saying that people who play WoW are 'working hard' for doing the same thing in a game world. It's an enjoyable activity. Spending a lot of time doing it does not make it "hard work"

If you make enough money in a year to have a comfortable retirement for the rest of your life, that work is a choice not an obligation. The fact that you choose to spend your time gambling with other people's money does not mean the world owes you anything.

It's amazing to me that people can self-justify to such an extreme extent. As if, yeah, you really are worth $X million dollars a day or whatever. No, you're not. You're just another shlub who got lucky. Lucky to be born smart, to have parents who guided you down that path, lucky to get into Harvard and choose economics, etc.

Don't expect people to feel sorry for you when your luck runs out
posted by delmoi at 4:11 PM on March 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


Sorry, I'm all out of outrage. I spent it all on hipsters buying lemongrass and coconut milk with Food Stamps.

Yes, this is similar.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:20 PM on March 19, 2010


>>Sorry, I'm all out of outrage. I spent it all on hipsters buying lemongrass and coconut milk with Food Stamps.
>Yes, this is similar.


I dunno, one seems a tiny bit more significant than the other.
posted by msalt at 4:46 PM on March 19, 2010


IndigoJones: If you think about the name for a while, and then think about history for a while, you may find she's way ahead of you.

Also, see this.
posted by carping demon at 5:07 PM on March 19, 2010


>>>Sorry, I'm all out of outrage. I spent it all on hipsters buying lemongrass and coconut milk with Food Stamps.
>>Yes, this is similar.

>I dunno, one seems a tiny bit more significant than the other.


Well, I laughed.
posted by peppito at 7:54 PM on March 19, 2010


fwiw...
-Michael Lewis on Charlie Rose
-Michael Lewis' The Big Short? Read the Harvard Thesis Instead
-It's time to end the FASB (and shake up the SEC)
-Q&A with Gary Gorton
posted by kliuless at 9:45 AM on March 20, 2010


I hate thinking like this, mind you. But, if anyone could point me to a solution that actually has even a marginally realistic chance of working, I'd love to hear it.

Make borrowing and lending illegal. The Abrahamic faiths figured that out millennia ago (then promptly forgot).
posted by Xezlec at 12:07 PM on March 20, 2010


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