Monday, February 02, 2009


Ok, I know I am a liberal, profligate New Yorker. I know that I don't have a soul or anything like that, at least according to most Fox News pundits. But I have to say something.

I'm not all that worked up about executive pay. I don't care about corporate jets. I don't sweat that some bozo remodeled his office. Sue me.

I'm willing to entertain the idea that the guys who got us into this mess shouldn't be living the same lavish lifestyle as they were before--except that I envy them that lavish life style, and would love to live it myself some day, so I'm not going to begrudge it of anybody else. I also get the idea that if you've run your company into the ground you shouldn't be getting a "bonus."

But did they really run their companies into the ground? Did BofA and Citi-Bank really cause this? It is a great Midwestern tradition to hate banks and bankers and all things New York. It is a great liberal tradition to hate and bash the rich. But really: is it their fault that the economy is in the toilet?

Or is it the fault of some moron in the White House who spent 800 Billion dollars (the same amount as the bailout) on a phony, illegal war?

Or is it the fault of a federal reserve that for fifteen years lived by the philosophy that if you keep interest rates as low as possible then the economy will basically fix itself? Never mind the way it will inflate housing prices.

Or is it the fault of millions upon millions of speculators (your humble narrator included) who bought into the get rich quick "ownership society" and took on risky real estate investments with interest only adjustable loans?

Or is it the fault of Joe Average America, who borrowed and borrowed and borrowed like there was no tomorrow and it would never have to be paid back (you should see my student loan statement).

I mean, I understand the jealousy. I understand that Bernie Madoff should go to jail. But I don't hate the bankers and executives (well, except the ones at GM, but that's a different issue). I really don't. We've got a saying in New York City: don't hate the player, hate the game.

So I sit here and I listen patiently to all of Rachel Maddow's rhetoric about the Great American Ripoff, about remodeled offices and bonuses and corporate jets, and I really don't care.

First of all, I live in New York, and while I may feel a bit of resentment toward people who get bonuses for running companies that are failing, those bonuses are our life blood. We need them. Desperately. The economy of New York City relies disproportionately on money generated from Wall Street, on money Wall Street pumps into our economy, particularly in regards to bonuses. Those bonuses get taxed at a rate of close to fifty percent. Of that fifty billion in bonuses that Wall Street gave itself this season, a big chunk went into our city coffers, and we are hurting like everybody else. Without those bonuses more schools close, more workers get laid off, streets don't get paved, crime goes get the picture. And then there is the fact that the people who get those bonuses spend them. Yes, sometimes it's on a trip to Africa, but more often than not it is in remolding the house in the Hamptons, or purchasing a new suit from Brooks Brothers, or a new Beemer, or throwing a big party. In other words, it puts New Yorkers to work. We need those bonuses, thank you very much: not for the rich folks but for the rest of us.

I don't expect that to play in the Midwest, where as far as most people are concerned me and everybody else who lives in sinful, un-American New York City ("get a rope") deserves to hang. But excuse me if I don't share that opinion. Those bonuses are good for me and mine, so I want them given out.

Ok, ok: I know that trickle down doesn't really work. I've never been a supporter of it. But the fact that we get to tax the bonuses means it's not really trickle down.

But here is something that is: those corporate jets have pilots. They have crew members. They have maintenance workers and security guards. They rent space at the airports. They buy fuel. The same thing with the remodel of the office, and the corporate retreat at the five star resort. They keep people employed. Cut them off and you are putting a lot of people out of work. Yes, I know, the economy is suffering and millions of jobs were lost last year. But why add to the carnage?

I have a particular reason for feeling the way I do. I have made money off the plane, and off the conference, and off the remodel. I used to work for a catering contractor in San Francisco. We did conferences and conventions, mostly at Moscone Center. When the economy tanked and the corporations stopped coming, I was out of a job and suddenly my rent wasn't being paid. So in my little world conferences and retreats are a good thing. I temped three different times, for a total of nearly three years, for Bank of America. Yes, I am still mad at them for moving their headquarters out of San Francisco: but they did pay my rent and feed me for all that time. But the biggest reason I don't mind the jet and the remodel is that when I worked for Richard Cardello Interior Design we did all that stuff. We did hotels, residences, offices, and other stuff, but it was all strictly luxury. Our biggest customer was a rich CEO. We started out by doing his corporate office, and by the time we were done had done the interior of his corporate jet, three of his houses, his huge yacht, his daughter's house, his condo, his ex-wife's get the idea. I didn't make a huge amount of money off of this: $20 an hour. But on an annual basis that was more money than I had ever made before or have made since. And it was the most fun. And we employed carpenters, contractors, electricians, plumbers, landscapers, painters, muralists, florists, furniture makers, artists, auctioneers, upholsterers, cabinet makers, tilers, masons, roofers, and aquarium guys (to tend the koi ponds we designed). And they spent their money at the mall.

So no. I may be a liberal, and it may sound a bit Freidman-esque, but I really don't mind the corporate jet, the yacht, the house in the Hamptons or the remodel, because even though I have never owned any of those things I have made money off them. They have been good to *my* economy.

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