The Party People of Wall Street

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from the Southern Labor Archives at Georgia State University

A week or so ago, we read in The New York Times about what in the Gilded Age of the Roman Empire was known as a bacchanal – a big blowout at which the imperial swells got together and whooped it up.

This one occurred here in Manhattan at the annual black-tie dinner and induction ceremony for Kappa Beta Phi.  That’s the very exclusive Wall Street fraternity of billionaire bankers, and private equity and hedge fund predators.  People like Wilbur Ross, the  vulture capitalist; Robert Benmosche, the CEO of AIG, the insurance giant that received tens of billions in bailout money; and Alan “Ace” Greenberg, former chairman of Bear Stearns, the failed investment bank bought by JPMorgan Chase.

They got together at the St. Regis Hotel off Fifth Avenue to eat rack of lamb, drink and haze their newest members, who are made to dress in drag, sing and perform skits while braving the insults, wine-soaked napkins and petit fours – those fancy little frosted cakes — hurled at them by the old guard. In other words, a gilt-edged Animal House, food fight and all.

This year, the butt of many a joke were the protesters of Occupy Wall Street. In one of the sketches, the bond specialist James Lebenthal scolded a demonstrator with a face tattoo, “Go home, wash that off your face and get back to work.” And in another, a member — dressed like a protester – was told, “You’re pathetic, you liberal. You need a bath!”

Pretty hilarious stuff. The whole affair’s reminiscent of the wingdings the robber barons used to throw during America’s own Gilded Age a century and a half ago, when great wealth amassed at the top, far from the squalor and misery of working stiffs. Guests would arrive in the glittering mansions for costume balls that rivaled Versailles, reinforcing the sense of superiority and the virtue of a ruling class that depended on the toil and sweat of working people.

That’s consistent  with the attitude expressed by several of these types after Occupy Wall Street sprung up; bankers told the Times on the record that they could understand the anger of the protesters camped on their doorstep;  but privately, a  hedge manager said, “Most… view [it] as ragtag group looking for sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll.”

So sayeth the winners in our winner-take all economy.  The very guys who were celebrating at the St. Regis because they were too big to fail. Even when they fell flat on their faces, the government was there to dust them off, bail them out and send them back to fight the class war with nary a harsh word or punishment. Talk about a nanny welfare state.

None of this was by accident. The last three decades have witnessed a carefully calculated heist worthy of Robert Redford and Paul Newman in “The Sting” — but on a massive scale. It was an inside job, politically engineered by Wall Street and Washington working hand-in-hand, sticky fingers with sticky fingers, to turn the legend of Robin Hood on its head – giving to the rich and taking from everybody else. Don’t take our word for it – it’s all on the record.

The biggest of the big boys was Citigroup, at one time the world’s largest financial institution. When the meltdown hit in 2008, the bank cut more than 50,000 jobs and you and other taxpayers shelled out more than $45 billion to save it. And how are Citigroup executives doing? Nicely, thank you. Last year, its CEO, Vikram Pandit, took home $1.75 million in base salary, and was awarded $3.7 million in deferred stock.

According to the Times, “Citigroup is expected to disclose the rest of his pay, cash, be it upfront or deferred, in March. In addition, while not necessarily for work performed in 2011, Mr. Pandit last year was awarded a $16.7 million retention bonus, plus stock options that could add $6.5 million to the package’s overall value.” Makes you want to cry out, “Retain me! Retain me!”

To be fair, Vikram Pandit was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week, where he told Bloomberg News, “It’s important for the financial system to acknowledge that there’s a great deal of anger directed at it… Trust has been broken. Banks have to serve clients, not serve themselves.” What’s more, he has said that the “sentiments” expressed by Occupy Wall Street demonstrators were “completely understandable.”

This, in contrast to the financial industry official who told a reporter that the protesters’ issues were “a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Or, as they used to say while partying down at the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, let them eat petits fours.

 

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  • Jerry3061

    Bill, thank you for shining the spotlight on these issues and bringing your credibility and wisdom to a subject that the mainstream views as radical. Please don’t stop, the momentum is growing.

  • LibbieBotting

    The momentum is building.  So happy that Bill is back telling it as it is.

  • Anonymous

    Nothing has made me happier then stopping payment on all my citi cards! 

  • Erinakes

    Mr. Moyers,  Who of the presidential candidates will lead the charge to tame the banks, wall street, and corruption of congress?  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Manning/1353371259 Jim Manning

    This is why it’s time to create a
    “Trickle-Up economy” where the 99% will have the opportunity to
    earn an adequate and a reliable income (up to $10,000.00 per
    month.) At the present time it looks like the 1% are not going to
    change so let’s create an economy where people can choose their
    own destiny.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Manning/1353371259 Jim Manning

    IT’S TIME FOR THE 99% TO CREATE A ‘TRICKLE
    UP ECONOMY”

    where EVERYONE has the OPPORTUNITY to earn an adequate and
    dependable income.

    From the OCCUPY WALL-STREET, to the NEWS-MEDIA, to FACEBOOK and
    BLOGS,  and to the men (and women)  ON THE STREET,  -everyone is
    TALKING about the despicable conditions of our present political
    and economic system. Many people are finally become aware of the
    real problems and causes, and many are desperately trying to find
    solutions. .   AT LAST, there is a practical, creative, realistic
    solution. It’s time we join together and create a “TRICKLE UP
    ECONOMY” where the 99% has the opportunity to earn an adequate
    reliable income for the rest of their lives.

    At the present time, the
    EXISTING political systems and economic systems are unwilling
    and unable to even consider realistic approaches to our
    problems. It’s time we encourage

    100,000,000 (ONE HUNDRED MILLION ) individuals and
    non-government organizations to work together and create a
    dynamic grass-roots “TRICKLE UP ECONOMY” enabling the highest
    aspirations of humanity to become a reality.

    1. PEOPLE NEED A RELIABLE ADEQUATE INCOME.

    2. THOUSANDS OF NON-PROFITS AND OTHER AGENCIES DESPERATELY
    NEED ADDITIONAL FUNDING TO MEET THEIR GROWING NEEDS.

    A “TRICKLE UP ECONOMY” could help those two needs and help
    provide solutions to many of the problems WE ARE FACING TODAY..

     

    The “TRICKLE-DOWN ECONOMY” JUST DOESN’T WORK. Regardless
    of what government and industry does in attempts to solve some of
    the tragic immigration, financial, investment, unemployment, home
    ownership, economic and political difficulties of our day, there
    needs to be a new creative and unique PRIVATE GRASS ROOTS “TRICKLE
    UP ECONOMY” where anyone who so desires, should have the
    OPPORTUNITY, either on a full-time or part-time basis, to earn an
    adequate and reliable income, (Up to $10,000.00 per month.)
    Regardless of one’s condition or external problems, unemployed,
    underemployed, unemployable, recession, tragic accident, disabling
    sickness, loss of job, homeless, poverty, physical or mental
    shortcomings or any other limitation, people should not have to
    reply upon government or charity to survive. EVERY INDIVIDUAL who
    so desires, should have the OPPORTUNITY to earn  a STABLE income
    and an income ADEQUATE enough not only to provide the basic
    necessities of life but for individuals to become so financially
    self-sufficient that they can develop their full potential as
    human beings. And as radical as this sounds, such a program is
    realistically possible.

     

    As we join hands and hearts around the world with people of
    radically different religions, politics and cultures, let us try
    to feel and understand each other’s anger, bitterness,
    hopelessness, revenge, hatred, despair, and futility. Then let us
    resolve to find enough common ground to enable us to rise above
    our differences and enthusiastically and creatively unleash the
    massive pent-up desires, yearnings, dreams, hopes and visions that
    the whole human family has for peace and prosperity, goodwill and
    gratitude, decency and dignity, freedom and justice.

     

    There is ONLY ONE barrier preventing this from happening. That
    barrier is “thinking such a vision is impossible.” Imagine what
    will happen when enough of us realize that such a vision is not
    only possible but also probable and achievable.

    Some see the horrors of the world and ask
    “WHY?”

    Others dream visions of a world that could be and ask “WHY NOT?”

    CATCH THE VISION
    LET US ALL JOIN HANDS AND HEARTS TO HELP CREATE A BETTER WORLD!

    Let us all “Build Bridges of Understanding”
    -and help make the world a better place!
    We can create a world -where people of every religion, every race,
    every culture,  every political persuasion, every nationality and
    every background, can join hands and hearts to help create a
    better world  where we can all live together in peace and
    prosperity, freedom and justice, goodwill and dignity.
    MAY THERE BE PEACE ON EARTH AND GOODWILL TO ALL…
    BECAUSE GOD, JEHOVAH, ALLAH…BLESSES ALL HUMANITY!

    Johnny Appleseed 2nd   a legendary cosmic messenger and visionary,
    a planter of seeds!

    johnnyappleseed2nd@tx.rr.com

  • http://bigpicturereport.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/21st-century-robber-barons/ 21st Century Robber Barons | thebigpicturereport ™

    [...] The Party People of Wall Street by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship at billmoyers.com Share this:TwitterFacebookDiggRedditLike [...]

  • Maggiemuggins

    “Let them eat cake”.  Same attitude, same insensitivity, same sense of entitlement..we all know what can happen when ‘the masses’ get fed up.

  • http://www.patryantravels.com/ Patryantravels

    That’s right, the truth is there for anyone to see.  They’ve been using the government to re-distribute the wealth from us (the many)  to them (the few).  The time has come to re-distribute it back.   Occupy!

  • Miriam

    No comment necessary. Except that i find it astounding that so many people have bought the line that the Occupy Movement has no focus, and it’s impossible to figure out what they want. Shows the power of the Wall Street PR machine.

  • leftofcenter

    Why is this post surprising? If you’re rich, powerful and believe you’re “entitled” to that wealth and power, you’ll do anything you have to to crush that threat. Look at a lot of what’s in the MSM. How much content do you see/read/listen to that hypes rich celebs? What gets bigger ratings? Sex, money, drugs and more? Or, some boring politician who’s probably lying anyway talking about economics? 

  • Schindlingeric

    To those who dismiss the Occupy movement… Does the term ” Let them eat cake ” ring a bell???

  • 4thclasscitizen

    When can everyday Americans start making the rules that will serve our interests and keep greedy politicians out of the process?? Let’s put a simple YES OR NO question on the ballot. Let the people vote Yes or No on Term Limits for all elected offices, Yes or No on banning all Lobbying, Yes or No on pooling all campaign donations blindly so every candidate has an equal share and then no one gets extra favorites for their money paid. 

    How can we take our government back?? People say “Just vote them out” Well, that doesn’t work because once their in the “machine” gets behind them and they can’t be ousted! 

    Does anyone else notice that the ONE anti-establishment candidate, Ron Paul, can’t even get his name mentioned on any news show or that they almost completely ignore him during the debates???  LET’S ALL START A WRITE IN MOVEMENT TO GET RON PAUL ELECTED AND GET RID OF OBAMA AND ROMNEY!!  What do you say America!!  Honor and fairness wont help our country, it’s in our hands!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Bill. I feel like I am part of the new silent majority. I am the aware frustrated, but impotent half and the other half is the unknowing, but still impotent silent majority. Bless the OWS’ers for gaining, at least, awareness.

  • Fredlinskip

    We’ve had a “trickle-up” economy for 30+ years,  put on steroid s under W.
    The result of  “easy credit” trends during recent bubble was that those who could least afford it saw their $ and assets “trickle up” to those who already possessed  tremendous wealth.

      “Growing the economy” is obviously not the answer. Been there, done that. Since Reagan, and especially since Glass Steagal was repealed,  vast majority of wealth  “trickled” to those who needed it least.
        Result? Since 70% of what drives economy is consumer spending and consumers could no longer afford to spend, should it be a  surprise to anyone  what happened  to economy.

    But I don’t mean to spoil your party. Enjoy your wealth- I don’t believe they’re bringing back the guillotine any time soon.

  • leftofcenter

    Just heard today on Al Jazzera that some really rich people have their own private railroad cars. Now, seriously try to tell me that’s not class warfare.

  • Schriftstellar

    This is worth reading.

  • Scott

    Thank you, Mr. Moyers and Mr. Winship.  Great writing, and I loved your phrase, ‘Talk about a nanny welfare state.’  It really struck me how the attitudes against the poor are not applied to those abusing fairness in the economic system.  As we say in my business, ‘That’ll preach!’
    God bless,
    Scott

  • gary rethmeier

    My deepest hope is that we’re not too late.  Looks awfully dim, though… 

  • Megb8454

    It would seem to me that if you drove the whole nations economy into bancruptcy and almost sank the entire world into a depression, then you would have gained enough humility to know that your behavior is boorish and that you have failed and should gracefully bow out.  Instead, you gorge yourself on our money and look down your noses at the very people who are paying for your folly.  Shame. 

  • Harry Hill

    With all these big bonuses, I wonder, if the starting and ending pay of these CEO’s was marginalized at the max of $1 million, would there be any shortage of takers?
    Their extra pay is coming off the back of the shareholders. I do not think that they really can bring
    prosperity on their actions only.
    After 20 years in the military of being crapped on by inferior so-called leaders, I have empathy.

  • Harry Hill

    Those protestors ought to lighten up a bit. They need to celebrate.
    For good reason, they need to crank up a holiday.
    How about: Bastille Day?

  • Peter Tenney

    Reminds me of a Gilded Age scene in one of the Vanderbilt scions’ Newport mansions. He hid precious gems in a long silver tray of beach sand – as the dinner table’s centerpiece. Each guest had a sliver toy beach shovel at their place setting and were invited to “dig” for the gems. And Mitt Romney recently delighted in accepting Donald Trump’s endorsement! It’s the ironies of this historic political season that provide the best entertainment.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve seen them, rebuilt old dome cars, tacked on the end of Amtrak trains.  If Amtrak is delayed, so are they.  No National park Service volunteer telling them about the country the are passing through, no camaraderie with other passengers, or Red Cap Service, or any of the other neat things about riding the train.  The’re spending on a luxury that the rest of us can enjoy for just the cost of a ticket.  

  • Anonymous

    The enormity of the financial cartel’s influence is difficult to comprehend. Controlling investments in energy and warfare alone leave us and the world at their mercy. But through international institutions like the IMF, WTO and World Bank, they can literally destroy any country that attempts to invest in social betterment. Thus by bringing a collapse of public health and education, they are dooming humanity to a Mad Max reality.

    If that isn’t an evil agenda, I don’t know what is.

  • Michael Cohen

    I was disappointed by Bill Haidt show.  The ostensible purpose of this show was to explain the level of anger felt between liberals and conservatives.  His causative reasons for the anger and polarization is the Johnson voting rights act, the segregation of like thinking groups in neighborhoods, and the emergence of power of the Baby Boomer generation.  We all know correlation even plausible correlation does not necessarily indicate causation.  No evidence was presented by these claims.  The characterizations of Liberals and Conservatives were Glib,  David Brooks a ostensible conservatives seems very open to new ideas and liberals are and were against dismantling the welfare state, something old and familiar.  Stanley Milgram in the most important social science experiment ever showed in the field not among undergraduate students that liberals and conservatives alike would kill if responsibility was “assumed” for them by something looking like authority figures.  Yet the discussion of authority was far from nuanced, no evidence was presented that showed that liberals were in actuality less respectful of authority than conservatives.  There was only appeal to prejudice   There were so many glib and undefined generalizations that I did not increase my knowledge of why so much anger was generated.

    On another note it would be good to see shows about two very two very unfortunate aspects of the current American scene.  The first is the appeal of the false doctrine of American Exceptionalism.  People are people all over and we gain in my view the greatest insights from a comparative approach but Journalists and Academics alike often write about the U.S. if it existed on another planet.  The second is the level of anxiety of Americans given the level of threats.  The crime rate has dropped significantly yet Harvard which I am familiar with has electronic locks on every door.  BU has security guards at the Gym and other places and the local Bank of America now has an Armed Guard where none existed before.  It would be good to discuss these issues as they cut across the current political divide and go some way to explaining the level of polarization which is of course a contributing factor.  The U.S. is internally becomming a Garrison state and the reasons for this are not at all apparent.

  • http://www.facebook.com/llanos.carlos Carlos Llanos

    It dosen’t matter if we read it, hear it and see it,  fraud, injustices and divious behaviour on Radio or TV.  The silent majority is so covoluted, so appathetic and so ignorant that THE FRESH AIR OF FREEDOM AND CIVIC VALUES in this country needs to be restablished. Great Programming like Bill Moyers and other seem to only have the sound reverbaration in the soul of the few like the Wall Street Occupation Movement.  IS THAT ALL THERE IS?

  • Anonymous

    Privatization, first and foremost, is a totalitarian objective. The
    goal of eradicating the public interest depends on this misanthropic
    philosophy.

    Subjugating public institutions to market tyranny, however, involves
    more than just greed and the misery it ensures. Pitting the poor against
    each other as they grovel for life’s basic necessities also mobilizes
    resentment against any group perceived as benefiting from the public
    good.

    While we’ve witnessed this dynamic in operation since Reagan
    glorified greed as a national virtue, its institutionalization under the
    Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations has helped to propel bigotry as
    well. Eliminating social services for immigrants, jailing blacks, and
    terminating the sovereignty of indigenous nations are some of the most
    visible agenda items of this bigotry.

    As popular resentment against the federal government is mobilized
    concurrent with the implementation of privatization, outbreaks of
    vigilante violence encouraged by state and market interests is a given.
    How we respond to this coming crisis will determine whether the crisis
    becomes an epidemic.

    The research, education, and organizing we do in advance makes all
    the difference in what type of community action we can expect.

  • GHY

    We have to find a way to dump the Monopoly board and start over . Monopoly works until someone wins.  Now that it is down to 1% winning or owning property and everyone else mortgaged out . I wonder if we need Socialism for a while until the game is more even. I also think going global led to easy money for a few who can play monopoly in 1 country but pass the money to help themselves in other monopoly games they play around the world

  • applepie

    The street protestors represent the equivalent of putting a finger in the dike as the turbulent sea is threatening to drown us all.
    As long as Congressional will and courage remains at an all-time low, the money changers will rule this country.  They will put their selected representatives into the White House to “advise” the president and continue to fund the campaigns of their chosen lackies. 
    Is it too late to repeal the past 50 years?   

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5KZBCEBB23FKKWP6CQJAIGX46M Phx Titan

    How about a $30 Trillion transfer of wealth, just for starters, much of it to the wealthy… since 1981? The $8 Trillion accumulated trade deficits of the Current Account since in 1981 (was balanced at net zero) and $21 Trillion budget P&I deficit costs alone, from a baseline of $1.0 Trillion, since just 1981, went to others, other than the US treasury and balance of payments.  Tax cuts for the wealthiest… AND the Robber Barons outsourced American manufacturing and jobs, bringing back cheap imports from their foriegn manufacturning operations in their place and pocketing the profits… all while “hollowing-out” the American economy and Americans loss of millions upon millions of meaningful jobs.  $8 Trillion in balance of payment deficit metric there alone, but in a very convoluted, complex way.  That would be a form of transfer of wealth, while we were “temporarily placated” with cheap imported goods and services for the job losses.  (A deep think required on that one.)  $15 Trillion in deficient Paygo taxes, as representing in the growth from $1.0 Trillion in 1981 to $15.4 Trillion today in National Debt principle… to pay for Reagan/Bush/Bush poli-spending, much back in the pockets of the wealthiest and the debt on the public’s socialized books.  Plus another $6 Trillion in Net Interest carrying the ever growing National Debt principle… again much going to wealthy treasury bond holders. Total of $30 Trillion, 30x, in 30 years, just for starters.  Profits Privatized, Debt/Deficits Socialized, economy destroyed.  The Robber Barons are the true socialists, socializing their costs onto our backs, while keeping the profits and bounty privitized to a few hands at the top. Are you still wondering what happened to our American economy… and dream?  Reagan’s OMB man knows… and tells. Yet few but Moyers give him voice.  Voters brought this upon themselves falling for wedge issue bait and switch… and Progressives are a collectively hapless bunch at forming a resonating narrative of this destruction, much less preventing the conservative onslaught from occuring.