Poor, poor, plutocrats

Wall Street's mad and just not going to take it anymore!

Published March 25, 2009 2:21PM (EDT)

When President Obama declared in his press conference Tuesday night that "we can't afford to demonize every entrepreneur and investor who seeks to make a profit," he was clearly asking Americans to dial down their outrage.

Because, you know, Wall Street fat cats are really mad, and if we don't play nice, they're just going to pick up their ball and go home.

Exhibit A: From the Wall Street Journal, "On Wall Street, Talk of Trust and Civil War":

"Washington and Wall Street are the equivalent of Gettysburg and Antietam right now," said Glenn Hutchins, co-chief executive of private-equity firm Silver Lake.

"To point the finger at one group means, No. 1, you're not understanding the problem, two, you're stretching our social fabric thinly, and you're throwing the baby out with the bathwater," Mr. Hutchins noted. "Trust goes both ways."

Exhibit B: AIG trader Jake DeSantis' resignation letter, published as an Op-Ed in the New York Times, "Dear A.I.G. -- I Quit!:

I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in -- or responsible for -- the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.

After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company -- during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 -- we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself.

DeSantis declares himself "disappointed and frustrated" at AIG CEO Ed Liddy's failure "to stand up for us in the face of untrue and unfair accusations from certain members of Congress last Wednesday and from the press over our retention payments."

If the scenario that DeSantis describes is accurate -- the real villains, the credit swap traders who bankrupted AIG, are mostly long gone from the company and those who were promised bonuses are hard at work trying to shut down the company, but are getting unfairly blamed -- I think anyone can understand some level of irritation. But DeSantis' revelations about his own lifestyle are not going to assuage much of the anger out there.

DeSantis received a bonus payment on March 16 of $742,006.40. But he's going to donate all the after-tax proceeds to charity, and he can do that because "I have benefited more than most during the economic boom and have saved enough that my family is unlikely to suffer devastating losses during the current bust."

If you are in a position to donate more than half a million to charity and your family finances are still secure enough during one of the worst recessions in American history that you can blithely quit your job, then you are sitting squarely within the most privileged sector of U.S. society. You are still living a life that is out of reach to the vast majority of Americans.

And I just don't think most people will care how betrayed you feel. Cue the violins.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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