BANKER BONUSES

O bitter bile and gall, the wretched unfairness of Wall Street’s ongoing debacle is almost too much to swallow.

O bitter bile and gall, the wretched unfairness of Wall Street’s ongoing debacle is almost too much to swallow.

I speak, of course, about the heart-breaking plight of top banking executives, who’re having to forego portions of their year-end bonuses. As the CEO of Citigroup explained in an internal mailing to assorted executives: “The harsh realities of 2008… mean that our bonus pool is dramatically lower.”

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Wow, keen insight, chief! This financial conglomerate, which was at the center of the banker greedfest that has now wrecked our economy, lost tens of billions of dollars last year, got a $45 billion bailout from us taxpayers, is now splitting itself apart, and is seeking another bailout.

Yet, instead of requiring the whizzes at the top to pay back their entire 2008 salaries and resign in shame, the CEO puts on a sad face and breaks the news that bonuses for the 10 members of Citigroup’s “senior leadership team” will be down at least 40 percent. Excuse me, but that means they’re still getting about 60 percent of their bonus money. Bonuses! For a historic level of abject, embarrassing, destructive failure!

Well, say apologists for such pampering of corporate elites, if Citigroup cuts too deeply into the compensation of these favored ones, it risks losing their talent. Excuse me again, but losing them to where? Wall Street is not exactly on a hiring binge these days, and even if it was – who’d want this bunch?

There banker’s obscene sense of entitlement is more powerful than a black hole, sucking up all traces of reason and humility. Still, a Harvard business professor recently tried to explain away the bonus grab as merely an image problem. Now that taxpayers are “part of the equation,” the professor postulated, “how things appear is important.”

It’s not the appearance that disturbs me, it’s the reality.

“Citigroup’s Top Officers To Decline ’08 Bonuses,” The New York Times, January 1, 2009.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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