Opinion: Pity the poor investment banker

News  /  Opinion

I don’t usually cover sob stories, but this one is so touching it might make you cry. Or throw up.

It’s about some workers who toiled all last year in the caverns of New York City, only to find at year’s end that their pay was being cut by up to 50 percent. Actually, it’s not their salaries that were cut — but their bonuses. You see, these are Wall Street investment bankers whose annual salaries total only a few hundred thousand dollars each (poor babies), but they always expect to double or triple that in bonus money. After all, theirs is a dirty job — they engineer multibillion-dollar corporate mergers that increase monopoly power, eliminate the jobs of thousands of regular workers and further enrich the super-rich. It’s devilish work — hence the big bonus payouts to keep them doing it.

Last year, though, the number of whopper deals plummeted, the revenues of Wall Street investment banks sank… and, oh, how sad it was to hear the wails of so many poor Wall Street millionaires whose bonuses were whacked.

See, I told you it was a sob story.

But worse than the loss of money for these hard-hit financial toilers is the tragic crimping of their lifestyle. The New York Times reports, for example, that Wall Street’s bonus bust resulted in fewer of these deal-makers buying hundred-thousand-dollar luxury cars this year. Can you imagine the pain of that? The dinging of annual bonuses is even stirring radical sentiments among these restive rich workers — in one survey of financial professionals, 72 percent said they would consider quitting if their bank cut their bonus.

Now there’s an enticing new source of labor activism for unions that’re organizing at Starbucks, Amazon, McDonald’s, etc. Why not a Wall Street banker union? Solidarity forever, brothers and sisters!

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the radical rise of inequality in our society is a function of the vast political inequality separating the working class from the power structure. The elite rich have many friends in high places paying close attention to their needs, but the further one tumbles down the economic ladder, the lonelier you are when your interests conflict with the bosses and big shots. As Ray Charles sang, “Them that’s got is them that gets.”

Consider waiters, bartenders and other restaurant workers. Generally these jobs are poorly paid and routinely abusive, yet lawmakers mostly ignore all that, cozying up to the abusers, because… well, they’re rich and politically connected. As a result, most of today’s restaurant workers are paid a sub-minimum wage that was set 32 years ago at $2.13 an hour ($10.63 an hour in Colorado, as of Jan. 1)! That’s not a wage, it’s an insult. Yet most lawmakers refuse to raise it, bowing to the piles of campaign cash they get through a lobbying front called the National Restaurant Association, dominated by multibillion-dollar food chains.

Worse, in the past decade, this consortium of greedy wage suppressors even devised a diabolical scheme to make restaurant workers pay for the industry’s lobbying campaigns to hold down wages!

The association bought an outfit that provides hokey food safety training to workers, then it lobbied to get California, Florida, Illinois, Texas and other states to require that all employees not only undergo the silly online training course, but also making them pay $15 each for the training.

Guess what? NRA then uses those worker training fees to fund its lobbying efforts that let restaurants pay poverty wages. And that, kids, is how inequality happens.

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