GADFLY: Not to Hedge the Point, These Are Our New Masters

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How much do you think what you do for a living is worth, dollars-and-cents-wise? Putting aside the fact that most people think they're worth more than they're paid, are you worth the 20, 50 or $250K your employer/firm/business pays you. If you make $250K, you're in the top 3% of all earners in the U.S.—-congratulations; you can take the day off (and you don't even need to donate blood or write a check to United Way to do so). But, you're still a piker, by some standards. How would you like to make that much money in half an hour? Yup, that's what I said: make $250,000 in 30 minutes (and no, this is not an offer from some magnanimous Nigerian potentate). $500,000 per hour makes even some local lawyers' rates seem like a bargain.

Well, believe it or not, there is a group of masters of the universe who do just that. No, I'm not referring to Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, the Sultan of Brunei or a Russian oligarch. They're small fry, when compared to who I'm talking about. The group I'm referring to are hedge fund managers, the top 25 of whom made (hold your breath) 22 BILLION dollars in 2010. Of that August group, the highest earner made 4.9 BILLION dollars. Remember what I once said about the significance of “billions?” That's more than the GDP of 40 countries listed by the World Bank.

And, how did he do that? Did he build the proverbial better mousetrap to make life as we know it better for society? Um, no. Did he provide employment for tens of thousands of people? Uh-uh. Well, then he must have contributed his fair share of taxes, right? Wrong again. In fact, until very recently, hedge fund managers benefitted from highly favorable (read: Bush-type) tax treatment. No, what he and his brethren have been doing is, basically, moving money around; a/k/a speculating. Not only does that do nothing for the economy, it has also been causing a rise in agricultural commodity and oil prices that have caused the recent spikes in the price of food and gasoline (you're not still buying the “supply and demand” nonsense, are you?) which threaten to de-stabilize, if not explode, many teetering economies, not to mention endanger (or at least lengthen) recovery from the worldwide recession.

What possible reason could anyone have to make, or need, $5 billion in one year? At what point does untrammeled capitalism become a form of pernicious gluttony? Oh, and by the way: where is that socialist Obama when we need him to ”spread the wealth around?” Instead, of course, he and the Democrats (surprise, surprise!) capitulated to the fat cat party on extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Boy, I'll bet those hedge fund managers breathed a sigh of relief knowing they'd still be able, albeit barely, to put food on the table.

Hedge fund guys aren't the only ones reaping bonanzas in our supposedly down economy. Corporate CEO's saw their compensation increase by 27% in 2010 even while workers saw their pay decrease or only slightly increase. Even Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, and the face of the mortgage/economy meltdown,
got his $5 million bonus this year
. Corporations are reporting record earnings, in part because they downsized their work forces and outsourced many of their functions, all while avoiding paying corporate income taxes. And, let's not even talk about what's happening to unionized workers, particularly if they're public employees. They're starting to understand how the dodo bird must have felt.

You know income disparity in this country is pretty bad if there are 100 countries on the CIA's World Factbook list whose “GINI” Index (a measure of such things) is better than ours. Much is being said and written about the fact that the top 1% of earners in this country make more money than 24% of the rest of the country. Put another way, 400 Americans have more wealth than 150 million of their countrymen, combined. These are startling figures, and, left unremedied, presage tremendous upheaval in our society. History (some of it as recent as the last several months) has shown us that, eventually, people reach the “mad as hell...not going to take it any more” point when a country/culture/civilization's elites reach stratospheric levels of wealth (and its accompanying power) while their lower-class brethren struggle to make ends meet. The atmospherics are certainly indicative of our approaching, if not already reaching, that stage. It wouldn't be all that surprising to find out that one or more of our very own economic aristocrats has already uttered the upper-crustian “let them eat cake” rallying cry in response to the travails of millions of fellow countrymen he undoubtedly considers to be peasants.

Our social fabric is fraying. The pitchfork and torch crowds have already started to gather. As evidence of that, I offer the recent uprisings in many American states by incipiently disenfranchised public workers, even as they watch the politicians who are responsible for their repression being wined, dined and subsidized by corporate oligarchs. The demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin (which I take no small measure of credit for having instigated) were the first indication that the natives are getting more than just restless. Demonstrations in response to the foreclosure fraud debacle have already started, and threaten to widen in the face of what appears to be a forthcoming government whitewash of the practices of the bailed-out, big-bank fraudsters, even while foreclosures threaten to increase dramatically in the next two years and cause further turmoil in the housing market.

As for me, I'm going to test the market by seeing how close I can come to that magical $500,000 hourly rate. In the meantime, more cake anyone?

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