Sunday, April 06, 2008

Planet Boardroom

One of the pillars of the middle- class view is that we are not only the industrious but the represen- tative class. America R Us, and that means that elites with far more money and influence than your average teacher, accountant or internist nonetheless see things as we do.

This is a crippling delusion, since it allows the middle class to hand over its interests to whomever is in charge, e.g give up health care to HMOs, public universities to Republican state-funding cutters, tax policy to hedge-fund lobbyists. But if you still believe it then we have evidence you can use to retrain your senseless reflexes.

As the papers announced on Friday that the US economy has lost jobs for the third month in a row (80,000 more), and across a range of sectors, the NY Times published a poll showing that 81 percent of the public things the country is on the wrong track. 81 percent is an amazingly high number.

The same issue featured a business page story about all the CEOs who bought new penthouses in Manhattan while the banking system unwound.
In January, Lloyd C. Blankfein, chief executive of Goldman Sachs, closed on a $26 million duplex at 15 Central Park West, one of Manhattan’s hottest new buildings. Scott A. Bommer, a hedge fund manager, bought a Fifth Avenue co-op for $46 million. And Edgar Bronfman Jr., part of a private equity consortium that owns the Warner Music Group, spent $19.5 million for his own Fifth Avenue co-op.
This is as investment bank revenue fell 45 percent industrywide during the first quarter - or worse. "James E. Cayne’s $28 million purchase of two units in the Plaza was not the biggest deal, but it was among the most awkwardly timed. A few weeks after the second deal closed, the Wall Street firm where he is chairman, Bear Stearns, collapsed."

Investment moguls are not only out of touch with ordinary reality: they're out of touch with the strange world of their own industries.

More evidence of clueless leaders:

- as the economy went down down down, executive pay went up up up. ("According to the Congressional Research Service, average pay for chief executives stood at 179 times average worker pay in 2005, up from a multiple of 90 in 1994. Adjusted for inflation, average worker pay rose by a total of only 8 percent from 1995 to 2005; median pay for chief executives at the 350 largest companies rose 150 percent.")
- the executive compensation game shows the huge personal paydays that come from nepotism and insularity.
- details of the Bear Stearns deal
- coverage of Senate hearings, where Sen Christopher Dodd, recipient of great Bear Stearns largess, seemed especially interested in whether the government forced too low a price on the hapless victim investment bank.
-a column arguing that regulators still aren't admitting any mistakes in letting the banking system get so opaque and overleveraged that "a 'well-capitalized company' [Bear Stearns] could not find anyone willing to lend it money without government help."
- a piece on subprimes showing that most lenders weren't exactly defrauded by false claims by borrowers, because they didn't exactly check up on them. The author, Gretchen Morgenson, asks this question about our Head Geniuses In Charge:
Can investors stuck with losses on these loans sue to recover their investments based on this due-diligence failure? After all, mortgage originators made representations and warranties to investors that the quality of these loans was good when it clearly was not. And they made these representations knowing that they had not bothered to conduct quick and easy borrower-income checks.
Hey - maybe a national lawsuit will wake up the boss. Let's try it and see!

Meanwhile, check out the toxic buildup coast to coast.

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