Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain Retreats, But Where's the Outcry from Bob Corker?

Posted By on Tue, Dec 9, 2008 at 4:38 PM

click to enlarge John_20Thain-thumb-214x350.jpg
Surely you've been here:

You're at the grocery store. You're broke. You've cobbled together mangled bills from your pocket and loose change from your car to pay for a meager supply of food to get you through the week. Maybe a loaf of discount white bread and those 69-cent packs of hot dogs, made from processed turkey and innards swept from the factory floor.

There's a lady in line ahead of you. She's buying steak, chips and those pre-fab dinners with 17 pounds of packaging that microwave to instant gourmet. You're envious. You wonder if she finds you handsome--at least handsome enough to invite you for dinner.

Then she pays with a food stamp card. Suddenly you're on that escalator of brooding self-pity and anger about the unfairness of the world. I always figured it was moments like this that made people hate welfare.

I was thinking that way today when I read this story about Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain. When we last left Merrill Lynch, it was receiving a $10 billion bailout, its reward for sucking at capitalism. This would logically imply that John Thain isn't very good at his job. One might even argue that he should be reassigned to the mailroom until further notice, which would arrive in 2018...
But John Thain doesn't think that way. In the parallel universe of Wall Street, John Thain believes sucking entitles him to a $10 million bonus. That was his request to Merrill's board as reward for his shining 2008 performance.

Thankfully, the Merrill board declined. Paying John Thain $10 mil probably wouldn't look good should the company see fit to beg again.

Personally, I don't blame Thain. In the culture of Wall Street, rock star CEOs are afflicted with a clinical sense of entitlement, a common disease among the wealthy and benighted. Thain's the suit version of Vince Young, who trades autographs for food around town, believing the peasantry should just be grateful that he deigned to scribble on their napkins. They are children in men's clothes.

But I do blame Congress. Last week, during the Senate hearings on the auto bailout, we heard from fine conservatives like Bob Corker, who demanded autoworkers take cuts in pay.  I'm not against this; in broke times, everyone needs to grab a piece of pain.

The problem is that you don't hear Corker demanding that Big 3 executive ranks take pay cuts. You don't hear him squawking at the Treasury Department to ensure that Wall Street welfare requires management sacrifice. His sole concern seems to be that regular people won't get a piece of the Washington giveaway.

I guess that's what pisses me off. How about you?


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