Monday, March 30, 2009

You know things are going down when the billionaires cry

Welcome to another edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. In this semi-regular feature (semi-regular as in "when I feel like it and find a story to highlight and snark about"), we have talked about how to tell that the economy is bad. For example:

And that does not even cover the usual signs of high gas prices last summer, foreclosures, bank bailouts, and the usual suspects. Now, we get the latest: sad news that billionaires are losing money (via AlterNet). Now that could be a serious sign that the economy is bad. This is really shocking news worthy of stopping the presses. Forget the people losing their houses. Screw the many who have been laid off from the bad economy. Billionaires are losing their net worth, and this is really a serious problem.

Now, in the interest of disclosure, I will say that I care not what a man or woman does for a living, as long as it is honest and legal. If you made your big fortune in an honest and legal way, good for you. If you made it a la Bernie Maddoff by scamming people or by some dishonest way, then I lack serious sympathy for you. Having said that, if the only pain as a billionaire is that you lost a few million, that is not pain. Stop whining and suck it up like the rest of us who work for a living. The AlterNet piece is commenting on a story out of Forbes magazine. I am sure Forbes and company feel a lot more sympathy than I would given their audience.

Let's look at some highlights:

  • "'Like the rest of us,' intones Forbes, 'the richest people on the planet have endured a financial disaster.'" No, not like the rest of us. Unlike them, the rest of us get financial disaster, we end up homeless and unemployed, oh, and praying to the deity of our choice we may not need medical care since we would also lose our overpriced health insurance. They endure financial disaster, it just means they have to give up a corporate jet and maybe sell off their private island. "Not too many current or former billionaires, as the Toronto Star's Andrew Chung suggested last week, need "give up the $6,000 Dorchester Suite in London, or the $5,000 nightclub outing at Famous in Moscow, or the $7,000 Kiton suit from Saks Fifth Avenue in New York."Hardly financial disaster. I am lucky if I can afford an outing to Sonic once in a while.
  • Of course, to some, there is "real" suffering: "In at least one case, these numbers certainly have translated into real suffering. This past January, Germany's fifth-richest billionaire, Adolf Merckle, killed himself. The industrialist stepped in front of a commuter train shortly after losing $500 million in the German stock market." I guess Mr. Merckle did not know how to handle his stress and suck it up. Then again, on reading the linked story, it seems Mr. Merckle was doing a little gambling, speculating on certain financial instruments, and he lost. Too bad, so sad. Yes, a death is a tragic thing, but if you decided to play around with money, you should either be able to cover your bet or not do it. There is a reason I do not go to casinos, you know, and that includes the double-wide casinos here in East Texas.
  • Merckle seems to be the only extreme case. Most of the billionaires are doing just fine.
  • In some cases, they are even doing better now. For example: "Hedge fund manager John Paulson, for instance, doubled his personal fortune to $6 billion, mainly by cashing out on bets that the mortgage market would nosedive." He clearly knew when to get out, so to speak. Obviously, that is not suffering or financial disaster. Where is the pain? I am not hearing any howls of anguish.
  • And even when they do lose, it's not so bad, if it even is bad at all: "In billionairedom, even losers smile. The colorful Donald Trump, for one. He has lost almost half his fortune since last year's Forbes billionaire tally. No matter." He is even buying stuff he has not bought before.
Now the problem may be that I lack empathy for these people because I cannot appreciate the numbers. I mean, a billion bucks is a lot of money. Let me help my two readers visualize it:

"An average person who makes $50,000 a year would have to work 20,000 years to accumulate a fortune worth a simple $1 billion. The world's 793 billionaires now hold fortunes that average $3 billion."

So I am not just being a smart-aleck. Can you really shed a tear for these people? Give me a break. These are the people, many of them, who enabled the mess and the actual suffering of real people while they profited. Then again, to people like Forbes himself, these financial predators are not responsible, " Forbes editor-in-chief Steve Forbes seems to feel no one really bears any personal responsibility for our current economic carnage. He sees the meltdown as more or less a natural catastrophe." Hey, Katrina was a natural catastrophe. The financial meltdown is basically a man-made catastrophe for the average people caused by greed and a serious lack of regulation of people like you and your ilk in Wall Street, the government, and the financial world.

And why should we care after we make the jokes? Here is why: "More dangerously, for the rest of us, these super rich can still afford to powerfully influence -- and distort -- the political decisions that determine who will pay and who will really suffer in the troubled days ahead." In essence, these are the people that lobby Congress and make political donations to the President's campaign (yes, even Obama has taken donations from AIG); these are the people who write the legislation more often than not that the legislators then barely read and pass. Not exactly worthy of a whole lot of sympathy.

Then again, it is another sign that the economy is bad. Just the wrong sign.

1 comment:

CW said...

Hear, hear! I have no sympathy for these greedy folk, either!