'The American ruling class
By Tom Eley
Global Research, February 8, 2009
World Socialist Web Site - 2009-02-06
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced measures that purport to restrict executive compensation to $500,000 at financial institutions receiving billions in government assistance. The figure does not include stock options, which could be redeemed after financial firms pay back loans from the federal government. Nor does it apply to the original recipients of tens of billions in TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) money.
The measures are essentially a public relations exercise. Their aim is to provide political cover for a new and even larger Wall Street bailout, which Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will unveil next week.
Yet the discussion that has emerged in the wake of Obama’s announcement sheds light on the domination of government by a tiny financial elite and the increasingly threadbare pretense of democracy in the US. This financial aristocracy, the episode reveals, is a power to be approached on bended knee.
The media have responded to Obama’s proposal of a $500,000 limit on executive compensation, which would affect only a handful of firms, as though this were a severe and astonishing punishment. Yet the figure represents approximately 12 times the annual salary of the typical worker. To the majority of the population, a salary of a half million dollars is a staggering amount of money.
Obama’s servility before the financial aristocracy was summed up by the reassurances he gave it in announcing his limits on executive pay.
"This is America," Obama said. "We don't disparage wealth. We don't begrudge anybody for achieving success."
Such a vision of America is at odds with both its present circumstances and its history, which has been characterized by deep democratic and egalitarian traditions that date back to before the Jeffersonian democracy of the early Republic. And while liberals are busy attempting to equate Obama to Franklin Roosevelt, the latter, in the midst of the Great Depression, attempted to capitalize on the tremendous contempt for the rich in the population at large by regularly issuing bromides against the "money changers."
Indeed, Obama’s obsequiousness stands in sharp contrast to the anger of the working masses, who find it incomprehensible that the same executives who are responsible for ruining the economy and squandering trillions in taxpayer money are now presented with pay "limits" of a half million dollars. Workers are wondering why there haven’t been criminal indictments and television scenes of handcuffed executives frog-marched from their offices.
But on Wall Street, $500,000 is considered a pittance. The New York Times reports that executives felt cheated by taking home "only" $18 billion in collective bonuses in 2009. "I feel like I got a doorman’s tip, compared to what I got in previous years," an investment banker with Citigroup told the Times.
The Financial Times reported on Wall Street’s opposition to the largely token measures. "Senior bankers were quick to warn the plans would cause a ‘brain drain’ from the profession as top executives seek
more rewarding jobs out of the public eye," it wrote. "Unlike other careers where job satisfaction and other considerations play a part, finance tends to attract people whose main motivation is money."'