So we’re back to this again? We’re 21 days out of the midterm elections and the media are back looking to capitalize on anti-Wall Street sentiments.
On the Oct. 13 broadcast of NBC’s “Today,” host Matt Lauer referenced an Oct. 12 Wall Street Journal report to his guest, CNBC’s Jim Cramer, about Wall Street pay hitting a record $144 billion. Lauer, of course, just looked at the headline without examining exactly why pay on Wall Street reached that level. (The Journal cites “firms, benefiting from low interest rates and strong international markets” as a reason.) Instead Lauer argued that executives were somehow solely responsible for the financial collapse – not the irresponsible borrowers and asleep-at-the-wheel regulators – and therefore not entitled to such pay.
“This is mad money,” Lauer said. “Let me give you a number – $144 billion this year. That’s a record for the second consecutive year. People at home are going to say, ‘Wait a second, these are the people who got us into the financial mess. They're making record amounts of money while I lost my job, my home and my retirement savings.’ Is it an emotional argument or is it rational?”
One can never be certain which Jim Cramer will show up on the set of any given program. Exactly a year ago the same Cramer told a CNBC audience bonus outrage was an attack on capitalism and compared it to Lenin in 1917, saying “It’s really about stringing up guys.” However, today Cramer went anti-Wall Street.
“No, it's completely rational,” Cramer said. “Don't forget also that these companies wouldn’t be making any money if the U.S. government hadn’t bailed them out, and think about all the portfolios that have been decimated by their stocks. These companies have cut dividends. They are not returning capital. They are taking it for themselves.”
Lauer feebly tried to play devil’s advocate and suggested that these salaries were at these ranges for a reason – to be competitive in the marketplace.
“Here's what one business analyst said about this, quote, ‘Pay is the 800-pound gorilla on Wall Street and the gorilla does not want to go on a diet,’” Lauer said. “A lot of these firms say wait a second, if we don't pay top dollar in salaries and bonuses, we lose top people and we can't compete. Take that argument.”
That didn’t matter to Cramer. According to the “Mad Money” host, he suggested these Wall Street executives go on a diet.
“There are 310 million people who work for half or a quarter of what these guys would work for,” Cramer said. “This is outrageous. I think they should be on the Chilean copper mine diet. I mean, I cannot believe how outrageous these guys are being.”
Lauer was still befuddled by Wall Street behavior and implored his guest to explain why these executives just didn’t get it – that they are creating a public relations problem:
LAUER: Public relations wise, you talk to these people on Wall Street all the time.
CRAMER: Yeah, I was one of them. I was one of them for years.
LAUER: OK, do they understand, God forbid there is a future bailout that is needed, the people in this country are going to say no way.
CRAMER: They're going to make so much money between now and then, they don't care.
LAUER: Is that really the mindset?
LAUER: Are the same people who got us in this mess still working for these firms by and large?
CRAMER: Sure. Well, they’re experienced. They know what they’re doing. They're the 800-pound gorilla that demands to be fed.
According to the Journal article, this increase was not unexpected. Firms are doing better in the wake of the financial system’s consolidation and although it increased, it hasn’t increased by as much as it had in prior years.