Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out

In the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, one of the arguments you heard Republican economists and Wall Street executives repeatedly use to defend the obscene amounts of money being paid investment bankers and hedge fund managers was that if these guys didn’t receive exorbitant salaries and bonuses, they would be forced to find jobs elsewhere, presumably in Western Europe and Hong Kong.  In other words, if we don’t pay what they demand, they’re going to leave.

You now hear something similar in regard to raising taxes on the very rich (even though a cursory examination reveals that federal income taxes are lower today than they’ve been in many decades).  You hear pundits say that if we did that, if we nudged those brackets any higher, we’d risk having these wealthy people close up shop and flee the country.  These armchair pundits deserve credit for being able to say something that stupid with a straight face.

However, instead of being cowed by those absurd threats—instead of being intimidated into abandoning plans for a fairer tax system and stricter regulations on the banking industry—we should greet such condescending arguments with delight.  In truth, not only would these defections rid us of the stench and the rot, they would give men and women on the lower rungs the opportunity to move into the top spots and test their mettle. It would be a welcome change.

Of course, there was a corollary to that replacement argument as well.  Wall Street also cautioned us that, should these financial prodigies, these “masters of the universe,” be forced to leave the industry (and, indeed, the country), the newbies who replaced them would be nowhere near as competent or reliable.

As effective as that line of reasoning might have been a decade ago, it doesn’t count for much today.  In fact, ever since we learned that it was those very same prodigies who precipitated the financial disaster that almost destroyed the world’s economy, and required a trillion-dollar taxpayer bailout just to keep us afloat, that old, “We’re too talented to be replaced” argument has pretty much lost its potency.

Unfortunately, despite the dire predictions, most of these Wall Street vultures aren’t going anywhere.  They can huff and puff all they like, but on Monday morning they’re going to show up for work just like the rest of us.  If these fund managers honestly believe that all they have to do to land a multi-million dollar a year banking gig is report to Zurich or London, briefcase in hand, they’re even more arrogant than we thought.  Sorry to disappoint you, boys, but those European banking jobs are already taken.  By Europeans.

Still, it would be wonderful if they all left.  While these soulless whores are, technically, U.S. citizens, in no way are they patriots.  They’re not even genuine Americans.  They are cultural eunuchs with no sense of honor, no sense of civic pride, and no sense of belonging to a “community.”  They live privileged lives in gated mansions and penthouses far, far away from the “herd.”  If given a choice, they would rather watch America’s great industrial cities fall into decay and despair than voluntarily part with so much as a nickel of their own money.

Those Wall Street executives who argued that we’d be losing valuable “expertise” if we allowed our financial wizards to move away are the same Wall Street execs who argue that if the very wealthy were to leave the United States (because of higher taxes), they would take their money with them, which, in turn, would damage our economy.  That’s a dumb argument.  It’s dumb because it’s already happened.

Wealthy people already have their money squirreled away in places believed to bring them the maximum return.  If one of those places happens to be the U.S., then lucky us, because that’s where they’ll probably keep it.  But they’re more likely to have that dough invested in sheltered off-shore bank accounts or high-yield foreign businesses.  And that’s where their money will remain, no matter where they live or work.

Let’s be clear.  If the very rich threaten to jump ship, we must do everything in our power to ensure they carry out that threat.  What a cathartic moment that would be!  The entrenched, inbred, self-perpetuating moneyed class being abruptly vacated—and new blood, new ideas, new faces, and new ethnicities rushing in to replace it.  Ain’t that what America is supposed to be all about?

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor), was a former union rep. He can be reached at: dmacaray@earthlink.net. Read other articles by David.