Wall Stree Bonus Debacle? Blame Soccer Moms!
>The day was March 21st – the first glorious Saturday of Spring (which in Ohio means only six more weeks until we can exchange the snow blower for the lawn mower in our garage.) For a variety of reasons, I had traded bedrooms with my 12-year-old son the night before, and was thus unprepared for what awaited me at dawn’s early light. Through a fog of slumber, through a sliver of lattice, a single ray of light pierced this preadolescent bunker, and fixated on a mantle; and there dancing, shimmering, and glimmering in the Vernal Equinox’s finest glow, was an expansive, near endless, array of shiny golden treasures – plundered from 7 years of youth sports programs. And then – like a bag of Scotts “Weed and Feed” Lawn Fertilizer – it hit me.
Although born in the 60’s, I was a child of the 70’s, which was the decade I grew up in and did most of my damage. Skinny, slow, and short, I was immediately identified as “soccer material” and thus began my career as a mediocre midfielder in what is STILL the “Fastest growing sport in America.” In spite of the influence of Atari, Jazzercise, and Disco, recreational sports in the 70’s still retained some dignity, serving as a valuable learning environment and an instructive microcosmic metaphor for life. Back in those days, teams competed in every game, and then at the end of the season, the members of the WINNING team would receive a trophy and be crowned champions. All of the OTHER teams would clap politely at the Awards Ceremony and start thinking about next year. Were there tears? Sure there were – but it just made that one season when you “Won it All” that much more satisfying.
Soccer Mom or Trophy Wife?
Once I started high school (and discovered girls and MTV) I lost track of rec sports, but upon rediscovering them 20 years later with my OWN kids, I was horrified by what I found. Apparently, back in the early 80’s (while I was busy mastering Pac-Man) a group of Soccer Moms got together and decided it wasn’t fair that only the WINNING team should receive trophies. They complained that children were being traumatized and their self esteem crippled by failing to receive an award regardless of the success of their season. Legions of Moms asked, “How can I tell my child ‘You’re special’ and then not give him a trophy?” Suddenly, in the span of one Michael Jackson Thriller video, the rules changed, and kids everywhere were given a brand new set of life messages which basically said, “Hey kids, everyone gets a trophy. You get a trophy just for showing up – you’re entitled to one. If you’re present, you get a present.” The cost of rec sports went up dramatically during this period to reflect these “Troph-Fees,” and the awards were always GOLD – never silver, never bronze, never quartz – oh no, nothing but GOLD for my precious little Austin.
It’s the Stuff That Dreams are Madoff
Now hit your Betamax Fast Forward to today. Between the take-down of Madoff and the smack-down over at Mad Money, it’s already been a Mad March. Wall Street is embroiled in the worst free fall since the Great Depression, world markets are panicking, and financial firms are on debts’ door, with bad REO’s – and bad CEO’s – flowing through them like a SIV. According to the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, “The market for credit default swaps exploded from $632 Billion outstanding in the first half of 2001 to $62 Trillion in the second half of 2007.” On Friday, Senator Chris Dodd (the extra “D” was his grade in Ethics class, and yes, he’s even from the State of Conn.), claimed that even though he is Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, he didn’t know the new $787B Stimulus Bill revision would allow for $164M in AIG bonuses. (I’m sorry, but every time I hear this tune, I can’t help but replay Renault’s famous Casablanca mea culpa, “I am shocked, shocked, to find out that gambling is going on here!” ) And the clincher was last week’s Presidential outrage over AIG bonuses, and particularly the multi-million dollar RETENTION BONUSES given to AIG executives…who no longer work there.
Don’t Expect the X Generation to Know Why
How did we get here? I blame the soccer moms. In an effort to protect the fragile emotions of youngsters, a nation of well-meaning minivan drivers has inadvertently succeeded in creating an entire generation of workers disconnected from the notion of “Cause and Effect.” Throughout their entire lives, they have been trained that they will be rewarded if they win, and rewarded if they lose. In short – win or lose – you still get a trophy. They call this the X Generation because they have been brainwashed to Xpect - a car, a house, a promotion, a trophy, or a bonus, regardless of their actual performance. Thirty years of this indoctrination has produced a pervasive and perverse culture of entitlement – from Democrats to Republicans, and from Park Row to Skid Row.
To Main Streeters, BONUS is Spelled U-SNOB
According to the President, America’s economy is at Barock O’Bottom, but don’t misinterpret last weeks’ outrage. People aren’t against bonuses – incentives are what made this country great. The public just wants the rewards to be earned - to be based on performance. AIG lost $61 Billion in 90 DAYS! That’s the biggest quarterly loss in human history! We demoted Pluto for not being up to snuff – why should we reward ANYONE in a firm that lost half the GNP of Argentina in one quarter?
In the classic movie Glengarry Glenn Ross, a senior executive played by Alec Baldwin offers a memorable motivational speech to his sales force proclaiming, “We’re adding a little something to this months’ sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.” Hey Wall Street, if you’re listening, this is what “pay for performance” sounds like in the real world. But don’t worry. If you’re fired, you can always melt down all of those trophies in your basement – I hear gold is heading towards $1,000 again!