Thursday, June 11, 2009
Jonathan Weil at Bloomberg examines the implications of "life as we knew it" being restored to at least some portions of Wall Street and comes away wanting.
Lock up the booze, and hide your wallet. America’s most powerful, too-big-to-fail banks are turning in their TARP money. And you know what that means: It’s party time again on Wall Street.If the government succeeds in somehow restoring the "normal" operation of our pre-2008 financial system, then, we will all have truly failed.
Ten U.S. banks gained permission this week to buy back $68 billion of shares they issued to the government under the Troubled Asset Relief Program. And thank goodness for that. For eight months, they endured the twin nuisances of mass hysteria and populist scorn for blowing taxpayer money on employee bonuses and junkets. Now they can tell the rest of the country to kiss off. There’s nothing Barney Frank can do about it.
Finally, the richest bankers and traders at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase can stop asking what their country can do for them, and start dreaming again about what they can do for themselves with their banks’ money. Biking to work is out. Helicopter commutes to the Hamptons will be back in. The opportunities are limitless. They’re free at last.
Yet, that has clearly been the goal and, sadly, it looks increasingly as though it just might work, the prospect of even more power and influence being concentrated in fewer and fewer companies such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs perhaps being the desired result all along.
Mr. Weil continues...
What these masters of the government rescue need now is a shopping list -- a 10-step program to restore their remorseless, reptilian souls and help them rediscover the unique thrill that can come only from being paid millions of dollars to provide services that are of no value to greater mankind. This brings us to our first agenda item:It goes on from there - office decorating, private jets, junkets, etc. - all thoroughly depressing, unless of course you work at JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs.
No. 1: Reinstate the bonuses. Start with the top guys. That means you, Lloyd Blankfein, John Mack and Jamie Dimon. America is back. All we need is a little confidence. And there can be no confidence without the hope, however faint, that one day the son of some unemployed auto worker can grow up to make millions advising his dad’s old company on its next Chapter 11 filing. Just keep repeating this line: We need to retain our best talent, or else we’ll wind up the next AIG.
No. 2: Raise the bonuses. Because you can. Don’t worry that Timothy Geithner at Treasury might unveil some new, vague “best practices” for banker compensation. They’ll never stick. Your lobbyists can fix that.
No. 3: Relax your rules on corporate expense accounts. Scores, which I’m told is Manhattan’s finest adult-entertainment hot spot, has re-opened after a two-year hiatus. A happy customer is a loyal customer. Tell your bank’s traders to say Howard Stern sent them.