As the largest capitalist economy in the world, it's rather ironic how the rich vs. poor dichotomy continually evolves in U.S. politics and media. And while financial wealth has long been both envied and reviled, the accoutrements of wealth and disparity in income were far less visible prior to the emulatory advent of 20th century film and television. The "masses" might have occasionally mocked the rich in humorous ways -- accusing one another of "put'n on the Ritz" if they were "uppity" -- but most people lived their lives surrounded by others with similar financial means and frequently depended upon those with more money for work and sustenance. Skip forward to the eve of 2010 following a full calendar year of economic recession -- where reality TV is as ubiquitous as unemployment -- and it's not surprising that anachronistic phrases like "job security" have been supplanted with "fat cat bashing".
Over the weekend I heard a cadre of NPR journalists discuss how Whack a Banker, a new UK arcade game where "You pay 40p to hit as many bankers as you can in 30 seconds as their heads pop up ... based on an older game called Whack a Mole", as reported in the Daily Telegraph, should be the hot Christmas gift this year. Not to be out done, Fox News recently reported that "The [liberal] press helped promote President Obama's attacks on 'fat cat bankers,' while federal employees earn 76 percent more than the private sector." Fox liberally quotes USA Today saying "federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14 percent to 19 percent of civil servants during the recession's first 18 months -- and that's before overtime pay and bonuses are counted ... The growth in six-figure salaries has pushed the average federal worker's pay to $71,206, compared with $40,331 in the private sector ..." Fox goes on to say that "Even Cokie Roberts told NPR's 'Morning Edition' audience Dec. 14 that 'the president also needs a little shoring up with his own liberal base after his decision to add more troops to Afghanistan and the continued economic bad times. So, going after the banks is a good way to sort of rev up his popular supporters'."
While these are all interesting -- if not humorous -- observations, it all sounds a bit like an old circus side show that plays upon mindlessness and obfuscates the real issues that need to be addressed. It is far more relevant, for example, that BOA paid back their federal bail-out just in time to free themselves from federal intervention in what to pay a new CEO and then apparently decided that the popular back-lash would be bad for business anyway. Dissecting issues such as this call into question the efficacy of bail-outs and their terms and conditions going forward -- important work. Generalizations that bash bankers or insinuate that federal employees are overpaid are non-issues and not what we need to be grappling with right now.
The vast majority of people in the U.S. do very meaningful work or are looking for it. Perhaps we can get the media and our politicians to do the same by not tolerating this nonsense and demanding more diligence from them.