Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Wall Street banks are on pace to pay out a record $140 billion in compensation this year. “Workers at 23 top investment banks, hedge funds, asset managers and stock and commodities exchanges can expect to earn even more than they did the peak year of 2007,” the Journal found.
The New York-based investment bank Goldman Sachs has “set aside $16.7 billion for compensation and benefits in the first nine months of 2009,” which is a 46 percent increase from last year. But according to a Goldman adviser, Wall Street’s record pay is necessary “to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all”:
A Goldman Sachs International adviser defended compensation in the finance industry as his company plans a near-record year for pay, saying the spending will help boost the economy. “We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all,” Brian Griffiths, who was a special adviser to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, said yesterday at a panel discussion hosted by St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
At the same time that Wall Street’s pay has skyrocketed, pay cuts in other sectors “are occurring more frequently than at any time since the Great Depression.”
While record bonuses may indeed spur spending on million dollar apartments in New York City, the growth in Wall Street pay — and the growing share of national income that is going to the richest Americans — has not translated into shared prosperity. Consider, “back in 1985, the average annual salary for all workers across the country was actually a bit higher than the average [Wall Street] bonus ($19,000 to $13,970),” but “while the average bonus soared almost 14 times higher (by 2006), the average salary has essentially been stagnant since the mid-1980s.”
Goldman Sachs is able to make its current profits ($3.19 billion last quarter) — and thus pay huge bonuses — because of government programs aimed at reviving the economy, which allow the company to make “big bets using cheap dollars.” As Simon Nixon wrote, the profits “aren’t the due rewards for exceptional skill but gifts from taxpayers.”