It�s hard to
imagine, even as a life-long New Yorker, the far past obscene delights
described in the Washington Post
London�s New Super-Rich, No Whim Need Go Unfulfilled.
money monarchy call themselves �the haves and the have yachts,� sailing past
Bush�s contributors �the haves and have mores.� That paucity of moderation
underlines a mamoth selfishness that characterizes the free marketer, now
enjoying maximum freedom to swim in London�s financial cash-pool, while its
working class and poor struggle to stay afloat.
These are �rich
London bankers and traders who drop tens of thousands for an evening of
cocktails and hire �personal concierges� to get their girlfriends dresses like
those worn by movie stars. . . . financial stars paid a total of $17 billion in
annual bonuses in recent weeks, including more than 4,200 people who received
bonuses of at least $2 billion each, on top of salaries already sagging under
the weight of zeros.� And zeros are what they are, which you�ll find if you
hold your nose and read the whole scabrous article.
These are the
investment bankers and hedge fund gang about whom I wrote in �Japanese
interest hike sparks markets plunge.� These are the Cayman Island pirates,
the Bermuda and Bahamas sheltered corporatos, today�s massive gang of
champagne/money guzzling fascists, who are making vast sums gambling with the
health, wealth and well-being of the world�s economic system.
It is unlikely they
can see beyond their greed, potbellies and Ferraris; or that the errors of
their ways can result in massive financial bubbles bursting, wounding, as in
America, sub-prime mortgage holders, who lost homes they couldn�t afford in the
first place. It is unlikely they believe their actions could trigger a series
of massive bank defaults, and a total collapse which will make America�s 1929
Crash look like Ground Hog Day. This is the logical outcome of a free market
system that has turned Capitalism into a Casino Royale, not the film but the
reality, in which the wealth of nations is being summarily sucked from the
marrow of their bones.
These, my darlings,
are the ghouls, the beyond the Masters of
the Universe Tom Wolfe depicted in his brilliant novel. This is more like
the protagonist Eric Packer of Dom DeLillo�s prescient novel, Cosmopolis, which takes place in a
somewhat futuristic New York City. Packer is a young billionaire hedge fund
manager, consistently outperforming the market, who crosses the city in his
35-foot long white limo, personally outfitted with an array of liquid screens
spilling every conceivable piece of currency and market data. Curiously he is
hedging on the price of the yen falling, when in fact it continues to climb,
sucking in billions of his fund�s dollars, and putting him at risk. Yet he
persists till his ill-fated end.
Until then, he
manages to have his personal managers meet with him in the opulent limo (home
and office away from same), have sex with one or two, and listen to his chief
of theory, Vija Kinsky, tell him, �We want to think about the art of
money-making. The Greeks have a word for it. Chrimatistikos. But we have to . . . adapt it to the current
situation. Because money has taken a turn. All wealth has become wealth for its
own sake. There�s no other kind of enormous wealth. Money has lost its
narrative quality the way painting did once upon a time. Money is talking to
itself. . . .
follows of course . . . The enormous expenditures that people make for land and
houses and boats and planes. This has nothing to do with traditional
self-assurances, okay. Property is no longer about power, personality and
command. . . . The only thing that matters is the price you pay. Yourself,
Eric, think. What did you buy for your one hundred and four million dollars?
Not dozens of rooms, incomparable views, private elevators. Not the rotating
bedroom and computerized bed. Not the swimming pool or the shark. Was it air
rights? The regulating sensors and software? Not the mirrors that tell you how you
feel when you look at yourself in the morning. You paid the money for the
number itself. One hundred and four million. This is what you bought. And it�s
worth it. The number justifies itself.�
If you think this
fiction invites question, return to the article, in which �Rich Russian, Arab
sheiks, Indian moguls and other foreigners are among those buying up mansions
like cartons of milk. At One Hyde Park, a luxury apartment complex that the
British media have dubbed the world�s most expensive address, the cheap
apartments are going for $40 million and the penthouses are expect to fetch
well over $100 million each.� Reality imitates fiction. Fiction predicts
reality. After all, DeLillo�s book was published in 2000, and it must have
taken him a while to write it.
�Peter Hain,� the
article points out, �an outspoken member of Prime Minister Tony Blair�s
cabinet, called the recent bonuses �grotesque� and said the recipients should
give lumps of it to charity. A recent poll found that 73 percent of respondents
agreed that bonuses were �excessive and something should be done about them,�
while 69 percent said the gap between the highest paid and average earners is
now too big.�
It must be. Garry O�Dea,
a luxury car sales executive, said that �the waiting list for a new custom-made
Ferrari is three years . . . Demand for cars costing more than $200,000 is
Yet, if this isn�t
bizarre enough, consider the response of New York Republican Mayor Michael
Bloomberg (billionaire owner of Bloomberg News) and our Democratic Senator
Charles Schumer . . . listen to their response to the information that �Tony
Travers of the London School of Economics, not[ed] that 15 years of
uninterrupted growth in one of the world�s most open economies has set London�s
financial sector swaggering.�
The Big Apple�s
politicos� response was that �increasingly tight regulation of U.S. financial
markets, as well as strict immigration laws, were hurting New York, while rival
London, closer to rising giants in Asia and Russia, was becoming more
attractive to business and talent.� Well, yes, and so is sexual and human
(adult and child) slavery, slave labor, sweat shops, assassinations, denial of
civil liberties, and a strangled press. Do we want those, too? They come hand
in hand. Where are your values, Mayor Blumberg and Senator Schumer?
Why do we admire
what�s worse about Great Britain. For me the Great in Great Britain is its
people, the people who fought the Nazis with whom the monarchy was flirting.
The same people who fought an oppressive decadent monarchy for hundreds of
years for a modicum of freedom and democracy.
Across the pond, we
find Wall Street, the Main Street of the American Economy, has already brought
you AIG�s billionaire CEO Maurice Greenberg, kicked out of his own company
after incurring a $1.6 billion fine for tampering with reinsurance rates. It
has also brought you Dennis Koslovsky, Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, and Bernard
Ebbers, to mention a few of the superstar crooks. But for a more
complete list, check Forbes Wall
Street Fine Tracker for 2000 to 2004. Or check the more menacing Global
Exchange�s �Most Wanted� Corporate Human Rights
Violators of 2005.� You�ll see many familiar �friendly� names
there, products of already too loose corporate governance.
Do we want more
than this? To have the Sarbanes Oxley legislation neutered, or thrown out,
because it is strong and effective with the greedy and/or cramps their style of
doing business? I don�t think so. Or you will end up with a Wall Street worse
than London, where �business is soaring at Quintessentially, a service which
provides 24-hour assistance to customers who need to �access the inaccessible,��
according to co-founder Aaron Simpson. �Like $6,000 replicas of Jennifer Lopez�
Academy Awards �Marchesa� gown . . . or an elephant-shaped cake studded with
rubies and emeralds, and a parachute trip over Victoria Falls on the
Zimbabwe-Zambia border in southern Africa.� Got milk? Good. That�s all you
the need for these must-haves as the outcome of �the adrenaline rush you get
from making a 10 million-pound bonus . . . the same as falling off a cliff at
3,000 feet.� Like wow, gotta have it. And also Quintessentially, bring me the
heads of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair and the greaser that ordered the
elephant cake. I�d like to put them on pikes surrounding a pet zoo of corporate
offenders and administration members, where working people can come and toss
them peanuts, or whatever other delectables they care to.
And lastly, let me
repeat my first sentence, �That it was hard to imagine, even as a life-long New
Yorker, the far past obscene delights of the WP article.� I say that because if I walk two blocks east of West
End Avenue (on which I live), lined with pre-war buildings whose apartments
have risen from four and five to seven or eight figures in the last thirty
years, I will come to the low-income projects of Amsterdam Avenue, and the poor
white, Hispanic and black families living there, many receiving with public
assistance, most at the low end of the wage spectrum.
Yet, I will see
their beautiful human faces. I will see their kids, skate-boarding, playing
softball in the schoolyards, and going to the public schools my kids went to as
well. I know these people�s humanity. I know their music, the hip-hop, the
salsa, the blues. I know their struggles. Nor do I turn my face from it to move
across the Washington Bridge to some lily-white suburb in New Jersey or north
to Westchester�s bedroom communities for �professionals.� I want to see it. I
wanted my kids to see it, to know and befriend, and be brothers and sisters to
the other half to make themselves whole.
I often stroll
those streets, walk through the projects, to remind myself where I came from,
the mean streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Nobody bothers me. And I don�t
bother anyone. This is the beauty of opening your arms to your fellow human
beings. You don�t have to hide on a yacht full of money beyond the three-mile
limit of the dispossessed to be safe. You are safe in your own compassion for
the lives of others; happy with whatever you do or don�t have. Happy to be
standing side by side with the living. That�s the enchilada to shoot for.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York.
Reach him at email@example.com.