Financial Hotshots Join the World’s Oldest Profession

Financial Hotshots Join the World’s Oldest Profession

A four star Army general with 28 or more years of experience makes $187,225 a year in salary. They can make a little more—$225/month—not as a bonus, but in combat pay. Our country pays all of its soldiers a small stipend for putting their lives on the line in the nation’s defense.

So, a general is willing to go to work—to spend horribly long hours and face unrelenting pressure—for a paycheck that is one-tenth, one-twentieth or even one-one hundredth of the pay of the wizards at AIG, Citigroup, UBS and other investment firms. A general does his or her job for what financial types consider chump change, yet generals (and colonels and sergeants for that matter) have a far greater impact on the course of human events than even the most senior trader on Wall Street. Or the most experienced banker on Fleet Street. Or any and all of the hedge fund hotshots in Greenwich, Connecticut.

You see, generals (and colonels and sergeants) are responsible for human capital, not financial capital. And despite what the Street walkers in New York or London or leafy Greenwich may think, leading people in defense of the nation is far more difficult and demanding than manipulating puts and shorts and derivatives will ever be. Said another way, Army officers put people in harm’s way to protect the American Dream, not to line their own pockets and put it at risk.

But now the financial community is up in arms because the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that would tax the ill gotten bonuses of AIG executives and traders. Whatever you may think of that strategy, there’s no doubt that, if enacted, it will have a normalizing effect on the compensation of all bankers and brokers. And that outcome, they howl, will lead to a hemorrhage of talent from the financial services industry. They huff and puff that nobody will do the onerous and dirty work of their industry without the porcine pay packages they have come to expect.

What these Streeters are really saying is that the kind of people the financial services industry has sought to attract will work only for money. That’s not true of the many hardworking people down in the ranks, of course, but it is certainly the case for all of the traders and executives who have suckled for years at stratospheric pay levels. These masters and mistresses of the universe are only in it for the cash they are paid.

So, what’s that make them? There’s only one other profession where people work solely for the money they can earn. It’s a talent, I suppose, and it’s also the oldest job title in the world.

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  1. I got a good chuckle out of your article, Peter, but I’m sure that you’d agree that many traders and others in the financial industry are not whores but are actually decent, hard working, honest people. And there are also some whores too as there are in virtually all industries.

  2. Steven-

    You are, of course, correct. As the op ed piece recently published in The New York Times (“Dear A.I.G., I Quit!”) noted, there are many decent, hard working financial services professionals whose reputations have been permanently diminished by the behavior of some of their peers.

    That said (and as the author of the op ed piece—a senior A.I.G. executive—acknowledges), the industry has no one to blame but itself. It developed and promoted the obscene compensation packages that attracted so many unethical people and rewarded them for their unconscionable behavior. To now say that the same schemes are the only way for this beleaguered industry to retain “talent” and that the talent that must be retained is the same talent that got us into this mess in the first place is not just illogical, it’s same self-serving arrogance all over again. I, for one, will no longer tolerate it.

    As the old saying goes, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.