A Modest Proposal
People who don’t have money don’t understand the stress. Could you imagine what it’s like to say I got three kids in private school, I have to think about pulling them out? How do you do that?
— Alan Dlugash, partner, Marks Paneth & Shron, LLP, on Wall Street’s reduced bonuses this year
But the great Bakhtiyar, preoccupied always with care for the welfare of the royal subjects, did his best to set up such laws in Bukhara, that not one penny would linger in the pockets of its inhabitants, but would pass immediately to the Emir — that is, so the citizenry could move about with greater ease, their pockets not burdened with money.
— Leonid Solovyev, “The Tale of Hodja Nasreddin”
In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay entitled “A Modest Proposal”, in which he argued that the poor Irish can alleviate their plight by selling their children to slaughter houses, where they would be turned into food. The solution would be a win-win: it would solve the Irish poverty problem, while meeting the need of the affluent for culinary innovation and rich food. Although my humble keyboard could never match the elegance and the sheer intellectual force of Swift’s pen, today I was nevertheless inspired to write a “Modest Proposal” of my own.
My fellow Americans!
Today, while reading comments by Wall Street bankers, lamenting their measly compensation packages, I had an epiphany. I understood at once, with frightening clarity — and it is this understanding that I hope to convey to you in this essay — that the great unwashed have had it all wrong. Wall Street bankers are perhaps the most misunderstood people in history, whose great sacrifice has been woefully misinterpreted by the feeble-minded mob.
Many of us have complained that Wall Street bankers have been taking more and more of our money — through unscrupulous corporate practices, misleading their clients, preferential tax treatment and massive bailouts. We have begrudged them the efforts to privatize profits while socializing losses. We have painted this picture in our minds that they did all that because they are greedy bastards who only care about attaining luxuries at any cost, and who have nothing but contempt for us, ordinary people. Having worked within a very short walking distance of Wall Street for a number of years, I’ve also developed this unfathomable impression that Wall Street men are pompous, self-important assholes in their personal interactions — the kind of people who will gleefully stampede an old lady to death on their way to lunch, then laugh about it with their friends.
But now I see the truth. Wall Street bankers are not selfish bastards. On the contrary, they are the unsung heroes of our generation, who have valiantly sacrificed themselves for the good of the rest of us. They’ve only been taking our money as a public service, to spare us the stress and the anguish that attends ownership. They have worked tirelessly to impoverish the vast majority of Americans with only one goal: to make us happy by freeing us from our money and the horror of opportunity. Thanks to them, most of us enjoy the bliss of never being in a position to take a child out of private school and put that child into a slightly less prestigious private school; or to sell the jet and settle for flying to St. Barth’s first class on a commercial airline, head hung in shame; or to spend sleepless nights agonizing over how to afford that fourth vacation home. Thanks to these saintly, selfless people, we have been living easy, stress-free lives without even realizing it.
Well, folks, I think it’s time we showed them some gratitude. It’s time for us to give something back. (Though I’m not sure “give” is the right word here, since it would actually be the reverse.) I volunteer here and now to take all of Alan Dlugash’s money and property. Hell, I’ll even take his children, provided they are cute and obedient. I am not saying this is easy for me. On the contrary, I tremble at the terrible burden of owning a fine home, while the pain of having to wait eighteen months to upgrade that gourmet kitchen to match the latest feature from the Architectural Digest will, I am sure, require the intervention of a therapist. A very expensive, fashionable therapist. And I know, being able to afford only the Second Best Therapist in the Universe will in and of itself be a source of tremendous stress — which I don’t experience now because I can’t afford such refined ailments at all. Still, I am ready to make this great sacrifice to demonstrate my gratitude to Mr. Dlugash.
A Bentley or a Porsche? Which one is classier? Would a Ferrari be overdoing it, or is it acceptable for a country club parking lot, so long as it’s not red? Aspen or St. Tropez? Gucci or Prada? I want to feel your pain, Dlugash! I want a piece of your martyrdom. I want to experience first-hand what a fucking tragedy it is to be wealthy. I am ready for it. And while I am suffering all that stress from having too much bloody money, the Dlugashes can kick back and relax in comfortable poverty.
I think that would only be fair. Don’t you?