May 29, 2009

By Les Leopold on HuffPo

Fear and Looting in America: Are We Really Out of Money?

"'Well, we are out of money now . . . .' President Obama, May 25, 2009.

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"What happened to the $305 billion of 2004 through 2007 bank profits that have since vanished from the banks' balance sheets? About half were paid out in compensation to executives, managers and traders. Yes, amazing as it may seem, when you work for a large financial institution you can be paid massive sums even if your work ends up producing nothing -- not even just nothing, but a negative result. All those autoworkers who are being blamed for the miseries of GM and Chrysler? They actually did make cars that are still transporting people. But the Wall Street players, who took home billions for supposedly making valuable financial instruments, were actually making economic weapons of mass destruction. And you can bet that much of their billions are safely parked in off-shore accounts and other low/no tax investments. In a sane and fair world, we would be thinking about how to get it back to help pay for the costs of cleaning up the toxic financial mess.

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"In 1982, the top 400 individuals held an average net worth of $604 million each (in 2008 dollars). By 1995, their average wealth jumped to $1.7 billion. And in 2008, the 400 top winners averaged $3.9 billion each . . . . The total for the 400 high rollers adds up to a cool $1.56 trillion. That's equal to about 10 percent of the entire gross domestic product of the US.

"We certainly could have a heated argument about how much of this wealth derived from the derivative-driven boom that just went bust. A case could be made that much of this money is ill-gotten since it came from artificial financial instruments that were rated improperly, or came from artificially leveraged transactions that now have crashed the system as a whole. An even more contentious fight would break out if we discussed whether there is any justification for allowing that such sums to accumulate in the hands of the few, no matter how worthy any of these individuals may be. And we could have us a row asking whether or not a democracy can really survive with so much wealth in the hands of so few people. But surely we can all agree that those top 400 are sitting on a huge pile of money, while our country is going deeply into debt to fix a financial system that has contributed mightily to their enrichment . . . ."
More at HuffPo.

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