Hurt Feelings on Wall St.

As he often does, Paul Krugman’s analysis in his NY Times column today totally captures the moment. He begins the piece, titled “Egos and Immortality,” like this:

“In the wake of a devastating financial crisis, President Obama has enacted some modest and obviously needed regulation; he has proposed closing a few outrageous tax loopholes; and he has suggested that Mitt Romney’s history of buying and selling companies, often firing workers and gutting their pensions along the way, doesn’t make him the right man to run America’s economy. Wall Street has responded — predictably, I suppose — by whining and throwing temper tantrums. And it has, in a way, been funny to see how childish and thin-skinned the Masters of the Universe turn out to be.”

This critique reminded me of the anecdote in a NY Times Sunday Magazine story from a few weeks ago that one denizen of Wall Street, in a meeting with an Obama emissary, urged that the president should give a major speech, similar to the one he gave on America and relations during the ’08 campaign, explaining why Americans should not revile the financial industry. I was struck then, and again in Krugman’s column, by the bloated self-importance that these folks assign to themselves and their industry. Many people, after causing a major debacle would be somewhat sheepish about insisting that one is entitled to regain a privileged place at the table, but not this crowd. I’d have imagined that crashing the economy would induce humility in those responsible, but clearly not so. And of course, the same is true for Republicans who act as if the 2000-2008 period never occurred.

Krugman ends his hard-hitting column this way:

“Think about where we are right now, in the fifth year of a slump brought on by irresponsible bankers. The bankers themselves have been bailed out, but the rest of the nation continues to suffer terribly, with long-term unemployment still at levels not seen since the Great Depression, with a whole cohort of young Americans graduating into an abysmal job market. And in the midst of this national nightmare, all too many members of the economic elite seem mainly concerned with the way the president apparently hurt their feelings. That isn’t funny. It’s shameful.”
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