We hear a lot about resurgent populism – the anti-establishment anger that smoldered in the bosom of William Jennings Bryan in the 1890s and that flares anew in the breasts of Sarah Palin's followers today. President Obama scolds American banks in what some call a desperate resort to populist rhetoric. Tea Party conservatives attack Obama in terms that liberals dismiss as childish populism.
Populism is considered crude and simplistic. The colorful populist leaders of the 1890s – like Sockless Jerry Simpson of Kansas – were often uncouth farmers. They favored nationalizing railroads, giving everyone the vote, and passing an income tax. Horrors!
One streak that unites all populists – the original old-timey ones who wore no socks and the modern educated ones who mostly own stocks – is a delight in slamming Wall Street. You – the worldly viewers of this worldwide blog – are doubtless too sophisticated to condemn Wall Street. You probably see life as a complex interweaving of off-grays – not a simplistic interplay of good and evil.
Well, my friends, prepare to become populists. Our friend Charles R. Morris – author of The Trillion Dollar Meltdown and nine or ten other terrific books – shares these numbers on Merrill Lynch's revenue/compensation ratios. Read 'em and – not weep! – feel the boil.
Note that Merrill Lynch pay remains steady while revenues and profits plunge. Here are the actual ugly numbers:
Notice that in 2008 – thanks to government funds! – Merrill's silk-stockinged employees received just about the same 15 billions they received the preceding year – even though revenues and earnings went into negative territory.
Too jaded to be infected with populist indignation? Not now. I bet you're fixing to cast off your socks and grab a pitchfork.