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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Wall Street’s Bonus Inflation

The New York financial industry's $27 billion haul for 2013 is ridiculous.

Not too many years ago, any news story about bonus money would’ve been about some 20-year-old baseball player — an up-and-coming superstar getting $100,000 or so on top of his salary as an extra incentive to join the Yankees, Giants, or whatever team.

Sportswriters dubbed them “Bonus Babies.” How quaint.

These days, stories about bonus money don’t elicit cheers, for they feature some of society’s least admirable people: Wall Street bankers.

Far from superstars, they can be super-failures. Yet, as every year gets underway, we witness this cluster of greedmeisters quaffing champagne, laughing uproariously, and shouting, “It’s bonus time, baby!”

In the wake of 2013′s bull market, Wall Street’s bosses have just extracted a 15 percent raise in overall bonus money, totaling a ridiculous $26.7 billion.

That averages out to $165,000 in extra pay to each Wall Street banker. But averages deceive, for thousands of lower-level bankers are given a pittance, while those up in the executive suites make off with the bulk of the heist.

Consider the compensation of Jamie Dimon. The boss of JPMorgan Chase had a really terrible year in 2013, with his shareholders forced to shell out some $22 billion in penalties for a long rap sheet of illegalities. Still, Dimon took a 74 percent hike in bonus money — a cool $18.5 million.

In a time when 90 percent of Americans are experiencing a slow and protracted decline in their income, you’d think Wall Street might show a bit of modesty.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower