Bonus Round

Bankers are still pulling in big bucks. Should we be outraged that bankers win while banks lose?

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The 2008 bonus numbers for Wall Street have been released and bankers are still pulling down big numbers. Among the nine largest banks, about 5,000 employees made over $1M each, or $5B between them. Many writers express outrage over the soaring bonuses amid sinking balance sheets, but one pundit dissents.

Dennis K. Berman of the Wall Street Journal crunches some numbers comparing Wall Street to the rest of America, finding, "Even in Wall Street's worst year, you are nearly four times as likely to take home a million bucks-in bonus alone-than the general population." Gawker's Cajun Boy quips, "It's becoming increasingly obvious that it's either time we all get jobs on Wall Street to jump aboard the gravy train or all run down to Home Depot to buy pitchforks. What's it going to be people?"

Daniel Indiviglio of our very own Atlantic Business Channel writes, "I have a very hard time shrugging off numbers like this. Even if these banks didn't receive billions of dollars in a government bailout, if I were a shareholder, I would be rather livid. If this is a bad year, one can only imagine what a good year would look like." Indiviglio makes a radical suggestion: "The solution? Well that's obvious. We could have let them fail. Allow every major investment bank to fail? Well it wouldn't have been every one, just the large American investment banks."

Finance blog 24/7 Wall Street defends bankers (especially from bonus-busting New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's attacks), arguing, "A lot of the people who got $1 million or $5 million or $10 million last year earned it." He explains that, though banks lost money overall, many had highly successful divisions that deserve compensation, citing Bank of America's brokerage and credit card divisions as examples:

"Without these successes, Bank of America would have had worse results and both taxpayers, who have a stake in the bank, and shareholders would have been badly hurt because bigger losses would have undermined the value of the company. The units of the company that did well kept the entire enterprise from coming close to failing."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.