The Delicate Sensibilities of Bankers

On the surface, bankers like to project tough, no-nonsense personas, but judging by how they're reacting to the protesters outside their offices, they are pretty easily spooked. 

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Bankers like to project tough, no-nonsense personas, but underneath that cool Brooks Brothers exterior, they're easily spooked, judging by their reaction to the protesters outside their offices. Many people are dismissive of some Occupy Wall Street activists' utopian demands, as in The New Republic's editorial against the movement. The magazine's central data point was a speech by philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who lamented that it's easier to imagine the total destruction of Earth via asteroid or aliens than to picture the end of capitalism. But that revolutionary vision is actually quite easy to imagine for the nervous nellies on Wall Street, who are hiring bodyguards to protect them from the proles. The security firm Risk Control Strategies expects to double its revenue in New York this year, The New York Times' Kevin Roose reports, because financial industry executives are freaked out by the protests. Insite Security says it's gotten dozens of calls since the protest began, including one from an executive "requesting help planning his escape from the United States in the event the federal government was overthrown ... The executive wanted to know how much gold to keep on hand and how to escape ... by submarine in the event of a major incident."

Rich people already felt demonized by President Obama going around the country saying people who make more than $1 million a year should have their taxes raised by 5.5 percentage points. "Nobody wants to punish success in America," Obama said. "All I'm saying is that those who have done well, including me, should pay our fair share in taxes to contribute to the nation that made our success possible." That, fumed Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Wizards, sounded like "good vs. evil," that he's "getting blasted as being a bad guy!" So naturally, real live socialists camped outside their office buildings would make the comfortably well-off a bit more nervous.

They feel hunted in public, unable to wear their favorite shirts. "There was a period where you could put on the Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs sweatshirt and wear it to the beach," Brad Hintz, former chief financial officer at Lehman Bros., told the Los Angeles TimesNathaniel Popper. At Manhattan's Del Frisco's, a popular after-work spot for Wall Streeters, investment adviser Joshua M. Brown overheard financial services workers complaining about the protesters. "Thank god they don't know that all of Wall Street comes here for dinner!" a woman said. An executive in his 50s grumbled, "You see all the cops down there keeping the peace? They should send a bill for that to these kids' parents." At Zero Hedge, financial adviser Damien Cleusix says this could be the beginning of the end: "If politicians screw this once more we are afraid that this will be remembered as the final trigger toward a radical change on how our financial system work. This won't happen overnight but be sure that the system you will be living in in 5 years will be RADICALLY different than today's. While the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement remains marginal, be sure that it will grow exponentially if politicians make the bad choices." The New York TimesAndrew Ross Sorkin observed protesters watching a clip of comedian Roseanne Barr saying she wanted "the return of the guillotine" and "re-education camps and if that doesn't help, then being beheaded." Sorkin writes ominously that Barr "made the comments without a hint of laughter, yet the group watching around the laptop seemed to be quite amused."

On the record, bankers are waging a PR campaign to make nice with the protesters. Hedge fund manager James Altucher wrote for Freakonomics that the focus should be on real reforms, and in the meantime, "please stop being so angry. Stop 'occupying' places. Let's be friendly and focus on solutions." JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said on a conference call with reporters earlier this month, "I do vaguely remember the First Amendment that it is legal to demonstrate and it is completely fine ... You should listen and not just have a knee-jerk reaction," The New York Times' Nelson D. Schwartz and Eric Dash report. But privately, they're a little more tense. "Anybody who dismisses [the protesters] publicly is putting a bull's-eye on their back," a hedge fund manager told the Times.
To ease the pressure, Wall Streeters are trying to get a little sympathy. When protesters said they'd camp out in from of the homes of hedge fund managers, one of the targets, John Paulson, put out a statement defending his cohort's civic sacrifice, the Wall Street Journal reports. "The top 1% of New Yorkers pay over 40% of all income taxes, providing huge benefits to everyone in our city and state ... Instead of vilifying our most successful businesses, we should be supporting them and encouraging them to remain in New York City and continue to grow." And at Stone Street Advisors, Jordan Terry insists financiers are not the whole top 1 percent anyway, writing, "Mother Jones has a variety of other charts that I think, were they to be widely read by many protesters, would force them to re-evaluate some of their most closely-held beliefs." In fact, Wall Streeters are just like the protesters, a trader told the Los Angeles Times"Without a doubt they are here preaching to the choir, so to speak ... We're feeling it. Volumes are down throughout the industry. Everyone is feeling it." We're human, please don't kill us.
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