Sympathy for the Successful: Billionaires Bite Back

Posted by: Dan Beucke on December 21, 2011 at 4:00 PM

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A story from Bloomberg’s Max Abelson yesterday noted the opening of a media counter-offensive by the 1 percent against what many of them believe are unwarranted attacks on wealth, success, and capitalism itself. Some of the quotes are eye-opening:


  • John A. Allison IV, ex-CEO of BB&T bank: “Instead of an attack on the 1 percent, let’s call it an attack on the very productive. This attack is destructive.”

  • Robert Rosenkranz, CEO of Delphi Financial Group: “It’s simply a fact that pretty much all the private- sector jobs in America are created by the decisions of ‘the 1 percent’ to hire and invest. Since their confidence in the future more than any other factor will drive those decisions, it makes little sense to undermine their confidence by vilifying them.”

  • Leon Cooperman, Omega Advisers chairman: “You’ll get more out of me if you treat me with respect.”

  • Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, on being targeted by protesters: “Who gives a crap about some imbecile? Are you kidding me?”

Clearly these titans of industry, having seen the conversation in Washington and elsewhere shift away from tax cuts and toward income disparity, now “give a crap.” Others have noted that a few of the moguls seem to have remarkably thin skin. More substantially, a couple of things are apparent in their response: 1) The strategy will be to equate wealth with job creation. 2) If anything, groups like the Job Creators Alliance, of which Marcus is a founding member, want taxes cut for high-income earners.

The first point is arguable. The second, that this is turning into a struggle over tax rates, is not surprising. Taxes and their relationship to growing income shares of the wealthiest Americans have been the subject of a lively national debate, here and elsewhere. Valid points have been made for and against higher marginal rates. Yet attempts to address the U.S. fiscal crisis through the Bowles-Simpson Commission and President Obama’s “grand bargain” were thwarted months ago by those pushing essentially the same broad arguments Marcus and others are rolling out. So it’s a bit disingenuous to now ascribe them to “imbeciles” who hadn’t even gathered in Zuccotti Park at the time.

Still, it’s easy to understand why there’s a morale-building element to the 1-percenters’ lament. It’s no fun getting continuously pounded as a “fat cat,” whether you’re Cooperman’s tennis pals at the St. Andrews Country Club or less lofty bond buyers at JPMorgan Chase. In these tough times, everyone — at all levels of society — could use a shot of self esteem. So we’ll end with this photo from Dulce Pinzón’s collection of workplace heros that have “gone unnoticed:”

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(Photographers: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images, Dulce Pinzon/zReportage.com/ZUMA)

Update: Max Abelson’s story continues to roil the blogosphere. One of the more interesting posts comes courtesy of Josh Brown, The Reformed Broker, in the form of a letter to Jamie Dimon. Brown makes the point that far from hating rich people, Americans revere success stories. He points to the outpouring of grief over the death of Steve Jobs, who had “more money than you or any of your ‘job alliance’ buddies.” What Dimon and others are seeing, Brown says, is that:

America hates unjustified privilege, it hates an unfair playing field and crony capitalism without the threat of bankruptcy, it hates privatized gains and socialized losses, it hates rule changes that benefit the few at the expense of the many and it hates people who have been bailed out and don’t display even the slightest bit of remorse or humbleness in the presence of so much suffering in the aftermath.

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"The Wealth Debate" is a running discussion of wealth, poverty, the economy and income inequality in the U.S. and the world. It was started shortly after the Occupy Wall Street movement sparked a global protest about the fallout from the financial crisis and money in politics. You can reach the editors, Dan Beucke and Mark Gimein, by email, or follow BloombergNow on Twitter to keep up with posts.

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