Various types of rich people in this country, none of which I am, but that's just too bad for me.
We've got our legacies, the beneficiaries of inherited wealth, heirs and heiresses who were born on top of piles and piles of money.
We've got our celebrity rich, movie stars, rock stars, professional athletes and the like who've earned their piles and piles of money through various combinations of hard work, innate talent, honed skills, luck, and the willingness of audiences to part with ridiculous amounts of cash to watch them perform.
We've got our real John and Jane Galts, people who have actually invented things, created things, designed things, and built things that the world has been so grateful to have that it's cheerfully, eagerly, desperately even, dumped piles and piles of money over their heads.
And we've got our lucky rich, winners of life's lottery, who happened to buy the winning ticket or whose house sat on top of a mineral deposit or whose lawyer happened to be really, really, really good.
Then we have our parasitical rich, people who have gotten rich by going to work for the legacies, the celebrities, the Galts, and the lucky and by virtue of doing jobs the legacies, celebrities, Galts, and the lucky don't want to do or can't do for themselves have earned the gratitude of their bosses and have piles and piles of money heaped on them as their reward for services rendered and deference paid. They include lawyers, accountants, managers, salesmen and women, and other types of high-status gophers, secretaries, and maids-of-all-work, male and female.
Parasite is an ugly word, but only unfair because it is ugly. These people do in fact live off their host-bosses. They could not become rich or continue to be rich apart from the work done by their hosts or the money made by them. They are rich because they take some of the money earned by their bosses. That they perform vital services and their hosts might shrivel up and die, so to speak, without their services, doesn't change the fact that they themselves aren't the generators of their own wealth.
Of course some of them could and do go off to become John and Jane Galts on their own, others could go off to do it but choose not to. But most of them couldn't. They have a limited skill set that mainly includes pleasing their bosses in whatever ways their bosses demand to be pleased, following orders, and doing exactly what everybody else in their position does and always has done.
In short, these rich aren't very much different from you and me.
Now, among all these types, there are decent people and not so decent people, but whether or not they are decent they are all tempted to develop a sense of entitlement and many of them give in to the temptation.
The legacies are the most obnoxious in this regard, the ones who seem to think they've done something brilliant by being born the child, grandchild, or great-great-grandchild of someone who actually worked for the money they're now throwing around. They feel entitled to their piles of money and entitled to all the service and deference, power and influence, that money buys them or might buy them if they bothered to spend it---many of them feel entitled to things to the point that they believe they shouldn't have to pay for them. But there are poor and middle class people who feel the same way and waitresses at Olive Garden and ushers in movie theaters know them all too well.
And athletes who score more points, hit more home runs, win more games than other athletes have a reason to feel entitled to more money than other athletes---after all, it's their talent and skill that's bringing in the paying customers. No one goes to a ball game to watch the owners. Movie stars and rock stars are actors and musicians first, and many of them got into the business for the love of their art and would have been reasonably content to stay in it for a lot less money and fame. But many of them are born performers too, and the thing about a performance is that it's not worth anything without an audience. Performers are people who need to be, want to be, watched. Success can spoil anyone, fame and celebrity can turn any head. But someone who arrived on the planet demanding of the rest of us, "Look at me!" is someone who already feels entitled to whatever the world has to give.
And the inventors, creators, designers, and builders are entitled to feel entitled to the fruits of their labors.
You would expect, though, that the lucky would be too busy counting their blessings and marveling at their good fortune to start feeling entitled.
But it's the parasites whose sense of entitlement is on most people's minds these days, particularly those parasites who work on Wall Street and in the world of High Finance or at, as Atrios calls it, the dog track. These are people who are rich because, as I think it was Brad DeLong put it, they covered themselves in glue and then stood outside in a money storm.
The money blowing around and sticking to them is not their money.
You can almost understand how the executives at a oil company might lose track of the fact they are living off the work started by John D. Rockefeller and start thinking they are the ones causing the wells to be dug and the oil to flow. You can almost understand how auto industry executives might forget that even now, decades after his death, they are all still working for Henry Ford. They make decisions and wells are dug or not dug. They approve a design or veto it and a million cars roll off the assembly line or a factory shuts down.
But bankers and brokers know the money they're playing with isn't theirs.
And they know that their job is to use that money---other people's money---to make those other people more money or at least not lose their original investments? Right?
They know that the risks they are taking are with other people's life savings and jobs and companies and family fortunes.
And they know when they blow it, when they guess or bet wrong, when they lose money entrusted to them they have failed at their jobs and that people who fail at their jobs usually get fired or, at any rate, do not give themselves promotions and raises and award themselves huge bonuses?
And this is what's fueling the anger at the AIG bonuses. Cooler heads around the interwebs and in the editorial pages and on talk shows have pointed out that the bonus money is a drop in the bucket compared to what the Government has given to the banksters since last fall. The cooler heads counsel to look at the big picture, focus our anger on the larger swindle or understand that we have to put up with certain distasteful practices if we're going to get this mess cleaned up. You can't clean out a stable without getting shit on your shoes.
But the bonuses are the big picture summed up. They are the whole mess in a nutshell.
It's that sense of entitlement that caused it. They felt entitled to play with other people's money and get rich from it even if they lost that money. Consequently, they didn't care what they did with it. They treated it as if it was their own and its only purpose was to be theirs. And the bonuses make clear that they still feel this way.
Their sense of entitlement is divorced from any work ethic, divorced from any sense of responsibility or shame. They clearly don't think they had to earn their millions. They think it's owed to them no matter what they do. They deserve to make millions, deserve to take other people's money, just because they want it.
Their sense of entitlement is monstrous and the monsters are insatiable.
The bonuses are a warning that this is never going to stop. The parasites are going to eat the host. Nothing is changing. Nothing is getting fixed. The money is pouring in and they're just pocketing it. And we're apparently expected to keep it pouring in until they say stop, which they never will, or it all runs out.
The bonuses are a drop in the bucket, but the bucket is as big as the country and it will never be filled.