Hang ‘Em High

1 February 2010


Today when I was driving on I-5 in Portland I noticed a rather graphic expression of popular discontent and working class resentment. I tried to get a picture (see below) but it was raining heavily and my windshield was too smeared to get a clear shot. The pickup in the photograph had large green letters on his back bumper that said, “INSERT CEO HERE.” There was an arrow pointing to the right, and on the far right side of the bumper was a competently tied hanging noose. This is “gallows humor” for the executioners, rather than the victims. And, as we know, many a truth is spoken in jest.

Who are the intended victims? The way the media has been spinning the economic crisis and the recession we have been through, the intended victims are the named (and anonymous) CEOs, but also bankers and investors and fund managers and the whole panoply of financial professionals who wear suits to work and make lots of money. Bankers are soft targets, and always have been. Americans retain in their collective unconscious all those Teddy Roosevelt-era cartoons of trust-busting showing enormously fat bankers with bags of money and cash sticking out of their pockets.

Nothing about the anti-CEO, anti-corporate, anti-banker sentiment is surprising. People want to put a face on their misery and frustration. Any convenient face will do, but it has become socially unacceptable to scapegoat many of the groups once ostracized and abused by mainstream society in times of crisis. The rich, such as CEOs and bankers, have not yet achieved that untouchable status, and thus are acceptable targets of outrage in the public mind.

It is interesting to note that the recession from which the US is aat present recovering was primarily triggered by the sub-prime mortgage collapse, and one of the first effects of the recession was to put a lot of bankers out of work. I believe I commented on this at the time (for example, in Quote of the Day). There were some ridiculous articles in the financial press (I am thinking primarily of the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times) from and about wealthy and powerful mucky-mucks who were having a hard time accepting the fact that people with six figure incomes could suddenly be without a job and without prospects. It was grim, and many people convinced themselves that it was worse than grim.

And then the recession came. It wasn’t just bankers, then, it was a lot of people losing their jobs. The world economy stumbled. And then the recovery started. The last quarter (the fourth quarter of 2009) was pretty good for investors. Banks wanted to reward their best performers, but in the present political climate this had become political suicide, and bonuses to bankers become radioactive.

Employment is always a trailing indicator of economic growth. When an economy is shrinking, employers delay laying off workers as long as they can. In a recovery, employers delay hiring new staff as long as they can. As a result, whenever there is an economic recovery after a recession, there are reports in the papers of renewed economic, which is rapidly followed by a public outcry that the recovery is illusory because the job market is still soft. This is what is happening now. It is no surprise. It always happens.

. . . . .


. . . . .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: