MAYBE WALL STREET should open a casino right there on the corner of Broad, because these guys simply cannot lose. After kneecapping the global economy, costing millions their homes and livelihoods, and saddling our grandchildren with massive debt—after all that, they're cashing in their bonuses from 2008. That's right, 2008—when amid the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the $700 billion TARP legislation (a mere 5 percent of a $14 trillion bailout; see "The Real Size of the Bailout"), humiliated banks rolled back executive bonuses. Or so we thought: In fact, those bonuses were simply reconfigured to have a higher proportion of company stock. Those shares weren't worth so much at the time, as the execs made a point of telling Congress, but that meant they could only go up, and by the time they did, the public (suckers!) would have forgotten the whole exercise. It worked out beautifully: The value of JPMorgan Chase's 2008 bonuses has increased 20 percent to $10.5 billion, an average of nearly $6 million for the top 200 execs. Goldman's 2008 bonuses are worth $7.8 billion.
And why are bank stocks worth more now? Because of the bailout, of course. Bankers aren't being rewarded for pulling the economy out of the doldrums. Nope, they're simply skimming from the trillions we've shoveled at them. The house always wins. Indeed, 2009 bonuses are expected to be 30 to 40 percent higher than 2008's. And don't forget AIG, which paid the same division that helped cook up collateral debt obligations and credit default swaps "retention bonuses" worth $475 million, in some execs' cases 36 times their base salaries.