Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Conversation With A Wall Streeter

So over the last couple of days, JJY and I have exchanged a bunch of emails. JJY is originally from Bombay/Mumbai and was my roommate at college. Of course, we chose different career paths. He decided to sell his soul and work for what he describes as a "large bulge bracket bank" in New York. I decided to remain true to myself and go to grad school to study Political Science. I also have no idea what the hell "bulge bracket bank" means.

We covered a lot of topics: the AIG exec who quit via a letter to the New York Times, bonuses on Wall Street, the structures of compensation in academia vs. finance, Barack Obama, newspapers, health care, and whom we'd like to be with on a deserted island for a week. Without further ado...

Ahsan: Did you read the AIG exec who quit with a letter to the New York Times? It's all over all the blogs.

JJY: Yes. I emailed you the link, in fact. From knowing my broad views on the subject and my chosen (well, sort of anyway) course of employment, I'm assuming you already know that I sympathize with his plight.

Michael Lewis had an excellent article on Bloomberg on the subject as well.

What did you think?

Ahsan: I think it's tough to feel sympathy toward people who have been overpaid their entire lives, but we'll get to that shortly.

Let's talk a little bit about his "plight" as you call it. His plight, it seems to me, is that he now works for a company that is not just answerable to the usual set of movers and shakers, but instead to all of its stockholders, including the larger public. And given his boss is answerable to the larger public, he (his boss that is) has found it convenient to throw some people under the bus.

Is that a fair characterization of his plight, or am I missing something?

JJY: The "overpaid" statement is debatable, but I'm sure we'll get to that in due course. I completely agree that in general, the Financial Services industry is a bubble that is fairly disconnected from other industries, but I'm not sure that's the fault of the people being paid, but may have more to do with how we, i.e. society, measure the value of their services. Anyway, we'll get to that in a bit.

As far as his plight - yes, that's fairly accurate, with one additional point - he was not at fault for AIG's current state. I thought the electrician - plumber analogy quite apt.

Ahsan: Here's my problem with this woe-is-me-ness of this AIG exec. If it wasn't for public money, he would not have a job. End of story. They would be like Lehman: a footnote, consigned to the dustbin of history. And now he has the gall to question a certain degree of accountability? The only reason he gets to wear an Armani suit to work every day is because of taxpayers' dollars helping him and his company out. When you help someone out, you get to direct the show a little bit.

Look, I understand mobs are unruly and unfair. No question -- many people have been demonized when they don't deserve to be. But equally disturbing is these people's warped view of the world, where they have been singularly wronged. I don't think these people understand how ludicrous their arguments seem to the world that doesn't live on Wall Street.

JJY: I disagree with you there. He wouldn't have a job with AIG. He's the head of their Commodities desk, and I'm sure he would have no trouble finding work with another FI. You'd be surprised at the number of senior folk that jumped from Lehman to the other large, and small, banks when the Barclays deal happened. He stayed at his current job, working 12 hrs a day etc, only because of a sense of loyalty to the company. Relax, I'm only was clearly for the money he was promised at the end of the year. Which he has now essentially been cheated out of. And what's more, he's being villainized for something he had nothing to do with! What does his situation have to do with questioning accountability?

Here's my problem with this public bloodbath: Yes, AIG did bad things. But the people that did those bad things were clearly only a fraction of the 400 people employees in this division. Why does everyone have to suffer as a result?

To use an obviously hyperbolic analogy - if one person in Company A was caught stealing money, would you send everyone employed by Company A to jail?

Ahsan: Well, I think that's a fair point, but it ignores the very obvious parallels to the entire crisis. In many ways, we've ALL been sent to jail because SOME people were caught stealing money. The U.S. economy is losing something like 700,000 jobs a month -- forget economies around the world in bigger trouble like Iceland and Spain.

I did not take a too-easy loan to buy a house whose price I thought I would continue to rise irrationally. I did not work at a financial institution that made that loan possible, nor did I work at a financial institution that leveraged that loan into godknowswhat to make a profit. I was not a regulator who continued to look away, nor was I a financial journalist or economist who saw no trouble with this house of cards (and I use that phrase in all senses of the term). And yet I, like many others who did nothing wrong whatsoever, am suffering from this crisis, because my wife is now working part-time with no health benefits, and I'm still at grad school, and our short and medium term future is not exactly secure.

So I guess my point is: we're all paying the price of other people's mistakes; the only difference between me and this AIG douche is that I wasn't paid a million dollars a year before the shit hit the fan to mitigate the effects of those mistakes.

JJY: Fine - not disagreeing with you there - we're all suffering. I am, given my reduced compensation, a little more directly than you are, but clearly not as terribly as your dear wife. I have a few thoughts in response - I'm going to put them down in numeric form so i can easily separate them and minimize rambling.

1) How does his having gotten paid before justify not paying him now? I agree it puts him in a better position than you, but who's to say he didn't generate enough value for his company / clients to not deserve being paid what he got paid? Moreover, he's obviously more directly affected than you or your wife, because he was guaranteed a sum of money, which he didn't receive (or did receive and is being asked to return). While your wife obviously lost something, I don't think she was explicitly robbed, which he clearly was.

2) I don't understand why the first set of people you mention - those that took the too-easy loans, are not suffering from nearly the same amount of ire as the people working on Wall Street. Your thoughts?

3) How come the public was okay with the $175 Billion, or for the sake of easier, $175,000 Million outlay to AIG, but has raised such a (comparatively) ridiculous hue and cry about the $165 Million that employees of the firm were legally owed? Insert xkcd cartoon here.

4) How are people okay with a family making more than $250,000 a year, being taxed 90% of anything above that number? Not a single person, but a family. I'm not all that worried about the legislation for a few reasons: a) I'm not over the threshold (but I would be if I was married and my wife made anything comparable, so score another point for being single). b) If it does pass in the senate, it will be with many, many caveats that will render it essentially ineffectual. c) FIs will find a way around it - deferred comp, raised salaries/reduced bonuses, stock awards, etc.

But still, how are people okay with that number? $250,000 a year, for a family of 4 living in Manhattan, is really not that much money. Definitely not enough to be classified as executive compensation anyway. I mean, you know how expensive this city is, come the fck on.

Ahsan: We can talk about all of those issues, and frankly, I'm happy you put number 1 first up, because it's a convenient segue into something I wanted to talk about.

You write, "but who's to say he didn't generate enough value for this company/clients to not deserve being paid what he got paid"?

I want to discuss this point at some length, because (a) I don't think I understand it very well, and (b) what I do understand pisses the hell out of me. Bear with me as I talk about this, because you obviously know more about this than I do, and please correct me whenever and wherever you think it's necessary.

As I understand it, money is made by Wall Streeters by making more efficient use of their clients' money than would otherwise be the case. In other words, let's say I'm a gazillionaire and I'm stuffing it in my mattress at night. A trader or broker or whatever will make money by saying he could use that gazillion by sending it places where that money could be more useful than my mattress (say a new business), and that that money will be so much more useful there, that it will be worth more: a gazillion is now effectively worth 1.1 gazillion, and the Wall Streeter takes a cut of that additional 0.1 gazillion.

Here's the problem, as I see it, with that framework: that bump up in value is purely arbitary and in the eyes of the beholder. It's not real in any sense of the word. We don't know that my 1 gazillion is now worth 1.1 gazillion, we're estimating it. And the problem with those estimates, as we have seen, is that they can be incredibly wrong-headed.

So, in effect, the Wall Streeter is not paid for actually making money for his client. He is paid for the promise-cross-my-heart of making money for his client. And those promises, while the product of smart analysis most of the time, can collapse under their own weight.

The problem, for me, with Wall Street compensation -- which is so out of whack from everyone else's experiences -- is that people are given money for moving money. And it's not just that they're given money, it's that they're given boatloads of money. Money people like me in academia can only imagine.

JJY: Completely agree with everything you've said, including people not understanding them making so much - most of the time, I don't either. But...

Simplifying things, let us for the moment, ignore M&A and Financing and focus just on portfolio managers, or their sexier, unregulated avatar, hedge fund managers. Typically, in the good old days (of 2007), HF managers would charge a client 2 + 20, which means the charge is basically 2% of total assets, plus 20% of profits above a certain threshold (typically Libor, but it varies significantly). Point of reference: in my experience, old school Smith Barney type asset managers generally charge more nominal fees, like 1% of assets, while something like Vanguard (mutual funds) is even lower depending on the kind of fund.

So, that being said, depending on your risk profile and contingent on the amount of cash you have, you can invest in anything from a simple savings account in a bank, which would pay you a guaranteed 2% or so a year (not anymore - it's under 1% now I think), to a hedge fund, where the risk/reward payoff, and corresponding fees to the manager of your monies, is much higher. That is a decision made by you, which you will make in your best interests.

Here's my question then: If 100 people decided to invest 1 million dollars each with George Soros, knowing what they were getting into, and he made them 100K each, then what's wrong with him taking 20% of the profits, given that it was his stated fee structure from the very beginning? Is it a ridiculous sum of money? Of course. Does he deserve it? Why not?

Similarly, if an FI or Equities trader makes his company $100MM, why shouldn't he be entitled to 2% of that? In all honesty, I'm not sure what compensation ratios are for traders so I'm not going to guess, but you see my point, yes?

And I understand your frustration with implied value vs. realised value - but that's not always the case. Often money is actually made, e.g., with the buying and selling of stock, or even in the case of buying a company, tearing it down to it's individual assets, and then selling them for huge profit.

Basically, these people are getting paid for realizing the value of something better than anybody else does. Discovering a bargain, so to speak.

On the flip side, in the case of certain products, you're right in saying that the value is implied. In that case, if the transactions are long term, while they're definitely in the money today, they may very well not be tomorrow. Therefore, it's important to tie the compensation paid to the folks who made those transactions to the long term returns on said transactions, and not just the short term profits. Only, since firms had never been burned to this extent (LTCM notwithstanding...or maybe people just forget), it just didn't occur to them. It's entirely possible we'll see bonus escrow accounts in the future, where traders will have to return bonuses awarded them if decisions they made in Year 1 result in losses even in Year 3 or Year 5. I'm really interested in seeing how this situation unfolds.

I think it's often easy to impute the value-added by some of the people mentioned above, which is why it's easier to pay them. However, with a doctor, or a fireman, how do you quantify their value add? Do I think doctors deserve to make more than bankers - absolutely! But how do you determine what their services are worth?

Another point I've been wanting to make - people go on and on about how much bankers get paid and how it's ridiculous. What about entertainers? Does Kobe deserve $20mm a year for putting a ball through a hoop? Or worse still, Tim Thomas for not even succeeding in doing that? Or worst of all, reality TV stars, like Anna Nicole Smith and Jade Goody, may their souls rest in peace; why are their pay packets justified? And what about lawyers? Shouldn't our legal systems be simple enough that we be offered due process in court without having to dish out millions of dollars in the process?

On the other hand, why do teachers, one of the most important cogs of a progressive society, get paid so little? I think compensation structures are deeply flawed in society as a whole, and it's definitely not just Wall Street centric, which people often tend to forget.

Ahsan: I definitely agree with that last point. The W once told me that Paris Hilton gets paid $20,000 to show up at a party. The whys and hows of that somehow go over my head.

I want to make one last point about Wall Streeters' compensation and then move on. You don't necessarily have to reply to this, but I want to make the point nonetheless.

What really gets me is the complete obliviousness that they tend to show. Not a rule -- it is clear from your comments that you, for instance, know that by virtue of working in finance, you are paid high sums of money relative to the rest of the population -- but often enough. One thing that has struck me during Bonusgate is that these people think making many many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and then being paid a bonus is normal. It's almost like: "what? Why're you looking at me like that?" when they have goddamn ketchup all over their face. They simply have no idea. And the self-serving nonsense about how they work harder and "deserve it" is utter crap. The guy who lays bricks on the CTA red line station at Belmont (which is my stop, and it's an above-ground stop) in -25 Celsius weather works his ass off, ok? The really smart high school teacher who's realistic ceiling for a salary is about 50-60k is extremely bright, ok? So let's drop this "we're smarter and we work fucking hard" crap. It's incredibly insulting.

One thing I think you might find interesting is academics' compensation. In many ways, academia -- that bastion of left-wingism -- is more market-oriented than Wall Street. Let me explain.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of academic jobs in the West: teaching jobs and research jobs. Almost always, teaching jobs are lower paying than research jobs, for reasons that will become clear.

A teaching job is one where you have a relatively heavy courseload -- around 5-6 courses a year, at least. It is usually at a smaller school, the type of place you and I went to college. And because you end up teaching so much, you get very little time to pursue your own research -- maybe just in the summer, if that.

A research job is one where you teach less -- maybe 3-4 courses a year at the most -- and are expected to produce top-notch scholarschip. These schools are usually bigger in terms of the student body, and the interaction between professor and undergrad is almost wholly replaced with interactions between TAs and undergrads. You get time to produce your own work.

Why does this distinction matter? It matters because scholars are almost wholly dependent on the quality and quantity of their published work to advance in their field -- even at teaching schools.

Let's say I get my PhD in 2012. In the fall of 2011, I would go on the market, and (hopefully) be asked to visit various schools to give a "job talk", where I basically talk about my dissertation and what contributions it makes to the field.

Let's say I impress the people at one of these job talks enough such that they give me a tenure-track job. A tenure-track job is one, as the name suggests, where I can potentially get tenure 5-6 years down the road IF I produce good work (and am a good professor). The key is the quality of my production: in those 5-6 years, I have to have produced at least one book and a number of published or publishable articles. And these works have to be well-received by the rest of the field.

So you see how market-oriented it is? You rise only if peers and competitors, after much deliberation, think you're worth it. Otherwise you sink.

Another point: salary raises. In most jobs, such as the one you have, raises are somewhat built into the compensation structure. So the assumption is that your salary will rise x% every year or every two years. Academia is very different. You can only really negotiate pay raises if there's competition for your services.

So, let's say I am a professor at ABC college and within the subfield of IR and Comparative Politics, I suddenly write a kickass book on ethnic conflict. Well, the good people at XYZ college see this, as do the people at PQR college, and both come in with offers. They want to make their Poli Sci departments more attractive, and they'd like someone in ethinc conflict to be there. So they email me, and tell me they'll give me tenure (if I don't already have it at ABC) and a raise.

The problem is, I don't want to leave ABC. For one, my wife likes it here. For another, XYZ is in a small town, and PQR is in the South. So I go to the dean and the chair of my department at ABC, and tell them: "look, I have other offers. This is what they're prepared to give me. Are you prepared to match?" And given I've just written a kickass book on ethnic conflict, they invariably are. So I get a raise, and tenure, and a new office.

So in effect, academia is one of the most market-oriented professions out there. It doesn't matter what you think your skills are. It matters what everyone else (i.e. the market) thinks your skills are. And you only get raises and job security if your market value rises, and never otherwise.

JJY: This will be a very short reply: I think people at a more senior level in investment banks, consulting firms, etc, do exactly what you describe (only the pay may be structured slightly differently - guaranteed bonus instead of a salary raise). The annual raise etc, is much more prevalent at the analyst / early associate stage, when you're just one of many in a "program". Bonuses are also standard at that level, although tiered, so better employees are still compensated accordingly, but definitely not according to scale, i.e., if as an investment banking first year analyst, you really suck - your bonus will be $60K, while if I was the star of my program, I wouldn't make more than $80K. Is the $60K too high? Absolutely. Is the $80K unjustified? I'm not as sure...

And I have a slight issue with your "they think they deserve it because they work sooo hard." That's not it all - the truly obnoxious ones believe that they're actually underpaid because of the absolutely immense VALUE they add to society. They really do. But most of them (us?) don't. We understand that we're paid higher than the average bear, but at the same time, the pay is what drives people to banking in the first place. It's almost a bribe to give up your real dreams and aspirations. For some, anyway. Others just enjoy it because it allows them to be the tools they've always yearned to be. Bottles and models, baby!

Anyway, let's move on to the remaining points from my email at 4:12PM - or, to be more exact, your thoughts on those points.

On a different note, I really enjoyed your post on informal sports btw. It's something we've obviously known, internalized, and participated in for ages, but it was nice to see it in writing. and good writing, at that.

Ahsan: Alright. Your second point is why is there no ire directed at people who took out too-easy loans to buy houses whose potentially increased value they used as a credit card to buy flat screen plasmas when they made 40k a year? Is that a fair characterization of that point?

My best guess is that those people have suffered enough: they've lost their homes and their livelihoods and can no longer afford to send their kids to college, if they ever could in the first place. The difference between that, and Wall Streeters still living it up on company escapes to resorts and getting million dollar bonuses, is obvious and stark.

But I agree that the culture of excess and easy credit and not saving for a rainy day have not received enough attention.

JJY: Isn't much further one can go with this. Fair enough is all I have to say - our exchanges have been disappointingly lacking in argument. It's funny how closely aligned our views are, but we still seem to be on two sides of a dividing line...albeit within touching distance of each other.

Wait, does that sound weird? You know, I bet that if I had never met Farooq, that thought wouldn't even have occurred to me.

Ahsan: Your third point was on the bonuses, and why such a hue and cry was raised over 0.1% of the federal bailout to AIG. Again, I think there's a very easy and compelling explanation: one was framed as serving the greater common good (the bailout) and the other (the bonuses) was framed as excess and greed of people whose excess and greed in large part is held as one of the major reasons for this crisis

JJY: But goshdarnit that just ain't right.

Ahsan: Are you smoking a joint at work right now? The quality and length of your responses has dropped off considerably.

JJY: Hahaha. Just left work. Let's continue this tomorrow. Didn't really have much to add, is all.

It just feels like a lynching you know...its the only reason I'm defending this largely douchy selection of folk. So what if they're rich - its sill not fair.

Ahsan: [The next day] I'm going to sidestep your 90%-bonus-tax point because we've been talking about these issues quite a bit and it's already been sort of covered. I want to switch gears for a second, and ask you about politics.

Now, it's a well-known fact that rich people vote Republican. It is also a well-known fact that big cities vote Democrat. How is that tension resolved on Wall Street? Is it a fair assessment when I say younger people that you know on Wall Street (say, younger than 35) voted for Obama and people in more senior positions voted for McCain?

JJY: Without generalising too much, that seems fairly accurate. I think Obama made it really hard for rich people to vote for him. Young people, primarily for the following two (fairly obvious) reasons, still voted for him: 1) they're not as rich...yet & 2) they still have a few dregs of idealism left that haven't yet been entirely wiped out by the cynicism of age/working in finance.

However, while I know zero senior people who voted for Obama, I do know a few young people who voted for McCain. Perhaps they're more forward-looking? And I'd move the definition of "younger" from 35 to around 28 or 30.

Ahsan: Another reason to hate Wall Street.

What do you think of Obama and his team's efforts to get out of this crisis?

JJY: I'm not going to let your negativity get me down. I'm a lifer, baby!

But that aside, I did want to share one of my favorite aspects of Wall Street with you. So, pretty much every group, in every bank has an annual "Volunteer Day." This is where we go out and do nice things for the not-as-fortunate folk in the community around us, after which, we all hit up a dive bar and bask in the glow of our feel-goodness, play beer pong, and in general, feel like men (and women) of the people. The activities themselves are more often than not, fairly useless, e.g., painting murals on walls of elementary/middle schools, planting trees and well, plants, in the already well-maintained park at Washington Square, and I should have had one more example but last year's was sadly cancelled because the person who organizes these things just had too much real work to do. That may not sound so bad, and even though we're not helping all that much, at least we're helping, right? But here's the kicker - we pay to do these things. Citi actually pays organizations to let us plant plants and paint murals. How about we just give the money to a charity organization, and stay in and do the work we're paid to do. Stupid "managing public perception."

As for Obama's efforts - to be honest, I'm not sure I have an opinion. I mean, I obviously think the 90% tax is ludicrous, but I don't know if I'm qualified to make judgments on the amounts/nature of the bailouts and to what extent they're going to alleviate the current situation. I'm just trying to understand it as we go along. That being said, what's your take?

Oh, one other point I wanted to make - I think it's really idiotic that the media takes comparatively small items and makes a huge deal out of them, sometimes resulting in an even stupider outcome than the original. Take the Citi corporate jet fiasco, for example. Now that was something agreed to a couple of years ago, and while it's obviously unfortunate timing, reneging on the order and extending the lease of the current jet/paying for it's maintenance, will actually end up costing Citi more than it would have if the firm had just gotten the new jet. I know it's an easy target, and serves as a great avenue for directing public ire, but shouldn't the media be held to some sort of standard to promote rational behavior?

Ahsan: Obama is not responsible for the 90% tax, Congress is. In fact, Obama has expressed reservations about that measure, though he did exhort Geithner to use any legal means possible to get the AIG bonuses back.

It's hard to say anything meaningful about Obama's plan(s) to mend the economy, only because these are highly technical issues on which very few people have expertise. I do my best by reading a number of economists' blogs, from across the ideological spectrum (read both Krugman and Mankiw, for instance) and yet I still find myself fumbling in the dark on many of these issues.

What I would say is that, at least in this point in his presidency, I trust Obama to hear from all sides on an issue and give every idea a fair hearing. Unlike his predecessor, he is an empiricist, not an ideologue. He's not going to fudge the intelligence on this, so to speak.

I would also say I wholeheartedly support Obama's focus on energy and healthcare. Many seem to suggest (the David Brooks of the world, for instance) that the Obama team is biting off more than it can chew, and should concentrate only on the crisis. I'm with Rahm Emanuel on this point: you should never let a crisis go to waste. If now is the only time that Obama is going to be able to get serious and much-needed reform on America's healthcare system (which is truly an abomination for a rich country), and refocus attention on the relationship between the environment and sustainable growth, then so be it.

In a few months, almost irrespective of what happens, Obama's popularity will have declined, and he would find it harder to get these big-item things on the agenda. This is the mistake Clinton made in his first term: waiting. When you wait, you lose. Now's the time.

To go to your point on the media, completely agree. But it's hard for the media to promote rationality when they themselves are so irrational. I instantly lose respect for a person if I find out they watch news or news shows on TV (Jon Stewart doesn't count). If you're getting your information and opinion from that lot, you're in trouble. Newspapers and blogs are the way to go.

Of course, newspapers are dying, so there's that problem.

JJY: Speaking of responsible journalism, especially the print kind, I received an offer from the New Yorker yesterday where I could get a year's subscription for $.40 an issue. Considering the fact that the New Yorker is my favorite print publication, I should have been delighted, but instead, I just felt sad; the kind of sad one feels when Free Willy is trapped in the net with nowhere to go, or when ol' Sidney pops off to do his "far, far better thing" than he has ever done, etc.

As for the "waiting" strategy - would it be presumptuous, and more importantly, unwise for a president to adopt an 8-year strategy/agenda as opposed to a 4 year one? This isn't directed at Obama because, quite frankly, he's landed himself smack dab in the middle of arguably America's greatest economic crisis, and I think he's perfectly justified in using the crisis to drive long-overdue reform on healthcare and the environment.

Diverting from our main topic for a quick second, I wanted to get your thoughts on the swamp that is America's healthcare system. Why are healthcare costs in the States so ridiculously high? Is it:

a) the for-profit driven insurance companies?

b) a resulting overly complex/expensive administrative system?

c) pharma companies charging ridiculous amounts for prescription drugs?

d) doctors having to pay absurd insurance rates to keep ambulance chasing lawyers at bay?

e) all of the above and then some?

Healthcare in India, while comparatively inferior, is so ridiculously cheap, that there is still a huge gulf between price per unit of quality medical service. For example, my family dentist in Bom charges me nothing for check-ups because he's my family dentist. But even if he wasn't, I think his charges are approximately ~40 USD. I messed up my insurance when I went to a dentist in New York, and I was charge ~$300 for a regular cleaning. Another, even more ludicrous example - I got the same X-Ray with the same machine in Bom and New York, and the respective costs were $15 vs. $105. Even after adjusting for purchasing power, and perhaps a more expensive x-ray technician/nurse, I don't think the two costs are even close to comparable. Wtf?

Also, to address most of the points in you make in your email, yes, Obama rocks. He's a fair, rational, well spoken, and incredibly intelligent individual who can be relied upon to listen to any and all sides of an issue before making a decision. Even if it's 3am when his phone goes off.

Lastly - if you had to pick between spending a week on a deserted island with either Obama, Jon Stewart, Michael Jordan, or any Victoria's Secret model, whom would you choose?

Ahsan: On the healthcare question, I think it's a mix of (a) and (b); the other two are logical implications of the first two points. The fact of the matter is that the U.S. spends significantly more per capita on healthcare for decidedly worse outcomes (shorter life expectancy, greater infant mortality etc etc) than other Western countries. There are close to 50 million people without any health insurance at all, and more tens of millions who are underinsured (i.e. those who cannot afford to have anything seriously bad happen to them because the truly bad stuff is not covered). For the richest country in the world, that is a goddamn joke, and a sick one at that.

But even your points (a) and (b) are logical implications of a grander point: the fact that healthcare in America is fully privatized (except for Medicare and the emergency room, but those are minor exceptions). One hopes Obama corrects this imbalance before his four or eight years are up.

Your dentists stories are crazy. Everyone has a crazy healthcare story in this country. That should tell the leaders of this country something.

On the journalism point, it's scary how good the New Yorker is. There is no better reporting or writing done anywhere else. For breadth of coverage, the Economist is very good too. The NYT Sunday Magazine is also good, if inconsistent.

Time and Newsweek suck balls. Those two publications, along with USA Today and the Wall Street Journal (right wing trash) need to be dispensed with.

As for your Obama vs. Stewart vs. Jordan vs. VS model question, I have a clarification question. Are we assuming I'm still married in this scenario?

JJY: Haha, I'm surprised that it even came to that, but I'll play along. No, you're not.

Ahsan: Then the VS model (Alessandra Ambrosio), no question. The difference between watching the Daily Show on the one hand versus talking crap with Stewart for a week on the other is MUCH smaller than the difference between, uh, perusing a Victoria's Secret catalog and having my way with dear Alessandra for a solid week. The Jordan option is kind of stupid, because I really would have nothing to say to him, and him me, because I'm much more intelligent than he is, and we have nothing in common. The Obama option is tempting to be sure, but not as tempting as this.

You? (You can change Jordan for Tendulkar or Dravid in your case, or even Fabregas).

JJY: See, here's the thing I hate about answering these deserted island questions: what on earth makes you think Alessandra will let you have your way with her? Yes, you'll have a week alone with her, so after a few days she may sleep with you out of desperation alone, but the odds of even that aren't all that high. Smoking with either Obama or Stewart on the other hand, is a guaranteed good time.

Anyway, if I had to set up my ideal desert island scenario, the choices would probably be Obama, Stewart, one of Bergkamp/Henry/Fabregas, and one of Aniston/Portman/Elsa Benitez. (Note: I've left Stockton off this list because I think he'd be incredibly boring. Also, I didn't think it would be pair to pick the entire Indian political much as I would have loved to have stood there and shot every one I deemed not worthy of political office).As far as the soccer players go, I'd pick Fabregas over Henry and Bergkamp, and then spend the whole week trying to fervently convince him to spend the rest of his career at Arsenal. With regards to the gorgeous women, I'd probably go with Portman, simply because she's intelligent as well, and I'd probably have the best shot of wooing her with my razor sharp wit, brilliant sense of humor, effusive charm, and boyish good looks. Not to mention the whole being hung like a horse thing, but that would impress the other two as well, so it's not really relevant to the point I'm trying to make. Just thought I'd throw it out there...

Having narrowed the finalists down, I'd have to go with Portman. I think I could marry that girl.

Also, I think that's a fantastic note/image on which to end what has been an immensely entertaining series of exchanges. I look forward to the paradoxical combination of intelligent/ludicrously over the top comments that are sure to follow.

As always, it has been a pleasure.

Ahsan: Dude, are you fucking kidding me? OF COURSE she'd sleep with me. I'm not even going to bother arguing this point. If that crater-face Seal can get Heidi Klum to let him bang her for the rest of their lives, I think I have a pretty good shot with Alessandra.

And yes, it's been fun. You might even get a regular reader or two out of the entire exercise.

You can read JJY's blog here.


somethingrichandstrange said...

thanks for posting the conversation. pretty educational.
on another note, for your links for the week post, you should definitely feature adil omar:
listen to his song 'islamabad' if you need convincing.

C.J said...

@ Ahsan- Investment banking,was once among the most coveted and highest-paying fields on Wall Street but now it is thing of the past.I repeat past, now old glory.Trust me,bankers are now more worried in saving their jobs rather than getting compensation .So, I don't know why you are holding grudges against them. Also, I am not justifying the executive compensation to AIG folks.I am only trying to say that the golden age of investment banking is over.

You forgot that professions such as surgeons or lawyers make much more money than bankers. Both my brother and sister and their spouses are surgeons and corporate lawyers and they make much more than my friends who are working in Mckinsey and Goldman Sachs. How much do you think Victoria secrets models -Giesele and Heidie Klum, producer of Project Runway and Tyra Banks or Padmalaxmi are paid?

You are wrong about academicians. They make money by writing books, winning noble prizes or working as consultants or offering their expert opinions on important policy matters and even in the field of political science,we have example of Fareed Zakaria. You forgot about the respect these academicians enjoy.Money is not everything.

Ahsan said...


Well, at least you've stopped perusing our archives looking for my dumb predictions.


A couple of points. On the supermodels and TV celebrities being paid a lot point: that's true, but one thing we're forgetting is that they (especially supermodels and athletes) have a very limited time frame in which they earn money. By age 35, 99% of them are done. The same is obviously not true of finance people. But I take your larger point, which is that many people are paid better than even financial services people.

On the second point, *of course* money isn't everything. I completely agree with that -- if I didn't, I wouldn't want to become an academic.

But surely you will concede that if writing a best seller and winning a Nobel is the only way an academic is going to make big money, then those options are fairly limited (especially when you consider that in the social sciences, only Economics as a Nobel prize).

But the point is worth reiterating: financial reward is not nearly the most important thing in a career (though it is not completely unimportant either).

Asfandyar said...

Another thing about the comparison between bankers being overpaid and why a witch-hunt hasn't been conducted re: entertainers etc:

They don't, in the process of trying to make more money, destroy people's 401k's.

It's not JUST about being overpaid, it's about being overpaid and being astonishingly reckless. There's a massive difference, and trying to defer the blame on being overpaid by bringing up entertainer/sportsmen cards is embarrassing.

Not to mention that bankers are hardly in the limelight with what they're being paid - i.e if Paris Hilton is wasted and passed out, you'll hear about it in the newspapers. Not likely with some of the overpaid investment bankers and the like though, is it?

AKS said...


The AIG bonus issue is not only inconsequential (in light of the gargantuan bailout) it may also prove detrimental. If the US government continues its public persecution of corporate executives then nobody worthwhile will want to work for the bailed out companies. If that happens, and I would imagine it already is, then who the hell is going to efficiently manage the government's trillions?

Surely its in the government's best interest to lure top notch executives from companies that are well run (places like Google) by paying them good money rather than scaring them away with a witch hunts and salary caps.

@ C.J.

In the good old days (circa 2007) corporate lawyers were not making more money than investment bankers. They were paid well but no where near the kind of money that investment banker would earn.

A first year associate at a top law firm in NYC would've earned around US$150,000 + bonus. This may seem like a lot more than a first year investment banker until you realise that this lawyer is 28 and has just spent 3 years at law school. And his bonus isn't likely to be astronomical either.

A 28 year old investment banker would've been swimming in money.

As for senior partners at big name law firms, you never see them on any rich lists, but you always have a couple of crazy wall street punters (henry kravis for one).

And the part about surgeons making serious money is bollocks.

C.J said...


I know that academicians in the field of social sciences can win noble prizes only in economics but even in the field of political science; we have celebrities such as Condoleezza Rice, Gordon Brown, Martin Luther King Junior, Shashi Tharoor, and Fareed Zakaria. Supermodels used to have short lived career but not anymore. Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, Kate moss, Cindy Crawford- all have become successful entrepreneurs, produce their own shows, are highest earner on prime time television and have their own clothing, furniture or perfume line. Of course one’s perception of a celebrity could be quite different to another’s.

It is easier to target bankers and bonuses to fat cat executives these days but you forgot about $500k that Obama got in his book deal five days before taking office in January. Coming back to the AIG topic, I don’t know whether you have heard that few AIG executives because of this scandal have returned their bonuses not because of ethics but because of fear of their security. Moreover, the $163 million that AIG paid in bonuses pales before the $173 billion bailout that the US government gave to AIG and It is surprising that you are treating all bankers including executives on equal footing. Not all bankers are recklessly paid and not all companies pay huge compensation.Also,I was talking about entry level bankers who are first busy in paying off the huge loan they take for doing MBA. Everyone talks about the lavish lifestyle and spending habits of CEOS -Mansions of Jack Welch and Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit's townhouse in Park Avenue but again these people are CEOS.Bankers are not any more envied; they are either ridiculed or sympathized.

@ Aks- Entry level Associates in Investment banks and in consultancies used to get more or less same salary in 2007 which a law associate working in MCK or Deloitte was getting but I agree
compensation of associate bankers are much higher than lawyers.John Edwards,who ran for presidency this year was one of the most richest lawyer.As a medical negligence lawyer,Senator Edwards amassed millions of dollars before embarking on his political career.

In USA, Orthopaedic surgeons and Cardio thoracic surgeons make close to one million dollars per annum in private practice.

Anonymous said...

@ Ahsan

In this deserted island scenario would Alessandra know she is only going to be there for a week? If yes, then that greatly reduces your already very slim chances.

Also, are you implying you would not hit on Alessandra if you were stuck on a deserted island with her if you were married?

Ahsan said...


I'm a very charming guy. Trust me, she would stand no chance in resisting my advances.

And to your second question, yes, that is what I am implying. Is that so unbelievable?

Anonymous said...

i love how ask if you're married in that situation, but not if she's still engaged with a kid.

JJY said...

hahahaha. No shot, Ahsan. No fucking shot.

Ahsan said...


Haha fair point, my response would be that just because some people are into monogamy doesn't mean others are, does it?

Mosharraf said...

What a great post.

Shame about JJY's obvious intellect being invested in the defense of an enterprise that is, at its core, immoral, and unproductive. Bankers, innocent, naive or shameless, take your pick, have no answer to the issue of implied or assumed value, versus real value. And in fact, Paris Hilton offers real value. She makes people smile, laugh, cry or horny, depending on the chemicals you're on. But what real value do bankers generate?

The smart kids at college, even ones who were majoring in history, but still went to Wall Street ended up learning jack all from the East Asian crisis in 97-98. The ones at school today won't learn jack from this one. Largely this can be attributed to the shamelessness and immorality of the Gordon Gecko ethic that is not only tolerated at colleges and later at banks, but actively stoked. With such deep and desperate levels of public apathy, its no wonder that the sheep are being taken to the butchers over and over again.

They screw you with the mortgage, the insurance, the charges on using your ATM, your credit card APR and every little other place. And then they take your taxes, and tell you everybody deserves to get paid for a hard day's work.

An unmitigated outrage.

JJY said...

Btw, I just wanted to say that when I wrote: "But goshdarnit that just ain't right." I was saying it like Sarah Palin in my head, and it sounded hilarious.

In writing, it just looks idiotic.

Damn it.

Anonymous said...

@ Ahsan, You may want to read this
With Finance Disgraced, Which Career Will Be King?

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