So This Is What It’s Come To: Scraping By On 350K A Year.

Most of the time I am an easygoing and happy guy as you can see from the handsome full-color avatar to your right.  But lately something has been annoying me, so allow me to emote for a bit.

In the years since 9-11, there has been a lot of discussion and theories as to what is the greatest threat to the American way of life. These theories run the gamut from reasonable to conspiratorial, and include (but are not limited to) such villans as big government, corporate greed, international terrorism, rogue states, and political cabals.

However, I tend to view the answer to this question in the context of what the noted British historian Arnold Toynbee was once quoted as saying…

“Great civilizations are not murdered.  They commit suicide.”

Right now I believe that this country is slowly committing suicide as a significant segment of our population are turning into “ass-hats.”

Now you might know the term “ass-hat” as describing a sprawling type of tattoo, (for some reason often composed of thorny roses), that is located right in the small of a woman’s back.  That woman is usually very toned and often works in an establishment with a number of floor to ceiling poles.  I have no issue with that type of ass-hat.

No, the type of ass-hats I am talking about are ones that were interviewed for the recent Bloomberg article, “Wall Street Bonus Withdrawal Means Trading Aspen for Coupons.”

The gist of this article was that because of the smaller bonus checks that Wall Street workers were receiving this year, many of them were having to make dramatic and “devastating” changes to their lifestyles.

You can see the pain that going from a high mid-six figure salary to a low mid-six figure salary can cause just from the following except…

Wall Street headhunter Daniel Arbeeny said his “income has gone down tremendously.” On a recent Sunday, he drove to Fairway Market in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn to buy discounted salmon for $5.99 a pound.

“They have a circular that they leave in front of the buildings in our neighborhood,” said Arbeeny, 49, who lives in nearby Cobble Hill, namesake for a line of pebbled-leather Kate Spadehandbags. “We sit there, and I look through all of them to find out where it’s worth going.”

Executive-search veterans who work with hedge funds and banks make about $500,000 in good years, said Arbeeny, managing principal at New York-based CMF Partners LLC, declining to discuss specifics about his own income. He said he no longer goes on annual ski trips toWhistler (WB), Tahoe or Aspen.

He reads other supermarket circulars to find good prices for his favorite cereal, Wheat Chex.

In the words of Colonel Walter E. Kurtz….. “The horror … the horror.”

But the patron saint of ass-hats in this article is Andrew Schiff:

Schiff, 46, is facing another kind of jam this year: Paid a lower bonus, he said the $350,000 he earns, enough to put him in the country’s top 1 percent by income, doesn’t cover his family’s private-school tuition, a Kent, Connecticut, summer rental and the upgrade they would like from their 1,200-square- foot Brooklyn duplex.

“I feel stuck,” Schiff said. “The New York that I wanted to have is still just beyond my reach.”

…..“I can’t imagine what I’m going to do,” Schiff said. “I’m crammed into 1,200 square feet. I don’t have a dishwasher. We do all our dishes by hand.”

….The family rents a three-bedroom summer house in Connecticut and will go there again this year for one month instead of four. Schiff said he brings home less than $200,000 after taxes, health-insurance and 401(k) contributions. The closing costs, renovation and down payment on one of the $1.5 million 17-foot-wide row houses nearby, what he called “the low rung on the brownstone ladder,” would consume “every dime” of the family’s savings, he said.

See my problem with the people in this article is not that they make more than 99% of the population; hey this is a capitalist society and as far as I am concerned you are free to make whatever the market will bear.

Nor am I upset by the fact that they don’t seem appreciative of the fact that they make more than 99% of the population. No, what upsets me is that they have their heads stuck so far up their own asses, that they don’t even understand how out of touch they are with the rest of the country.

Even if they were more like an ostrich, just burying their heads in the sand, oblivious to the plight of other less fortunate people, I could handle it.  But their total lack of self-awareness, evidenced by the fact that they would even allow themselves to be interviewed for this article (and in Schiff’s case, allow his photo to be published), is the true essence of an ass-hat.

And you can only get that way by feeling that you are entitled to something, as Schiff obliviously explains.

“I wouldn’t want to whine,” Schiff said. “All I want is the stuff that I always thought, growing up, that successful parents had.”

Perhaps I am getting cranky as I get older, but it just seems than more and more people I run into these days have that same attitude.

Not that they will prosper and surpass what their parents had by busting their ass, but that they will prosper and surpass what their parents had because they’re entitled to it.

A great example of this how this attitude manifests itself came up in a conversation I had with one of one of my co-workers recently.  He is a big fan of the show Antiques Roadshow, where people bring in their items and find out from a professional appraiser if they are worth anything.

He was going on about this recent episode where a lady bought a painting at a church flea market for twenty dollars and it turned out to be worth over a hundred thousand dollars.

“That lady got so friggin’ lucky.  Why couldn’t that be me?  Why couldn’t I have found a 100K painting?  That’s just bullshit!”

So I turned to him to him and said, “Well how would that work exactly?  Would somebody just knock on the door and offer to sell you the painting for twenty bucks?  Because last I remember, you weren’t getting up before dawn on the weekends and driving from garage sales, to flea markets, to estate sales in order to be the first one to see the available merchandise.”

“I don’t think I have seen you spending hours studying catalogs and reference guides to educate yourself on the value of items.”

“I can’t recall you risking thousands of dollars of your own money over the years, buying items that didn’t turn out to be valuable.”

“So unless you have decided to start doing those things, why don’t your just shut the fuck up, because you are not entitled to find a 100K painting by just complaining about it?”

Ok, maybe I didn’t exactly say that.  I mean I’m not a sociopath, but believe me, that’s what I wanted to say.

We have a lot of first-world problems in this county these days.  It’s a sign that we have accomplished so much as a civilization, but is also a sign that we have gotten soft.  It’s also why sophomore albums from most bands and movie sequels suck.

Often when you achieve a certain level of success and comfort, even if you had to work hard to get there, the temptation is to rest on your laurels and just go on auto-pilot.  You are no longer that scrappy, hungry underdog who was first looking to survive, and then prosper. You forget what got you to where you are and you become so self-obsessed that you complain in mass media outlets about struggling on 350K a year.

Having an entitlement attitude is an equal opportunity threat to this country.  It doesn’t belong to just one side of the political spectrum.  It can go across all cultural and socio-economic groups.  I am as equally disgusted with the person who made 30K a year, got a 95% LTV adjustable ARM to buy a million dollar house, and now expects the government to bail them out, as I am with the Wall Street crowd referenced above.

It may be half-time in America, but we better decide to pull our heads out of our asses, get off the couch, and get back in the game.

We want to be the U2 or Springsteen of countries; consistently re-inventing and pushing ourselves to new heights.  We need our second half to be better than our first like The Godfather Part II, not a piece of crap like The Hangover 2. Because if we can’t do that, we are destined to go down the same path as other great, but ultimately failed civilizations.

Wall Street Bonus Withdrawal Means Trading Aspen for Coupons (Bloomberg)

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23 Responses

  1. That seems like poor financial planning to me. I’ve been there, after a large increase in salary (better job, though nowhere near $200k) I went overboard with the spending as well so that I still ended up broke at the end of the month. Now I put at least half in my brokerage account, my quality of life hasn’t really changed. But that’s a lot of money that doesn’t benefit the economy ;)

  2. The Bloomberg piece annoyed me as well, but for different reasons. Schiff makes $350k. Sure, he and the others mentioned are unmitigated tools (one guy w/over $12k for dog walkers? wtf) but why is he even considered to be in the “affluent asshats face hard times’ category? Avg comp at Goldman is well above that. No, I see this is a distraction from the real affluent asshats, above 7 figures all. My take: http://outsidethe-cardboard-box.tumblr.com/post/18619776619/hard-times

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  4. That was a brilliant post, it’s truly unbelievable how detached these people must be (well maybe not literally truly unbelievable…).

    I also hate the way that people have suddenly started to expect the world without having to lift a finger, and get upset when they don’t get it. Where did this come from?

    Meh, whatever, I’ve probably got more important things to worry about! ;)

    • Thanks for the nice words. It’s okay to get upset about things every now and then, it’s how I come up with a lot of my post ideas :)

      Thanks for reading.

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  6. Even my wife, who does not read market stuff, sent me that article. It’s unreal. Try no electricity when your railroad father is on strike for a month and pinto bean soup for dinner weeks on end then pull your fiing pants up and get real. You are right, just internal killing of the real spirit of capitalism and America.

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