Posted by Jay Livingston
Why do the Wall Street super-rich seem so dissatisfied. As a non-rich person, I like to think that I’d feel very satisfied if I had tens of millions of dollars or more; that I wouldn’t spend long days doing whatever it is that hedge funders or derivativistas do just to supersize my wealth; that I wouldn’t be disgruntled that my bonus from Goldman was a measly $11 million when the guy down the hall got $14 million?* (I actually heard such a story from someone who knows.) What could I do with $14 million that I couldn’t do with $11 million?
Obviously, my thinking about this was all wrong, and Halloween two years ago showed me why.
We took a little tour of the building to see what people on other floors were doing. (One family on thirteen made an elaborate haunted house out in the hallway.) We left the basket of candy on a small table.
Could anyone actually eat that much candy? Probably not. This was not about the inherent pleasure of Snickers. It was some sort of competitive game, and the candy was just a way of keeping score. Satisfaction came not from eating the candy but from the thrill of skirting the rules to get a lot of it and then from just having a lot of it for the sake of having it, or at least having more of it than other kids.
Are they any different from the super-rich? Well, yes. These twelve-year olds would not claim that what they do is virtuous or that it benefits all kids.
Maybe Wall St. should start giving bonuses in the form of Snickers, or better yet, lower-value currency like Necco Wafers and tiny boxes of Sun-Maid raisins. (More on candy rates of exchange here.)
* This earlier post argues that greed is not so much personal as institutional. Its sources lie not in the traits of the traders but in the structure of the Street.