True story…I’m at Cafe Metro on 46th and Lex grabbing some lunch on a recent weekday afternoon. The place is packed with lines of 5 or 6 deep at the salad counter, the made-to-order pasta kiosk and especially at the cash register.
In front of me is a well-dressed, middle-aged man with graying hair and glasses in a conservative navy blue suit. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything extraordinary about the man, just the typical “Suit” waiting on line in midtown with a chicken quesadilla for lunch.
Little did I know that there was something incredibly special and magical about this gentleman! You see, he knows the secret password to open all doors, have all wishes granted and receive every manner of special treatment, so long as he believes he is entitled.
How do I know this? Well, when Blue Suit stepped up to the register and placed his tray in front of the cashier, rather than take out his wallet or a $20 bill or a credit card or anything that resembled the currency us mere mortals are forced to exchange for goods and services, he simply parted his lips and said the magic word:
I kid you not, readers, he literally uttered the word “Citigroup” and his quesadilla was packed in a bag with plastic utensils and napkins, and he was out the door. No one asked him for ID or made a note anywhere of what he was eating that day. He just said “Citigroup” and bounced. I was on line to pay behind him with my own chicken quesadilla and a bottle of Diet Pepsi…cost to me as a non-Citigroup employee: $9.85 plus tax.
So here’s the point…I was all for the bank bailouts as a means of preventing systemic risk. Who wants to see bank runs and people hoarding money and precious metals in their safes? That said, the U.S. taxpayer, with an assist from the TARP Fund, has already given Citigroup, wait for it…$52 billion unearned dollars to save themselves, as well as a loss-sharing agreement on $306 Billion of the toxic sludge on their balance sheet. And because Citi has been such a phenomenally well-run enterprise to have found itself in the position of panhandling, we must also underwrite the lunches of it’s peerless employees, apparently, in the hopes that we can retain their services in the future.
Oh yes, we must make sure we retain the the incredibly brilliant legions of executives at firms like Citi, Morgan Stanley, AIG and B of A. And in doing so, we must spare no expense or extravagance. With $700 billion in TARP funds, does it really matter if $300 million or so is spent on things like employee restaurant tabs, hunting trips, bonus payments, monthly garage parking, spa treatments, free day care, paternity leave (yeah, they really offer that at bulge bracket firms), corporate retreats and fwee ice cweam cones to boost morale?
I can only imagine asking the owner of my firm for day care expenses. He’d say “You make plenty of money, pay for it yourself like everyone else does”. My firm is not on the TARP handout list; we operate in the real world and have to actually make money and care about things like risk. Citigroup and it’s ilk are asking for money in order to survive, yet they aren’t acting as though they actually need it. The bloated pigs are wasting capital and lavishing it on themselves in the form of bonuses and perks as if it were their own cash, and not yours and mine.
Watching this faceless corporate drone walk out with what I myself have to pay for, and knowing that he can only do so because my tax money is being misappropriated, well, I’ve changed my mind. Bring on the systemic risk. Let ’em all sink to the bottom of the sea. No one misses Drexel Burnham or EF Hutton and they won’t miss Citigroup either. Let the failed companies actually fail, and give me back my tax money so that I can choose which aspects of the economy to support with it.
And pay for your own quesadillas from now on, Citi employees…there should be no such thing as a free lunch.