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When A Wall Street Bonus Is Really A Pay "Cut"

Bankers Bonus
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Bankers Bonus

There aren't a whole lot of places where an intelligent person can work hard, as in sixteen-hours-a-day for six or seven days a week hard, and make a boatload of money.

Wall Street is one of those places, and we should keep it that way.

With most jobs you "pay your dues" and gradually make more and more money as you get older. And you know what? That's great for most people. If we lived in a pure meritocracy, then the least talented 50% of the population would have a really rough time, and I just don't think that's fair.

But people should have the opportunity to work in a field that's as close as we get to a true meritocracy.

Now it's true that guys like Dick Fuld, Jimmy Cayne, and John Thain, just to name a few, have tarnished the image of Wall Street, making it look like a place where the very rich just make themselves richer without adding any real value. That may be the case at the very top of most of these firms, but we shouldn't let the chicanery of a handful of executives ruin things for everyone else.

When I was in college, all my artsy friends would look down their noses at the kids who wanted to be investment bankers just to make lots and lots of money. I always thought that was silly. If you believe that work should be about making money, not personal fulfillment or having a great time, then of course you should want to work at place where you can get paid a lot for your hard work.

There should be places that fill this meritocratic niche. Obviously mismanagement has already done a lot to kill off these jobs, but the last thing we need now is for politicians to come in and go after compensation on Wall Street, and I say this as a Marxist.

You want to raise the top marginal tax rate and make these people pay higher taxes, that's fine with me. But don't dismantle the system. Don't destroy these high-paying jobs just because of the word bonus.

I don't want to live in a world where we're compensated like government employees who get to clock out at 5PM every day, can't ever be fired, and don't make all that much money.

And let me add one more thing. The average "bonus" in 2008 was 44% smaller than in 2007.

Since bonuses make up a big chunk of people's salaries on Wall Street, that could amount to 25% pay cut, and not for the fat-cats at the top, but for the regular, if highly-paid, hard working white collar employees lower down on the ladder.

Can you imagine the outcry if workers in another industry were forced to swallow at 25% pay cut? The United Auto Workers certainly wouldn't be too happy with it.

But when we see that Wall Street bonuses were down 44%, we want to know why they were allowed to keep the other 66%. There's something wrong with that picture.

Questions? Comments? Send them to millennialmoney@cnbc.com