Tom Friedman made this observation but here’s some more documentation from the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/18/business/18pay.html?em
While Bernie Madoff was “making off” with his illegal Ponzi scheme, ignored by the SEC in spite of sufficient smoking guns everywhere, Wall Street, the banking industry, and mortgage brokers, went blithely along with it’s own “legal” Ponzi scheme:
* Borrowing cheap money courtesy of the Fed
* Lending it out with exotic mortgage deals, including nothing down zero interest rate loans, the interest being added to the principal, to borrowers of little ability to pay back the loans, except if real estate values pyramid to infinity
* Packaging these subprime mortgages into CMOs to be sold to gullible investors throughout the world – emphasizing their safety because of “diversification” and AAA debt ratings conferred by rating agencies, based on chimerical insurance contracts issued by under capitalized firms.
Everyone in the Wall Street food chain got rich. As the Times article pointed out, in 2008 “Merrill handed out $5 billion to $6 billion in bonuses that year. A 20-something analyst with a base salary of $130,000 collected a bonus of $250,000. And a 30-something trader with a $180,000 salary got $5 million.” The head mortgage trader for Merrill, Dow Kim, had a salary of $350,000 but with his bonus he “earned” $35 million.
But these riches were based on income that really did not exist, the profits that we, as taxpayers are now trying to restore to our financial system via the bonanza bailout program. Meanwhile, Bernie Madoff is allowed to stay out of jail, putting up “his” Manhattan townhouse as bail, bought with funds of his clients, and Wall Street wiz kids walk around with what is really taxpayer money.
“As a result of the extraordinary growth at Merrill during my tenure as C.E.O., the board saw fit to increase my compensation each year.” — E. Stanley O’Neal, the former chief executive of Merrill Lynch, March 2008