News & Politics

Rich Actually Doing Pretty Well in New Depression


Ward Harkavy’s The Smart Asset got there first, noticing the Times profile of a laid-off $240K/year (base pay!) lawyer and her upcoming world tour assisted by a paid sabbatical and “Lonely Planet travel guides.” (Ward observes that, unfortunately for the rest of us, “No such guides exist yet for ‘best unemployment offices,’ but that’s still an avenue open to marketers.”)

36-year-old Heather Eisenlord, like other associates at Skadden Arps, is getting $80K not to show up to work for a year, and expects to spend that time “a year teaching monks English, installing solar panels in the Himalayas and working on human rights in developing nations,” though we suspect she was just having fun with the credulous reporter.

Other Skadden associates were offered the same deal and assured their jobs would be waiting for them when they got back. One says he’ll go for his Ph.D, though if anyone now has a reason to believe education means much less than luck, it’s these guys. My Open Wallet reflects on the time “Random House offered its employees some sort of sabbatical program, but I don’t think you were paid if you took time off — keeping one’s benefits and being able to return to one’s job were considered good enough, I guess!”

Even this level of corporate munificence stuns us lowly journos, and perhaps some of our readers, too; the most we may expect when our services are no longer required is the company of a friendly security guard on the way to the exit.

Inspired by tales of bankers jumping from windows in ’29, we had hoped to see Masters of the Universe brought low in the New Depression, but apparently they, alone among us, remain a protected species, and are even encouraged to sit the bad times out on a hillside in Nepal. Shit, they even get to be artists after a suitable tenure of enriching themselves on Wall Street, and to claim that “the point of the Street wasn’t me trying to get rich. It was me trying to figure out who I was.” Louis Auchincloss would snort at this presumption, especially if got a load of the arbitrageur-artist’s gallery, the walls of which “are papered with scores of laminated obituaries, which have been clipped from The Economist magazine.” It’s as if his reward for helping to destroy the economy over the past decade has been a commission to ruin art as well.

Something’s very not-right about this. Can we even have a Depression without even a taste of class-war schadenfreude? Bernie Madoff just isn’t cutting it: most of the rich people he ripped off will probably not wind up living in a shelter or cleaning houses for a living. If we’re to get through these hard times without riots, some super-rich must be shown to suffer as we do, at least briefly. Otherwise we’ll have to go up there and push them out those windows ourselves.


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