Friday, February 20, 2009

Bloomie Touts Self Responsibility (Except for Bankers)

Reading about a certain MTA lawsuit recently really grinded my gears (to borrow a Peter Griffin phrase). It seems that some guy named Dustin Dibble thought that getting blitzed, falling onto the subway tracks, and getting hit by a train was not only someone else's fault, but worthy of a hefty lawsuit against the cash-strapped MTA. Now, don't get me wrong, the MTA is a highly mismanaged, dysfunctional, frustrating organization, but some things are out of their control, and drunk passengers is one of them. Dibble and his lawyer Andrew Smiley won big in court, as a jury awarded them over $2.3 million - money which will be paid ultimately by taxpayers and those who use public transportation in New York. As the MTA has all but cemented their plan to raise fares, this major setback will not help. And as our society becomes more litigous and people look to blame others for (mostly) their own shortcomings (like getting drunk and falling on the subway tracks), the MTA has paid more and more.

But this is not all. Bloomberg - looking at a chance to capitilize on some populism as anyone with a brain sees how this lawsuit is bull - came out saying that people need to be responsible for themselves. Read that sentence again, because self-responsibility is becoming a foreign concept. In any event, Bloomberg took the common-sense route in saying that Dibble's actions were stupid and the MTA (and, through the transitive property, the people of New York) should not have to pay for his mistakes. Dibble's argument in court was that the driver of the subway could have stopped in time (the driver of the car said that he thought Dibble was a large piece of trash on the tracks - take that as you wish). If the subway car had enough time to stop, wouldn't Dibble, a former college basketball player, have time to jump back up onto the platform?

So back to Bloomie: he looks like a populist, sticking up for subway riders who may have to shoulder the burden of one drunk guy's mistake (the case is on appeal now). But in reality, Bloomberg just a day before proposed something equally wasteful and stupid that cost more than 20 times Dibble's lawsuit. Bloomberg wants to use $45 million of taxpayer money to "to retrain investment bankers, traders and others who have lost jobs on Wall Street, as well as provide seed capital and office space for new businesses those laid-off bankers might create." That's right, you and me are going to help pay for college-educated former bankers to be retrained to join another employer in New York somewhere. I can think of a multitude of people to help before the well-off bankers with college degrees who helped run our economy into the ground, but apparently Bloomeberg can't. I guess that 30 Rock was not too far off in their portrayal of bankers?

But seriously, how much sympathy is there out there for these folks? They decide to go into a business that is inherently risky because with great risk comes great reward. They get paid almost 6 figures straight out of college to play with other people's money. Unfortunately for those who recently got onto the banking bandwagon, the risk came back to bite the firm in the ass and they had to be let go. It's bad enough that the federal government is bailing out every company facing hard times, but now the city of New York has to use more taxpayer dollars to target these bankers because they're so "special" and "talented". If they're so talented, why do their need to be retrained to do something? These people have college degrees, some have MBAs, so what about the poor people of the city? What about those who could not afford to go to college but want training to get a better job? I could be cynical and say that Bloomberg feels a special affinity for these people because he was one of them and it's their business that his Bloomberg L.P. has relied on (and will continue to rely on) through the years, but why speculate? Maybe he really thinks that those making 6 figures with advanced degrees who go into a job knowing they could be laid off at any moment but the money's too good to care about job security are the worst off in New York.

So while Bloomberg seems to support self responsibility and facing the consequences for one's actions in the Dustin Dibble case, when it comes to bankers being laid off from an inherently risky private sector job the government will be there to make sure they don't - GASP - leave New York. Because then we might have to divsersify the way the state makes money and not rely on Wall Street for it. But seriously, if you want the government to help these people out, let them go on the welfare rolls, let them get food stamps and live in public housing, because if you're poor in New York and have trouble finding work - and happen not to be recently laid off from a troubled bank - that's what you have to do because there is no special program for you. Peace.

Photos - Bloomberg (Time Magazine), NBC interns on 30 Rock after being laid off from the financial sector (Gothamist)