Wednesday, November 11, 2009
He never wants anything but what’s right and fair; only when you come to settle what’s right and fair, it’s everything that he wants and nothing that you want.
— Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown’s Schooldays
It is typical of the petty that they are inflamed by the news of what they perceive to be the inequitable distribution of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine. The inflammation occurred when it was learned that Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, among others, have been receiving doses of the scarce H1N1 vaccine. According to reports, as of November 2, 2009, Goldman had received 200 units and Citigroup had received 1200 units. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the vaccine must be given to those who are considered to be in the high-risk category of developing serious complications from the swine flu such as pregnant women and children aged 6 months to 24 years. That would not, obviously, include banks that were in mortal danger a year ago not from swine flu but from the consequences of their improvident behavior. Although it is obvious that banks might have within their ranks, individuals falling in the high-risk category, the fact of the delivery to the banks was perceived by some to be evidence of preferential treatment.
Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union said: “It’s obscene that Wall Street bankers think they are entitled to private shipments of H1N1 vaccinations while health-care workers, pregnant women, and other at-risk Americans are either waiting in line for hours or getting turned away because of shortages. She suggested the recipients should donate the vaccine they have received to local hospitals where it could be distributed to a more worthy population. (It is likely that Ms. Burger may have been motivated in part by the thought that poetic justice would be served if those serving at the banks were to perish from a disease with the name of pig.)
There were, of course, defenders of the distribution. Jessica Scaperotti, press secretary of the New York City Health and Mental Hygiene Department explained that the financial firms were not given preferential treatment. As she explained: “It’s not that they received it over someone else, it’s that they placed an order…This is not out of the ordinary. A lot of businesses hold vaccination programs for their employees. These locations are important vehicles for vaccinating people.” A Goldman Sachs spokesman reminded the critics that: “It is important to understand that the [New York City] Department of Health decides in its sole discretion who receives H1N1 vaccines—both the amount and timing. Goldman Sachs, like other responsible employers, has requested vaccine and will supply it only to employees who qualify based on the requirements laid down by the CDC and Department of Health.” In an e-mailed statement Citigroup offered a similar explanation saying in part: “The H1N1 vaccine is being provided through our clinics only to employees in high-risk categories as defined by the CDC.”
In all the discussion over whether or not the distribution has been fairly effected, one very important fact is not mentioned. The banks fail to mention it out of fear. The critics do not mention it because it would explain why the banks have received the vaccine ahead of others and would, if publicized, mute, if not emasculate, their criticism. The important fact is banks are receiving the vaccine because of their employees’ importance to the financial well being of the country. The banks survived a financial meltdown of gigantic proportions and were, almost to an institution, saved from financial collapse by a governmental bailout. Every day brings new evidence of the banks’ renewed vitality and none is more renewed than Goldman Sachs that not only paid back all the money it received from the taxpayers but is once again restored to profitability. Goldman Sachs announced plans to pay $16.7 billion in bonuses in 2009, the largest bonuses ever paid by that firm and $6.7 billion more than it had received scarcely a year earlier (and repaid) as a bailout package. When answering those who criticize the size of its bonuses, they explain that those bonuses must be paid in order to retain the extremely talented individuals who are responsible for their present successes and (this is mentioned less frequently) their earlier failures. These are people who would bolt if their bonuses were one penny less than the amount to which they believe themselves entitled because of their good work.
It would undeniably be a shame if banks that promised to pay more than $16 billion in bonuses in order to avoid losing their highly talented people to the competition, were to lose them instead to the Lord because of a killer virus named pig. When the critics realize this, I am confident their carping will come to an end and they will, instead, be filled with gratitude for all the banks have done for us.