Monday, December 18, 2006

Once Upon an X-mas Bonus...

It's conventional wisdom that we adjust our lifestyles to our income. We may not even be aware of doing it, but over time it happens one way or another. I have certainly found that to be true in my own life. I remember that in my mid-twenties I often lived off of $5/day... and I was a smoker too. Looking back, I don't see how that could have been possible. April 15 was always shocking. My yearly income hovered in the ten to thirteen thousand dollar range. For much of that time I lived with roommates, but I did live in my own apartment for two years. Rent was $300/month including utilities in an increasingly hip part of town. I didn't have the expense of a car... I walked or took the bus everywhere. I ate ramen noodles, spaghetti, and grilled cheese sandwiches. I drank beer whenever I could afford it, which was surprisingly often. Yet with all the hardships I can remember, I'm still able to muster a bit of nostalgia for those days of financial hardship.

Now I'm ensconced in my mid-30's. These are days of earnings. I'm professionally employed in a salaried position. I've got health insurance and a retirement plan. I drive a combined seventy miles/day, to and from work. My auto insurance company gets a nice chunk of change. My car requires a new set of tires every year, and breaks about every other. Gasoline fluctuates (obviously), but I tend to spend about $250/month at the pump. I own a nice house in a neighborhood that's part of one of the better school districts on this side of the state. It's an old home, and there's always something to fix or purchase new. I'm always discovering parts of the house that I never thought about before something broke down. Utility bills are often nasty. When I need a pick-me-up I drink $5 coffee drinks. If I go out on the weekend, I might sip fancy beers. I am able to enoy a few hobbies... creating and buying art, collecting books and DVDs, etc. I've even been able to sack some savings away (not this year though). But it's true... I really have adjusted to my income. I live pretty damn close to my means.

So what made me think about all this? Last Friday I heard that John Mack, CEO of Morgan Stanley Inc. , received a $40 million bonus (in stock and options). He's been with the company for eighteen months. How the F__K does someone adjust to that kind of increase? And what kind of yearly salary must he have to begin with?

I've often day-dreamed about coming into a large cash windfall, and never having to work again. I'd get up every day, and do exactly as I liked. If I felt inclined to do something productive, then all the better. But I wouldn't push myself through a day of work that I didn't enjoy. I figure at the absolute minimum... I could do this for the rest of my life on about $600 thousand. All I would need is a way to get at least a 6% return on my investment, and I could live off of the interest. In fact, in Western Pennsylvania that amount would provide quite a comfortable lifestyle. I wouldn't be buying a fancier house or car, but I wouldn't have to worry much either. But how would I ever get to that sum of money? At the rate of my BEST year of savings, it would take me more than one hundred years to build up that kind of nut. Of course, I would be long dead by then.

That kind of calculation is simply disheartening next to the reality that there is someone in this nation getting a $40 billion X-mas bonus. What possible motivation could Mr. Mack have for working a single day more at Morgan Stanley? It can't be that much fun running an investment house. I am sure there is all kinds of onerous BS to deal with. Or does this man completely lack imagination? Some people would be lost with a lot of free time. But damn... this guy can surely do whatever the hell he wants for the rest of his life.

I don't think I'd be capable of going through $40 million during the rest of my life. I would have to give a significant amount of it away to charity. Trying to exhaust my supply of wealth would be like a full-time job. I wonder how many thousands of working people could get the health insurance they lack for the sum of Mr. Mack's bonus. How many Ethopians could eat for a year on $40 million? Something is seriously rotten in the organization of a country (and the world) when a man receives this kind of "bonus".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas to you! Thank you for reminding me why I chose to retire from the work force when our household no longer NEEDED my income. Of course, at this time, as an American, I should say, "Sure the money was nice, but ... " But I'm not going to. I think it took all of one week to adjust to the different amount of income, but after five years, we're still giggling over the increase in the quality of life.

And I can't imagine what goes on in the head of someone who accepts a $40 million dollar "bonus." I don't know that I'd care to shake his/her hand, knowing that so many people do without basic needs.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Merry X-mas to you as well. Thanks for taking a moment to post a comment.

2:41 PM  

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