Alpha magazine’s annual list of the 25 highest-paid hedgies is out, and confirms the fascinating truth that there still are a lot of staggeringly high-paid hedgies out there—even if fewer than the year before. Atop the list, at an estimated $2.5 billion, is Jim Simons, who was one of the highest-paid hedgies before all this craziness began, which would seem to mean that he and all his fellow Ph.Ds out on Long Island truly do have some idea of what they’re doing. (Either that or they’re all making it up like Bernie Madoff, but somebody’s done some due diligence on that, right? Right!?!) Same with George Soros, who you would have thought was too busy writing op-ed pieces to make $1.1 billion last year.
I’m very curious whether these kind of paychecks are ever going to generate a political backlash. So far congressional outrage has been focused solely on bonuses (not even total paychecks) at firms that received government aid. When Simons, list No. 2 John Paulson ($2 billion) and a few other hedge fund managers appeared before Henry Waxman’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (which has since become Edolphus Towns’ House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform), in November, it was striking how little guff they had to take.
In the 1930s, it was all rich people who took it on the political chin. The top income tax rate rose to 79% (it passed 90% in the 1940s). Huey Long was calling for a cap on incomes of $1 million a year ($15 million in today’s dollars). For all the nonsense from the right about a war on the rich, what’s come out of the White House and Capitol Hill so far this crisis has nothing on the rhetoric, or the lawmaking, of the 1930s.
So I’m wondering: Is this because we’ve all become more economically sophisticated, and appreciate the important role that risk-taking financial institutions play in our modern economy? Or it just that things haven’t gotten bad enough for us to get really mad yet?
By the way, Alpha is coming out with an even more interesting list tomorrow: The eight-biggest hedge fund money losers of 2008.