It's a classic peasant mentality: going into fits of groveling and bowing whenever the master's carriage rides by, then fuming against the Turks in Crimea or the Jews in the Pale or whoever after spending fifteen hard hours in the fields. You know you're a peasant when you worship the very people who are right now, this minute, conning you and taking your shit. Whatever the master does, you're on board. When you get frisky, he sticks a big cross in the middle of your village, and you spend the rest of your life praying to it with big googly eyes. Or he puts out newspapers full of innuendo about this or that faraway group and you immediately salute and rush off to join the hate squad. A good peasant is loyal, simpleminded, and full of misdirected anger.
- Matthew Taibbi
I can still clearly remember back to my earlier analyst years, as much as I often do my best to forget about two of the most abusive, underappreciated, tiresome years that I had to endure immediately after my college years, years in retrospect I had wished I had spent less time worrying about .1 differences in, the amount of technical knowledge I had for interviews, and spent more time on things that are clearly luxuries today: a large number of young, fun-loving, beautiful girls in one place; irresponsible, memorable nights with friends, and copious amount of time to recover and sleep.
Throughout my time, I continued to ask myself day in and day out why I was where I was. Why put in over eighty hour weeks, hours that often could easily be condensed but managed to be unevenly spread between idly sitting and working so frantically that bathroom breaks were a luxury. Why sacrifice my social life during my early 20s in a city known for its vibrant culture and nightlife. And why behind our bosses' backs we would mock, deride, and criticize their very existence only to instantly bend over subserviently the moment they were in front of us with a request. We were in the freest nation in the world and yet we continued to live like peasants in a medieval world.
My cubicle mate and I often challenged each other a continuous basis on these very questions during our analyst stint. He was an Ivy League educated political science major who prided himself very much on being an academic at heart and clearly had larger ambitions than staring at anspreadsheet all day and fixing the formatting on Powerpoint slides.
Over the duration of what felt like a very long two year period, we gradually began to realize that all of us were there because we idolized those above us. We longed for the opportunity to one day become Managing Directors and Partners having our weekend summer houses on the shore, our SL 65 AMGs/ Audi R8/ Porsche GT Carreras, but most importantly sit on top of the corporate hierarchy where for once we would finally have a sense of autonomy over our lives.
Sitting at my desk at 1:00am on a Friday night, after furtively browsing the internet for a majority of the day, I hopelessly bury my head into my hands as I sit here making last minute changes to a presentation that was dropped on my desk late in the afternoon. My mind begins to wander off and I randomly end up back in college sitting inside my Medieval History class. Looking back, the one thing I will always be thankful for is that I received a well rounded liberal arts education. While my parents often pushed me towards a pre-professional degree like the pre-law, pre-med, and business administration majors that many of my friends would ultimately go for, I valued the importance of receiving an education that would allow me to think creatively and outside of the box rather than have me memorize formulas and learn case studies whose conclusions were actually quite dubious when faced with the test of the time.
No study of Medieval European History would've been complete without addressing the concept of feudalism.
Feudalism. The term immediately elicits images of kings in their vast, fortified castles, knights in their armor defending the land, and poor peasants working their land from dawn to dusk. Feudalism was a strict social hierarchy in Medieval Europe and was certainly an oppressive political and economic system from the tenth century that disappeared after the fifteen century.
Except that it hasn't.......
Feudalism's success wasn't due purely to the strict separation between the different classes, but rather the fact that the population ACCEPTED their standing in society. The American Dream's selling point is that hard work over a long period of time allows Americans to support their family and allow them the benefits of home ownership.
Except serfdom was often defined as serfs who were bound to the land which they worked to pay taxes to their lords.
In the past the idea that working hard and gaining admission to a four year college or university was the golden ticket to an upper middle class lifestyle.
Columnist Larry Beinhart described his college experiences in the 1960s where the cost of a college education was $400 a semester with several Regents scholarships providing covering the entire cost of the tuition. For the few that still didn't manage to land a scholarship, a summer job was often enough to cover the costs of tuition.
Fast forward to the 21st century and the cost of college education is significantly different. The average cost of public state universities is now about $7605. However readers of this site are well aware that state colleges fall under a pejorative label in recruiting circles at several of the largest Wall Street banks, law firms, and consulting firms as "non targets". While attending such schools certainly doesn't preclude students from attaining jobs at such firms, students will often face an uphill battle against students from "target" schools, schools with established on-campus recruitment programs, significantly stronger alumni networks, greater associated prestige of their degrees and perceived higher intelligence.
Lower and middle class students aspiring for successfully lucrative careers will often times take on student loans in order to attend such universities. The student immediately becomes indebted to the banks. With the tuition of top universities now averaging $50,000 a year easily, many students are finding themselves in close to $200,000 of debt for a bachelor's degree. Upon graduation, a heavily indebted student suddenly doesn't have the luxury of career paths after graduation. So while peers not heavily indebted have the luxury of options of more "fulfilling" careers via the Peace Corps, NGOs, and a creative career as a journalist or artist, most students find themselves already bound by their own set of golden handcuffs. That is being forced to take a lucrative job or be stuck with deteriorating credit ratings while more important life decisions eventually come to fruition.
And since the bachelor's degree has been the de facto minimum required by most employers in the 21st century, many students in a number of areas find that they now need to pursue graduate degrees which cost up to an additional $150,0o0 to further advance their careers.
David Segal of the New York Times however refutes such a popular notion that graduate degrees guarantee employment or even higher pay from candidates with bachelors degrees.
Done with my edits, I head down the elevator to a line of black Lincoln Towncars waiting for exhausted, relieved employees such as myself just looking to get some shut eye. Today I stare outside of the car's window looking out at the different bars and restaurants we pass on the way to my apartment. A part of me thinks to myself, how ridiculous is it that in order to live comfortably I am spending 34% of my income on my house, with the rest is nearly taken out in taxes, leaving the remainder to a number of opportunists looking to cash in on the Wall Street culture of ostentatious spending habits on designer clothing and access to VIP bottle service at the city's top clubs.
"Why keep doing this?", I keep asking myself. A part of me knows that one of the only reasons I'm still working here is because of the large bonus everyone in the industry looks forward to at the end of the year. The bonus that one day will allow me to release myself from the tyranny of corporate slavery and allow me to do something more enjoyable like running my own business or investing in other people's businesses. Basically, grant me the freedom to one day be able to live my life on my own terms, not have to be stuck in the office late into the early morning on my weekends and be subject to menial tasks that I was capable of accomplishing in high school.
Looking back I see that this was a bonus that came at the expense of the taxpayers and those on Main Street. My shrewd MDs at the top of the firm developed complicated derivatives that they sold to a number of different state and municipal treasuries. Derivatives that probably were misrepresented as risk-reducing and too complicated for local treasuries to fully understand. As a result when municipalities ran into financial troubles and were downgraded (scenarios my MDs were certainly well aware of), they often were forced to pay hefty differences or termination fees to the banks. All of this coming from the expense of the taxpayers.
Yet that isn't the only place where I see the lords of our society stealing from the serfs. I think about Quantitative Easing. Sure the Dow isabove 12,000. But all of that is thanks to almost a trillion dollars in taxpayer money being used in purchasing treasury bonds and encouraging the purchase of other risk assets. As a result, commodities are trading close at their upper historical ranges. Crude Oil is trading above $98/barrel, Gold is at $1490/oz, and Silver is trading close to $34/oz. This is a policy that only serves to benefit those who hold a majority of their wealth in risk assets (aka the upper classes) while making basic essentials such as gas, food, and most consumer products become more expensive for those in the lower to middle classes, many of whom do not have any substantial exposure to such investments.
I think back to my college years again. Attending the investment banking information sessions on campus. The entire room was filled with the who's who of successful seniors, the ones at the top of the class, the ones that were able to land prestigious junior year, the ones who talked to all the right people in all the right places. We all knew there was no way everyone in the room would make it to the supposed holy grail that was investment banking, and that those who were fortunate to join the group of people giving the presentation would instantly be amongst the elites in society. Little did we know we were actually signing our lives away to serfdom. But if anything, this was the job that gave me the best chance to one day free myself from modern day serfdom.
A prominent politician once said "Today the large organization is lord and master, and most of its employees have been desensitized much as were the medieval peasants who never knew they were serfs."