Here goes a book... and not because I need to defend myself, but because I think I have a perspective a lot of people can relate to but can't necessarily put their finger on.
I don't look down on "ordinary" people. I am an ordinary person. I just have a general distaste for ignorance, laziness and entitlement. The last of which is all too prevalent on Wall Street, as well as other places. And your "average" person is all of the above. They are lazy from adolescence and beyond. They spend their formative years picking their nose and smoking pot. Once they reach a certain age they are forced to do something. Maybe they get a college degree, but most don't. They work in sales at a cable company, as a manager at a warehouse or in corporate offices at an electronics company. It has nothing to do with their job or what they do. In fact, they chose their particular profession because thats what happened to wander in their direction. This is all fine. I have no beef with it, nor should anyone really give a shit if someone does have beef with it. Everyone has their own priorities and makes their choices accordingly. There's nothing wrong with choosing a less financially lucrative career if that's just not as important to you as say spending time with your family or reading literature or traveling or even sitting on the couch watching college football. To each his own.
My issue is the lazy useless people -- who are a subset of the population, but are representative of the average person -- who have a feeling of entitlement and a 'what about me' mentality. This is why people are sued over stupid bullshit. This is why when someone wins the lottery or has some other windfall family/friends start coming out of the woodwork with their expectant hands out. Then you come to things like record oil company profits, wall street bonuses etc... the average American has absolutely no understanding of the actual issues and complexity surround them yet has a barrel full of opinions they're dying to express. Not because they contributed something that isn't being recognized or acknowledged... but because someone else is doing well and they are there to say "what about me, why am I not doing well? It must be because the system is unfair. I'm being exploited."
"Main street" as people call it, is still completely clueless to the fact that wall street "Bonuses" are not actual bonuses per se. Its largely a misnomer and what everyone refers to as a bonus is mostly accrued salary. No analyst is going to work 100 hrs a week for 50-70K a year. And no Senior banker is going to work for 300K where they could actually be making a multiple of that if they were working in another capacity, such as a C-level Executive of a major corporation. Part of the bonus is in fact a bonus. But to be up in arms because someone made a "Bonus" in a non-profitable year is demonstrative of a lack of understanding of the industry. There has been an uproar about bonuses even before the financial crisis. It made the front cover of the news papers 2 or 3 yearshad record bonuses. Yet I do agree that there are serious flaws in the system and share concern in some of the criticisms going around.
Wall Street compensation is what it is for a few reasons in particular:
#1 - it's a very competitive field with only the most accomplished (i.e. best schools, best grades, best experience) being hired
#2 - you make a significant lifestyle sacrifice, at ALL levels Analyst to MD
#3 - it's a high pressure job; most of the people on this forum don't realize the full magnitude of this because we are tuned to work in this type of field. Most people go through the motions expending minimal effort at work, it is IMPOSSIBLE to do that in this field.
#4 - There is a huge amount of risk to working in this field. There is a huge degree of volatility in hiring/firing, NOTHING is guaranteed. You have the least job security of any other professional field hands down. Even in an ideal economy from the day you start working, its only a 2 year program, then you're jobless again. Then you land another gig, but guess what thats 2 year program also, then you're jobless again. At a more senior level, obviously the finite programs aren't the case, but the lack of job security surely is.
The public sees Wall Streeter's making bank and they don't want to hear any of the above reasons. They bitch and complain when their boss asks them to stick around past 5:30 but they somehow see big Wall Street bonuses and feel like they're being had... like someone is taking THEIR piece of the pie.
I don't think I'm special either
I don't think I'm gods gift to earth because I work in. I actually don't think there is anything exceptionally difficult about it, nor do I think it alone says anything about you. Anyone with average intelligence and above average ambition can do it. Some of the people I've met would even lead one to believe anyone even with below average intelligence, below average ambition and enough social pressure can do it. But regardless of whether I went into IBD, the Peace Corps, BigLaw, entrepreneurship, engineering, philosophy, academia, I would be just as passionate and driven in what I do and I would find it just as rewarding and if one day I woke up I didn't, I would not look for someone else to point the finger at. There are people who are college professors, grade school teachers, office secretaries, cab drivers, waiters, steel workers, train conductors etc... and they choose this path because they have a different set of priorities. I don't think I'm better than them because I make more money or because I wear a suit to work. I respect people who have self-respect and are true to themselves and aren't trying to sell themselves a bill of goods on why the world isn't a fair place (which its not, but this country is the best you'll get) and that's why they're not happy.
Your average person is unambitious. They spend their lives believing that they ARE different... they ARE smarter than everyone else, there is something special about them that makes them different. They go through the motions in life thinking '"I'm smart, I can do whatever I want to do if I really want to do it" then one day, they wake up... they're married to a spouse they partially resent and they have a job they absolutely despise... its then that they realize they actually CANT, they ARE like everyone else... and not because they were born that way, but because their choices made them who they are today. They are where they are because they spent the better part of their life being lazy and expecting something spectacular to happen to them because they 'deserve' it. Rather than embracing reality, they cling to crutches offered to them by politicians who want their vote and convince themselves that they COULD have achieved their dreams, but they were short-changed, they were exploited. It's a broken system run by corrupt thieves. The rich are getting richer at their expense.
That's my view. You can think its immature if you like. I have this view, among other reasons, because many of my best friends are of this persuasion, I know them well, I've known them well for a long time. We came from the same place, we ended up in largely different places... with the only difference being hard work.
Mod Note: Best of WSO, this was originally posted December 2014.