Politicians, lawyers and insurance salesmen now have some company in America's doghouse: A new survey finds that Wall Street bankers are among the country's least favorite people. This suggests that while financial firms may have begun to mend their bottom lines, they're a long way from rehabilitating their public image.
Two out of every three Americans hold unfavorable views of financial executives, according to a survey commissioned by Bloomberg earlier this month. And 64% said bailing them out was a bad idea.
That makes bankers less popular than members of Congress, the poll found. And that could have interesting implications as Goldman Sachs (GS), Morgan Stanley (MS) and JP Morgan Chase (JPM) prepare to hand out some $30 billion in bonuses by the end of the year.
It's also a shift from another recent poll, which found the 535 men and women on Capitol Hill less popular than CEOs, stock brokers and lawyers. In that survey, conducted by Rasmussen in September, just 25% of Americans held favorable views of chief executives. (Even journalists, with a 43% favorable rating, were more popular.)
In light of those numbers, it isn't difficult to understand the allure of a one-time "bonus tax" to members of Britain's Parliament, who plan to take half of British bankers' bonuses this year. After all, it's easiest to pick a fight with the least popular kid on the playground.
But there are plenty of reasons to believe even this latest shift in public views won't result in a similar effort here in the U.S. For starters, only banks that haven't paid back the bailout funds they received fall under pay czar Ken Feinberg's jurisdiction, whereas the U.K. tax falls equally on the City of London, the British equivalent of Wall Street.
And Congress has already tried once and failed to impose a heavy tax on financial employees' bonuses. Back in the spring, the House passed a 90% levy on bonuses paid to AIG traders and executives, only to see it stall in the Senate after President Obama said he didn't think it was a good idea. (Feinberg may end up cutting pay for some of them anyway, much to their dismay.)
Still, banks are curtailing anything that could anger a public that has clearly had its fill of bailouts. Goldman Sachs, for example, canceled its Christmas party for the second year in a row. Even private holiday gatherings by the firm's employees are forbidden.
It remains to be seen whether Wall Street can hide its conspicuous consumption well enough to allow it to escape America's doghouse first.
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