OFF THE GRID

Geithner, the Last Yuppie, Is Out of Business

Mar 18, 09 | 9:44 AM   byMichael Wolff
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On one side of the line there’s a continued-to-be-employed managerial class, which includes, among others, the president and his Treasury secretary; and on the other side of the line there are the moralists, the PR savvy, and lots and lots of people who don’t know from bonuses.

The former group, whose members have spent their adult years as young upwardly mobile professionals, take it as an article of faith that in order to get people to work you have to pay them; and, too, the more you pay, the better people you get to do the work; and better people do better work. That pretty much sums up the philosophy of compensation and corporate organization over the long course, and during the massive economic expansion, of the yuppie generation.

What is most shocking, although it shouldn’t be, is to suddenly find, in the melee over the AIG bonuses, that Barack Obama is a yuppie. Really, who knew? And yet the fact that the AIG bonuses have not heretofore raised any hackles in the White House, that paying out hundreds of millions of dollars from a bankrupt company now owned by the government had been treated as business as usual, shows that the president subscribes to the philosophy of paying for the best and most upwardly mobile you can get. It obviously never occurred to him to think otherwise.


(AP Image)

The president, with his new and unconvincing tone of moral outrage, will weather this. But Tim Geithner won’t. His will be the shortest tenure of a Treasury secretary since Joseph W. Barr lost the job in 1969 (he was merely appointed to serve out the last month of LBJ's presidency). This is not just because Geithner, as head of the New York Fed, was one of the prime architects of the bailout and, hence, the bonus schedule. That not only did he know, but he accepted—that on his part the bonuses are an act of commission (the president can still hide behind omission). But more important, and more damaging, he looks the role. He is the grown-up, unreconstructed yuppie, all full of self-satisfied and shifty self-justification, with a little charm and bashfulness thrown in—that’s what everybody sees. And, alas, he’s going to pay for that.

The latter group, particularly the moralists and the people who never got a bonus, have never liked the yuppies, have in many ways formed their entire world view against them. Now they finally have their revenge.

It is this group’s nuance and tone and fiber and tilt of the chin that the new administration is suddenly trying to get a fix on and channel. The president’s try at outrage is just the first attempt to get this new sensibility down.

So that’s now where the PR types come in. Everywhere across America anybody who’s anybody—most of them former yuppies—is trying to answer the question: How do I act?

This whole new thing…I get it…I get it…but I don’t quite get it. Against greed…but no bonuses? Okay, okay. No bonuses.

Right now, in front of bathroom mirrors, they’re practicing the new grim face, the new toughness, trying to convince themselves, nobody is really worth it—and look like the mean it. Although, given what they think of themselves, that is the difficult point.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com

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