President Obama made a couple of comments in an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek that, while potentially true, point yet again to someone out of touch with populist rage in America. It seems that Obama is still courting big business, especially Wall Street, after Republicans have said they are going after Wall Street money in the upcoming mid-term elections.
Here’s how Bloomberg reported the discussion:
President Barack Obama said he doesn’t “begrudge” the $17 million bonus awarded to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon or the $9 million issued to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, noting that some athletes take home more pay.
The president, speaking in an interview, said in response to a question that while $17 million is “an extraordinary amount of money” for Main Street, “there are some baseball players who are making more than that and don’t get to the World Series either, so I’m shocked by that as well.”
“I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen,” Obama said in the interview yesterday in the Oval Office with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which will appear on newsstands Friday. “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free- market system.”
Obama sought to combat perceptions that his administration is anti-business and trumpeted the influence corporate leaders have had on his economic policies. He plans to reiterate that message when he speaks to the Business Roundtable, which represents the heads of many of the biggest U.S. companies, on Feb. 24 in Washington.
The problem is not that we have free markets in America, but rather that we have bailouts and crony capitalism. So Americans actually do begrudge people this kind of monetary reward. It has been obvious to me that the bailouts are a large part of why Obama’s poll numbers have been sinking. It’s not just the economy here – so unless the President can demonstrate he understands this, he is unlikely to win back a very large number of voters who see this issue as central to their loss of confidence in Obama.
Is it just me or does this sound like Obama just doesn’t get it?
Update: Now I have the transcript and a Bloomberg analysis as well below.
BusinessWeek: Let’s talk bonuses for a minute: Lloyd Blankfein, $9 million; Jamie Dimon, $17 million. Now, granted, those were in stock and less than what some had expected. But are those numbers okay?
President Obama: Well, look, first of all, I know both those guys. They’re very savvy businessmen. And I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That’s part of the free market system. I do think that the compensation packages that we’ve seen over the last decade at least have not matched up always to performance. I think that shareholders oftentimes have not had any significant say in the pay structures for CEOs.
BusinessWeek: Seventeen million dollars is a lot for Main Street to stomach.
President Obama: Listen, $17 million is an extraordinary amount of money. Of course, there are some baseball players who are making more than that who don’t get to the World Series either. So I’m shocked by that as well. I guess the main principle we want to promote is a simple principle of "say on pay," that shareholders have a chance to actually scrutinize what CEOs are getting paid. And I think that serves as a restraint and helps align performance with pay. The other thing we do think is the more that pay comes in the form of stock that requires proven performance over a certain period of time as opposed to quarterly earnings is a fairer way of measuring CEOs’ success and ultimately will make the performance of American businesses better.
Obama Doesn’t ‘Begrudge’ Bonuses for ‘Savvy’ Blankfein, Dimon – Bloomberg.com