For all of President Obama's rhetoric about "fat cat" investment bankers who gambled the country into economic decay, he sure seems to have a larger soft spot for big Wall Street than for average Americans.
After all, his latest push to "remedy" 9.8 percent unemployment for the masses is an extension of unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, his policies aren't just making Wall Streeters rich, as bonuses are expected to hit record highs this year. They're also likely (according to some insiders) to spark a hiring spree among bankers in the new year.
This divergence ought to be a big story -- but don't bet on it: The establishment media have been largely silent amid the multiple failings of Obamanomics. For two years now, most reporters have gone out of their way to blame the country's staggeringly high unemployment on the Bush policies that they claim led to the financial collapse and the broader collapse of the economy.
OK, Obama did inherit a mess -- but his policies to turn around the economy have utterly failed to deliver on promised outcomes. Remember the 8 percent unemployment rate we were supposed to get if we spent $800 billion on fiscal stimulus?
Actually, the CEOs I speak to say Obama made a bad economic situation even worse. The massive retrenchment in hiring over the past two years, which led to last week's announcement that unemployment is rising close to 10 percent, is the direct result of business worries about the future costs of the president's social agenda, which only begins with universal health care.
Perhaps worse, Obamanomics looks to have failed utterly on its signature promise to level the economic playing field between the rich and poor.
While the government was releasing those dismal unemployment statistics, senior executives at the big banks were telling me that they'll likely be hiring more bankers and traders in the new year.
Depending on who you speak to, that hiring could be quite substantial. A senior official at Goldman Sachs will only say he's "cautiously optimistic" about employment prospects in 2011. But Nick Leopard, the chief executive of a Wall Street outsourcing firm, Accordion Partners, says he expects the huge backlog of deals and business to trigger a serious hiring spree among the mid-sized and large investment firms -- something in the neighborhood of a 5 percent rise in Wall Street employment next year.
Why? Obama's policies, insiders tell me, may be bad for the middle class -- but they've been pretty good for the banking class.
The bankers may not like parts of the new financial reform law (i.e., no more "proprietary trading"), but they love the fact that the White House has gone out of its way to support (some people think prod) Ben Bernanke's policies of 1) keeping interest rates at rock-bottom levels and 2) pumping the banking system with $600 billion in cash, known in economic circles as "quantitative easing" and in less formal circles as "printing money."
Both measures are supposed to spur lending to small business as banks, flush with cash, start to lend again and businesses can expand. But the direct beneficiaries of the "easy money" are the banks -- which continue to hoard the cash, and (according to Leopard) are ready to rake in billions of dollars in fees as that backlog of deals starts to emerge next year.
Big bankers also don't mind the inflation that Bernanke's policies risk: Inflation usually pushes (nominal) stock prices up -- and when the stock market rises, financiers and traders make a killing, even if the rest of us need a wheelbarrow filled with cash to buy a loaf of bread.
For years, Democrats have raged against the Bush tax rates -- arguing for higher taxes for the "richest Americans" as simply the fair thing to do, since the rich made so much money under Republican rule in Washington.
The president now is reluctantly ready to go along with a deal to extend the Bush-era tax rates in exchange for that extension of unemployment benefits. But he still seems unable to grasp the reality that hiking taxes on even "the richest Americans" is among the dumbest things you could do right now. Those folks spend a lot of money (and thus help keep working-class people working) -- and this tax hike would fall heavily on the small businesses that do much of the "non-rich" hiring these days.
But don't expect the president to make these points: He still doesn't realize that those fat-cat bankers he grouses about have him to thank for their weight gain.