Reptilian Cotillion: Financiers Party While Economy Plunges

While the world economy trembles and their fellow Americans face blown-up 401Ks, foreclosure threats, and fruitless job searches, financiers are embracing our current feed-the-rich/screw-the-rest mentality with renewed zest.

The NYT reports that last Saturday night, in the fabled NYC frolicking ground of Southampton, billionaire financier Leon D. Black threw himself a jaw-droppingly expensive 60th birthday bash. Two hundred well-heeled guests reclined on cushions Satyricon-style nibbling seared fois gras as Sir Elton John — earning a cool million bucks — sang ‘Crocodile Rock.’ Joining this Reptilian Cotillion were Martha Stewart and fashion designer Vera Wang, who partied alongside some of Wall Street’s most notorious denizens, including junk-bond pioneer Michael Milken, Blackstone’s buyout king Stephen A. Schwarzman (who became a symbol of greed when he threw his own $3 million b-day bash back in bubblicious 2007), and Lloyd “God’s Work” Blankfein of Goldman Sachs.

Mayor Bloomberg was among the revelers, as was NY Senator Charles Schumer, who must have been feeling grateful for his host’s generous political contributions as he soaked in the expansive view of moonlit Schinnecock Bay.

A fellow like Leon Black needs all the influential friends he can get because, like other private equity tycoons, he enjoys a ridiculously low 15% tax rate on “carried interest” (the share of profits that hedge fund managers get as part of their stratospheric compensation). Chances are the persons who, say, cook for Mr. Black or landscape his yard pay something more like 35% in taxes for the money they earn doing actual work.

In fact, if we got rid of this George W. Bush giveaway, we’d have $21 billion over the next decade. That’s enough money to pay a million jobless Americans $20,000 for a year’s work doing productive things like rebuilding schools or repairing bridges. That would be a lot more helpful to our country than proliferating casinos, which is Black’s line of work. His Apollo Global Management manages $72 billion in assets, including the largest gambling operation on Earth, Caesars Entertainment. He’s also into plastics.

Black, incidentally, is the 160th richest person in the United States. He is also the son of Eli M. Black, once head of the United Brands Company, whose career presents a tragic tale that we would do well to learn from a time of unchecked excess.