Obama Math

Your chuckle of the day, via Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit – “$250,000/year for a couple is ‘rich,’ but $172,000/year for a White House flunky is ‘relatively modest'”:

In bidding a sort-of farewell to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, [Obama] noted the “relatively modest pay” for which Gibbs has labored.

In fact, he earns $172,200 in a nation where the average family income
hovers around $55,000, unemployment is high, record foreclosures
persist and wages for most folks are at best stagnant.

But implicit in Gibbs’ departure is the desire to slow down, recharge
and earn a lot more money, especially after an arduous several years
where he’s been on call 24/7. He’s hired an esteemed lawyer-agent,
Robert Barnett, and is expected to hit the very lucrative speaking
tour universe exploited by Washington insiders, including high-profile
journalists.

It’s a world in which a one-hour appearance can bring more than many
Americans earn in a year, with the elite in the roughly $50,000 to
$75,000 range. You offer a few benign inside anecdotes, take some
questions and then get taken back by limo to the airport and a seat in
first-class (assuming your deal doesn’t include a private jet, as is
the case for some journalists I know).

I’m reminded of course of Bill Clinton, who along with his wife made a career out of lambasting “the rich” who don’t pay their “fair share,” and identifying with “hard working Americans,” yet who, after leaving office, wasted no time joining the lecture circuit at six figures per appearance.  When it was reported that the former President had difficulty using an ATM wiithout the help of an aid, and that he kept $1 million in an ordinary checking account, Americans collectively scratched their heads in puzzlement.

In the above-quoted piece from The Atlantic, James Warren explains that erstwhile government big-wigs search out the big bucks because they rub shoulders on a regular basis with the highest-paid, most elite executives, lawyers, and lobbyists from big business and big labor.  Many of these titans earn more than Gibbs’ “modest” $172,000 annual salary every month:

People who came to town to
change the world, and fight for the working guy, wind up thinking that
a salary that would be a king’s ransom to most of their constituents
is chicken feed.

It’s partly because they inevitably contrast themselves not with
others in government, or cushier locales in the nonprofit world, but
with the mightiest denizens of corporate America.

… I’ve known elected officials, who had significant impact on laws and
regulations touching the private sector, who bristled at the sums
earned by the CEOs who lobbied them and whose firms they impacted,
sometimes helped enormously. One congressional titan even pointed with
blatant envy to the seven-figure salaries of network television
anchors who cozzied up to him.

And maybe we should also mention former Obama budget director Peter Orszag, who left the White House last month and promptly landed a senior job at CitiBank with a reported salary comfortably in the seven figure range.  And why not?  Orszag, Timothy Geithner, Christina Romer, Ben Bernanke, Austan Goolsbee, and others crafted possibly the largest crony capitalism deal between the government and any sector of private industry with their trillion-dollar bailout of the financial sector.  But as another Atlantic author, James Fallows, noted:

The idea that someone would help plan, advocate, and carry out an
economic policy that played such a crucial role in the survival of a
financial institution — and then, less than two years after his
Administration took office, would take a job that (a) exemplifies the
growing disparities the Administration says it’s trying to correct and
(b) unavoidably will call on knowledge and contacts Orszag
developed while in recent public service — this says something bad
about what is taken for granted in American public life.

When we
notice similar patterns in other countries — for instance, how many
offspring and in-laws of senior Chinese Communist officials have become
very, very rich — we are quick to draw conclusions about structural
injustices. Americans may not “notice” Orszag-like migrations, in the
sense of devoting big news coverage to them. But these stories pile up
in the background to create a broad American sense that politics is
rigged, and opportunity too. Why do we wince a little bit when we now
hear “Change you can believe in?” This is an illustration.

All I can say is, for the well-connected it must be nice, really, really nice …

UPDATE: Instalanche!  Thanks for the link Prof. Reyonlds, and to Instapundit readers for their added comments.
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