I argued that although the bonuses obviously weren't fair in a moral sense, they were at least justifiable in the context of the amount of profit Goldman generated. Even after the $16.5 billion payout, Goldman still generated more pre-tax profit per employee than almost any other company in the economy, including Google (GOOG) (so it is hard to say that Goldman's shareholders got cheated).
Not surprisingly, Times readers weighed in, and their responses were unanimous: The Goldman bonuses are undeserved, unfair, and the result of unadulterated greed. So take that, Goldman (and me).
Wall Street does consistently generate otherworldly pay-packages, even for the rank-and-file, so the reaction is understandable. Other industries generate vast wealth, too, though--it just doesn't come from salaries.
For example, I wonder if the reaction would be the same if I had written about the average post-IPO wealth of pre-IPO Google employees. My guess is no -- most people have more respect for entrepreneurial success stories like Google than perennial success stories like Goldman -- but even here the admiration would probably be fleeting. Today's inspiring start-up is tomorrow's oppressive incumbent, as Microsoft employees learned in the 1990s and Google employees have been learning over the past two years. (Goldman employees, meanwhile, have long since learned to preserve the health of their golden goose by remaining as discreet as possible.)
Success over a career at a Goldman -- for those who can manage to get jobs there -- is probably more likely than success in a series of promising start-ups (would love to see some numbers on this), so perhaps the comparison is unfair. In any case, those of us who don't have the good fortune of working at a Goldman or Google this holiday season can always dream...