1. It’s Tuesday, May 10, 2016.
2. When Bernie Sanders rails about hedge funds, this is what he’s talking about:
Ken Griffin and James Simons, two men whose names are unknown to all but a few Americans, each made $1.7 billion last year, according to an annual survey by Institutional Investor’s Alpha magazine.
That, folks, is $3,234.40 every minute. It took them about two hours and four minutes to earn the same amount of money President Obama is paid for running the United States.
What do they do? Griffin and Simons manage hedge funds. To varying degrees, they program computers that determine how to deliver a steady flow of income to the people who can afford to sock their money with them.
Their returns aren’t bad – Griffin made about 14% for his investors, while Simons earned about 16%.
Overall, according to Alpha, the top 25 hedge fund managers collectively made nearly $13 billion last year. And that wasn’t even the best year they ever had. In case you want to throw up, last year they only made about half what they did in 2009, when their pay stubs (Yeah. Right.) totaled $25 billion.
Some of the people on the list didn’t even make money for their investors last year, and they still got the big bucks.
3. There are two reasons this is perverted.
One, the average public school teacher earns $57,379 a year – what Griffin and Simons make in about 18 minutes. The highest paid doctor, a spinal surgeon, makes about $628,000 a year; Griffin and Simons have to toil a little more than three hours to match that.
And you can imagine other occupations that actually do something to help more than a few people. Griffin and Simons can match all the professions you can think of in 30 seconds in a trading day behind the screen.
Secondly, what can you do with $1.7 billion a year? I guess you can accumulate homes and art and cars and other gizmos.
But eventually, you find other uses. One of them is politics.
According to The New York Times, Griffin hasn’t spent his money well this year. He’s bet on Marco Rubio, Jeb! Bush and Scott Walker in the presidential race. For his sake, you gotta hope he’s better at picking investments.
Simons has had better luck. His money is on Hillary Clinton.
It doesn’t matter. In this instance, Sanders is right – the amount of money the people who have hedge funds can throw around in a presidential race is outright disgusting. They can counter those $27 donations Sanders touts in an eye blink.
Obviously, the idiotic Citizens United ruling doesn’t help. These guys can put whatever money they want into political action committees and there’s nothing to stop them.
It doesn’t change the equation that Griffin’s vote is equal to mine. Yet. But it does give Griffin the ability to spread his viewpoint a lot further than I can spread mine. I have this blog, and if you tell your friends, that’s my advertising. If Griffin had one, he could put a billboard on every interstate highway promoting it and provide free access to it in every hotel.
So I sympathize with Sanders and his view that this money is soiling politics.
4. But I also think it’s nuts to try to fight hedge fund money by not taking it.
It would be unilateral disarmament for Clinton not to take Simons’ money. She’d have nowhere near the ability to spread his message that the Republicans – and that includes Donald Trump, who you’ll notice is weaseling away from his self-funding promise – will have in the fall. They don’t seem bothered by this money, and they got the Citizens United ruling to back them up.
The solution is simple. Get a Democrat into the White House. Get a Democratic Senate – hell, get a Democratic Congress. And then get Supreme Court Justices who understand that money doesn’t equal speech.
I’m sure Ken Griffin and James Simons have their virtues. They probably donate tons of money to charities and love their kids.
If they have any. Who knows? These aren’t people who are accountable to you and me, and yet they made $1.7 billion last year.
5. President Obama is going to Hiroshima later this month. He’ll be the first sitting President to visit the Japanese city that was the target of the first atomic bomb.
Americans have been leery of the idea that any official in any administration visit Hiroshima, seeing it as a form of apology for what we did.
I don’t think Obama sees it that way. Yes, we take responsibility for what we did. But we did what we thought we had to do. Ultimately, horrific as the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, they saved lives by shortening the war. That was their goal.
I think the President is wise to face up to what we did. We can’t hide from it. And it’s horribly sad. But we’re not ashamed – Harry Truman and the American military did what it had to do.
The good news is that Obama goes in peace. That’s how things get better.