30 January 2009


I've got a friend whose husband recently lost his job in banking. He's pretty much the sole financial supporter of his family: himself, my friend, and their two kids. I hope he got his annual "bonus" at the end of last year before he got laid off.

You might wonder why I put "bonus" in quotes. Well, there are bonuses and then there are bonuses and lately, with the news of Wall Street firms paying out $18.4 billion in bonuses at the end of last year, it's become something of a dirty word. But, consider the fact that about 125 thousand people split all that money, (the average Wall Street bonus last year came to $112,000), and some of them really deserved it, needed it even. Like most things in economics, and especially in politics, it isn't as clear cut as it might seem.

Now don't get me wrong. I think John Thain, former head of Merrill Lynch, and any number of other scumbags who whooped it up with their company's money as the companies faltered and then collapsed, ought to go to jail. And not some white collar jail. I'd like to see how they do on a tier at San Quentin.

But most of the people who received their bonuses at the end of last year were like the husband of my friend. They were people who worked their assess off, at relatively modest - for the financial industry - salaries, who counted on their "bonus" to make their nut at the end of the year.

The thing is, a lot of what are called "bonuses" - and in the financial industry more than most - are really no more than a contracted part of a salary package. They aren't really bonuses at all. It's a way that companies have of rear-loading an employee's pay. There are all kinds of financial advantages to companies that do that.

It works like this: A company hires someone for a hundred thousand dollars a year, but it's broken up in the form of a five thousand bucks a month salary and a forty thousand dollar guaranteed "bonus" at the end of the year.

According to Webster's dictionary, a bonus is "something in addition to that which is expected or strictly due." By definition, I don't think you can guarantee a bonus.

Undoubtedly there were plenty of miscreants who stole real bonuses from their companies at the end of last year. (Although if they stole it, they no doubt knew what to expect, it's the "strictly due" part of the definition that trips them up.) And that's a crime, or ought to be.

But, most of the people who shared in that $18.4 billion were in the boat with my friend's husband. The boat where the "bonus" was just another part of their agreed upon salary and they needed it.

Unfortunately politics doesn't allow for much nuance. With regard to the slimeball crooks who stole real bonuses from their companies, I think President Obama's words weren't even harsh enough. But for the majority of hard working, honest employees who were included in that $18.4 billion, many of whom were also victims of the venality of their bosses, I feel nothing but sympathy.

So, here's a couple of things you can do to stretch those meager "bonuses" a bit further:
Jurassic is a Taiwanese theme restaurant / beerhall. Food's great (especially the basil and the claypot dishes), beer's just fine, waitresses are cute (Winnie, the one on the far right is an economics student at UCLA who's from Shanghai) and the place is wonderfully kitsch. And it's fairly cheap, too. What more could you want?
15301 Gale Ave.
City of Industry, CA

You can find al pastor tacos all over town, but these are some of the best I've found yet. (Some great looking chorizo and chicken, too.) Nights only, in front of El Nuevo Jalisco restaurant at
3017 North Main St.
Los Angeles, CA

No comments: