War is hell. I'm here to tell you. I've seen it. I was one of the lucky ones, though: I lived through it and came out the other side.
Sure, I was damaged - all of us super-rich banker types were - but most of us vets have managed to pull ourselves together and maintain some shred of dignity. It's not easy, though - sometimes I still wake up screaming in the middle of the night, soaked in sweat. It scares the bejesus out of my wife.
"You were screaming again," she'll tell me.
"What did I say?"
"It was something like, 'Marginal tax rate, incoming!!' And then I think you shouted, 'We're down to our last 9 percent!' "
"I'm so sorry, snookums," I'll say. "It's just that sometimes the dreams get so bad . . . "
"It's OK, dear, it's OK," she'll say, and stroke my quaking hands. "And then you yelled, 'Union thugs, inside the wire!' and you shot bolt upright. My god, I had to pry the Bloomberg terminal out of your hands, you were clutching it so tight. You wouldn't let it go."
It was America's longest war. Damn near seven decades, 1935 to 2001. Guys like me, we can't forget it. It was traumatic and life-changing.
We'll never get those years of our lives back. And it's not just the principal in our portfolios that we'll never see again - we watched so many of our comrades-in-capital-gains being bled dry, alone out there on the trading floor, where no one could help them, their net worth draining out of them to be trampled in the fetid miasma of tickertape and stock tables from that day's Wall Street Journal.
No, it's not just the principal we'll never get back. It's worse than that: nothing we can do will ever restore the compounded interest that we lost as a result of that war. Generations of double-digit returns will never be able to share a smile with a majority stockholder, will never know the joy of a split, will never be held close to the bosom of the beneficiaries of their family trusts while sitting in the swaddling warmth of the safe-deposit vault at UBS.
Guys like me, we don't like to talk about it. It was awful - horrible. It's hard for someone who hasn't been there to understand. We're a special club, we survivors. We know what it's like. No one else does. No one else possibly could - we had the big money, so we took the big hits.
We were taxed. Taxed unmercifully. You can't imagine what it's like, knowing that the 91s - that's what we called them, the highest marginal tax rates, the ones they unloaded on us every April 15, like clockwork - you can't imagine what it was like, knowing that they were incoming. We'd try to shelter as much as we could, tried to keep the damage to a minimum, stashing dividends and other income offshore, donating it, hiring employees, upgrading equipment - but it was never enough, never enough. We'd always take a hit, and every April 16 morning we'd wake up and take stock, to see who was still standing - sitting, really, on the veranda at the club, cradling a decaf latte with hands still trembling from the memory of that awful figure splattered across Line 75 of Form 1040 - "Amount you owe".
I'm sorry. Give me a minute, please.
Okay, I think I'll be all right. It's just that - well -
I saw things. Terrible things. Things that young people today, god willing, will never see in their lifetimes: public schools that offered music and art classes, and teachers evaluated without privatized standardized tests; public libraries open on weekends; fully-staffed health inspection departments; well-maintained streets with trees that were trimmed regularly; a space program that was the envy of the world; unemployment at 5%; union membership at 30% of the population; single-earner households - millions of them! oh my god the horror - that could afford to own homes, have excellent health care and pensions, and send their kids to college -
The unions - the unions! We took heavy casualties. Thirty percent, their membership was running back then. THIRTY PERCENT, can you believe that? People nowadays can't even conceive of how awful that looks - when thirty percent of the working people in this country fell victim to unionization. You never see that now - no one would put up with those kinds of numbers. We won't let our politicians send our kids off to work if thirty percent of them are never going to come back without a union card. Won't happen - at least, not as long as I - and I mean, my corporation - have any money to say about it.
America must never forget what class warfare looked like. Never.