In the early 1970s, investment banking still maintained a relatively even balance between job satisfaction and the accretion of wealth. The thirty-nine Morgan Stanley partners were paid $100,000 a year and considered that they were well compensated. Parker Gilbert recalls commuting with a couple of colleagues when they were in their early thirties and hearing someone say:"If we could only make $5 million, we could retire and play golf."
Anyone lucky enough to have inherited a million dollars in 1970 could buy an apartment on Park Avenue — four bedrooms, two maids’ rooms, living room with wood-burning fireplace, dining room, kitchen, and library — for under $100,000. In 1971 corporate raider Saul Steinberg bought one of the most expensive apartments in the city, at 740 Park Avenue, for $250,000.
That is from Patricia Beard, from Blue Blood & Mutiny: The Fight for the Soul of Morgan Stanley.
It is an interesting question — to say the least — how we got from there to here. Most of all, the contemporary world is immensely better at allocating talent and maximizing the value that talent can create (admittedly some of this is paper shuffling value, it is not all social value). That is one of the fundamental productivity shifts behind the rise in income inequality; people with that pro-golf attitude simply couldn’t make it to the top today, and back then many would-be earnings superstars were held in chains by sheer social stupidity, lack of access to the right training, or inability to connect with the proper social networks.
If you work in investment banking and don’t want to play by those rules, "the system" is happy to hit the hyperspace button, send you back to Butte, Montana, and feed you bananas and milk. However no one is going to boil you in oil.
Let’s be glad all those people — many of them silly — slave so hard on our behalf.