Banks and Vaccines

He never wants anything but what's right and fair;
only when you come to settle what's right and fair, it's everything
that he wants and nothing that you want.

- Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown's Schooldays

is typical of the petty that they are inflamed by the news of what they
perceive to be the inequitable distribution of the H1N1 swine flu
vaccine. The inflammation occurred when it was learned that Goldman
Sachs and Citigroup, among others, have been receiving doses of the
scarce H1N1 vaccine. According to reports,
as of November 2, 2009, Goldman had received 200 units and Citigroup
had received 1200 units. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) says the vaccine must be given to those who are
considered to be in the high-risk category of developing serious
complications from the swine flu such as pregnant women and children
aged 6 months to 24 years. That would not, obviously, include banks
that were in mortal danger a year ago not from swine flu but from the
consequences of their improvident behavior. Although it is obvious that
banks might have within their ranks, individuals falling in the
high-risk category, the fact of the delivery to the banks was perceived
by some to be evidence of preferential treatment.

Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International
Union said: "It's obscene that Wall Street bankers think they are
entitled to private shipments of H1N1 vaccinations while health-care
workers, pregnant women, and other at-risk Americans are either waiting
in line for hours or getting turned away because of shortages. She
suggested the recipients should donate the vaccine they have received
to local hospitals where it could be distributed to a more worthy
population. (It is likely that Ms. Burger may have been motivated in
part by the thought that poetic justice would be served if those
serving at the banks were to perish from a disease with the name of

There were, of course, defenders of the distribution.
Jessica Scaperotti, press secretary of the New York City Health and
Mental Hygiene Department explained that the financial firms were not
given preferential treatment. As she explained: "It's not that they
received it over someone else, it's that they placed an order...This is
not out of the ordinary. A lot of businesses hold vaccination programs
for their employees. These locations are important vehicles for
vaccinating people." A Goldman Sachs spokesman reminded the critics
that: "It is important to understand that the [New York City]
Department of Health decides in its sole discretion who receives H1N1
vaccines-both the amount and timing. Goldman Sachs, like other
responsible employers, has requested vaccine and will supply it only to
employees who qualify based on the requirements laid down by the CDC
and Department of Health." In an e-mailed statement Citigroup offered a
similar explanation saying in part: "The H1N1 vaccine is being provided
through our clinics only to employees in high-risk categories as
defined by the CDC."

In all the discussion over whether or
not the distribution has been fairly effected, one very important fact
is not mentioned. The banks fail to mention it out of fear. The critics
do not mention it because it would explain why the banks have received
the vaccine ahead of others and would, if publicized, mute, if not
emasculate, their criticism. The important fact is banks are receiving
the vaccine because of their employees' importance to the financial
well being of the country. The banks survived a financial meltdown of
gigantic proportions and were, almost to an institution, saved from
financial collapse by a governmental bailout. Every day brings new
evidence of the banks' renewed vitality and none is more renewed than
Goldman Sachs that not only paid back all the money it received from
the taxpayers but is once again restored to profitability. Goldman Sachs
announced plans to pay $16.7 billion in bonuses in 2009, the largest
bonuses ever paid by that firm and $6.7 billion more than it had
received scarcely a year earlier (and repaid) as a bailout package.
When answering those who criticize the size of its bonuses, they
explain that those bonuses must be paid in order to retain the
extremely talented individuals who are responsible for their present
successes and (this is mentioned less frequently) their earlier
failures. These are people who would bolt if their bonuses were one
penny less than the amount to which they believe themselves entitled
because of their good work.

It would undeniably be a shame
if banks that promised to pay more than $16 billion in bonuses in order
to avoid losing their highly talented people to the competition, were
to lose them instead to the Lord because of a killer virus named pig.
When the critics realize this, I am confident their carping will come
to an end and they will, instead, be filled with gratitude for all the
banks have done for us.

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