There's more than fear at work among these billionaires. There's rage, too. These are people who are unaccustomed to hearing "no." And many of them got where they are because they possess an overwhelming and insatiable drive for more.
That may be why so many of them believe, as Langone does, that their opponents are driven by "envy and jealousy." Those emotions, transmuted into competitiveness, is how many of them reached the top of the heap. They may find it impossible believe that many of us are content with the financial success of others -- as long as they don't cheat the system, corrupt the political process, or accumulate their wealth in a socially harmful way. But surely even the most thin-skinned among them can recognize that criticisms of Madoff, at least, aren't driven by envy.
And if there can be legitimate criticisms of one billionaire, surely there can be legitimate criticisms of others.
Madoff seems bitter about the fact that he's been singled out for prosecution. He insists that there are other schemers like himself out there, but that regulators lack the resources to find them. As for big-bank executives, Madoff says that "These people were breaking the law and nobody was convicted." These guys got away with it, Madoff is saying, while I got caught.
Now that's envy.
Madoff doesn't sound exactly like his former peers. Now that he can no longer make money, he's decided that financial regulations are a good idea. And the big-donor campaign system turns him off. Presumably many other billionaires would experience similar insights once they got a little distance from the system that enriched them. But by then it could be too late.
Madoff seems particularly frustrated that nobody at JPMorgan Chase has been indicted for collaborating with him while it was handling his funds. Others have wondered, too. In a settlement reached this January, it was announced that JPM will pay more than $1.7 billion for its role in the Madoff case under a "deferred prosecution agreement."
There were no individual prosecutions in that case, however, despite the fact that another bank warned JPM of potential irregularities -- in 1996.
Bunch thinks the hysteria's been triggered because "the billionaires of America" are "about to lose." But there's no sign of that anywhere. Even Obama's overly mild attempts at reform are being beaten back by intransigent Republicans. Corporate-Democratic attack dogs like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo are doing their best to gut de Blasio's reasonable reforms.
Wages have stagnated. Long-term unemployment is an ongoing emergency. Many Americans, perhaps most, are facing a retirement crisis. Millions are only one or two paychecks away from ruin. Poverty rates have soared. In the midst of misery, more and more of the nation's wealth is being captured by the top 0.1 percent of earners.
And yet, some of the most powerful and wealthy people in America are feeling persecuted. I find it hard to be sanguine about it. The Langone/Perkins crowd is powerful, angry, afraid and unrepentant. That doesn't bode well -- for them or anyone else. Many of these angry billionaires have earned their wealth through intelligence and hard work. They've also been lucky, and have been aided by the society whose citizens they now castigate in the harshest terms.
We've seen their fear and their fury. Now where is their gratitude? It's time for them to stop listening to their inner Madoffs and turn to their consciences instead.