How Keeping Up Appearances Ruined a Former Dallas Banker

At his plea hearing last month, Mr. Davis said he knew that his actions were “wrong and unlawful” but otherwise shed little light on why he turned to insider trading. But clearly, he needed money, despite his years of bonuses as a highly paid investment banker and his lucrative directors’ fees.

According to the S.E.C.’s complaint, by April 2010 Mr. Davis was in “desperate” financial straits. He owed the I.R.S. $78,000. His brokerage account was heavily margined, and he had run up tens of thousands in credit card debt. He owed $550,000 to one of his investment funds.

.. As Professor Coffee put it, “This is a perfect example of a favor bank, which is exactly how Wall Street works.”

.. In just one month, March 2011, Mr. Davis ran up gambling losses of $200,000 at one Las Vegas casino. He owed $178,000 for the private jet. And he had to cover the $100,000 he had taken from the charity.

.. The government has shed little light on Mr. Davis’s motive, other than that he needed money. The S.E.C. said he did little to adjust his expensive lifestyle after leaving Credit Suisse in 2001. He experienced a sharp drop in his income, went through an expensive divorce soon after and suffered big investment reversals during the 2008 financial crisis.

.. Mr. Davis is hardly alone in trying to maintain the illusion of wealth and prosperity even as his personal finances veered out of control.

The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans

Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.

The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all.

.. “You are more likely to hear from your buddy that he is on Viagra than that he has credit-card problems,” says Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist

.. Part of the reason I hadn’t known is that until fairly recently, economists also didn’t know, or, at the very least, didn’t discuss it. They had unemployment statistics and income differentials and data on net worth, but none of these captured what was happening in households trying to make a go of it week to week, paycheck to paycheck, expense to expense.

.. So if you really want to know why there is such deep economic discontent in America today, even when many indicators say the country is heading in the right direction, ask a member of that 47 percent.

.. A 2014 Bankrate survey, echoing the Fed’s data, found that only 38 percent of Americans would cover a $1,000 emergency-room visit or $500 car repair with money they’d saved.

.. There isn’t much net worth to draw on. Median net worth has declined steeply in the past generation—down 85.3 percent from 1983 to 2013 for the bottom income quintile, down 63.5 percent for the second-lowest quintile, and down 25.8 percent for the third, or middle, quintile.

.. A family in the middle quintile, with an average income of roughly $50,000, could continue its spending for … six days. Even in the second-highest quintile, a family could maintain its normal consumption for only 5.3 months.

.. the study by Lusardi, Tufano, and Schneider found that nearly one-quarter of households making $100,000 to $150,000 a year claim not to be able to raise $2,000 in a month.

.. That effectively let big national banks issue credit cards everywhere at whatever interest rates they wanted to charge, and it gave the banks a huge incentive to target vulnerable consumers just the way, Emmons believes, vulnerable homeowners were targeted by subprime-mortgage lenders years later.

.. With the rise of credit, in particular, many Americans didn’t feel as much need to save.

.. The personal savings rate peaked at 13.3 percent in 1971 before falling to 2.6 percent in 2005. As of last year, the figure stood at 5.1 percent, and according to McClary, nearly 30 percent of American adults don’t save any of their income for retirement.

.. in general, the more sophisticated a country’s credit and financial markets, the worse the problem of financial insecurity for its citizens.

.. I never wanted to keep up with the Joneses. But, like many Americans, I wanted my children to keep up with the Joneses’ children, because I knew how easily my girls could be marginalized in a society where nearly all the rewards go to a small, well-educated elite.

.. and because—another choice—we believed they had earned the right to attend good universities, universities of their choice, we found ourselves in a financial vortex. (I am not saying that universities are extortionists, but … universities are extortionists.

.. I was making exactly what I had made 20 years earlier. And I wasn’t alone. Real hourly wages—that is, wage rates adjusted for inflation—peaked in 1972; since then, the average hourly wage has essentially been flat. (These figures do not include the value of benefits, which has increased.)

.. In a 2010 report titled “Middle Class in America,” the U.S. Commerce Department defined that class less by its position on the economic scale than by its aspirations: homeownership, a car for each adult, health security, a college education for each child, retirement security, and a family vacation each year.

.. A 2014 analysis by USA Today concluded that the American dream, defined by factors that generally corresponded to the Commerce Department’s middle-class benchmarks, would require an income of just more than $130,000 a year for an average family of four.

.. A 2014New York Times poll found that only 64 percent of Americans said they believed in the American dream

.. I suspect our sense of impotence in the face of financial difficulty is not only a source of disillusionment, but also a source of the anger that now infects our national politics, an anger that gets displaced onto undocumented immigrants or Chinese trade or President Obama precisely because we are unable or unwilling to articulate its true source.


76% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck

Fewer than one in four Americans have enough money in their savings account to cover at least six months of expenses, enough to help cushion the blow of a job loss, medical emergency or some other unexpected event, according to the survey of 1,000 adults. Meanwhile, 50% of those surveyed have less than a three-month cushion and 27% had no savings at all.

.. Last week, online lender CashNetUSA said 22% of the 1,000 people it recently surveyed had less than $100 in savings to cover an emergency, while 46% had less than $800.