By Mark Glennon of Wirepoints
On a wall in Ken Griffin’s office at Citadel in Chicago, I’m told by people who worked there, hangs a thank you note from a six-year old. Like many kids that age, he was enthralled by prehistoric creatures so he wrote to thank Griffin for funding Evolving Planet, a permanent wing in Chicago’s Field Museum.
The six-year old was my son, who asked if he could write it after my wife had taken him for what must have been the fifth time to the exhibit.
I was proud that he had the simple decency to feel a need to thank somebody.
I wish I could say the same about the Illinois political establishment’s send-off to Griffin and Citadel, who are leaving for Florida. There was no decency in any of it.
Griffin is among the most successful financial entrepreneurs in history and Citadel was a crown jewel in Illinois’ economy. But the decency of a proper send-off was nowhere to be found in Illinois’ leadership. There wasn’t even the standard, “we’re disappointed to see them go,” which they usually say about corporate departures. Just a kick out the door for a golden goose.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s response was petty and rude. As reported by Greg Hinz at Crain’s, Pritzker’s terse statement doesn’t even name Griffin or Citadel. “Countless companies are choosing Illinois as their home, as we continue to lead the nation in corporate relocations and had a record number of business start-ups in the past year,” said Pritzker’s statement. “We will continue to welcome those businesses—including Kellogg, which just this week announced it is moving its largest headquarters to Illinois—and support emerging industries that are already creating good jobs and investing billions in Illinois, like data centers, electric vehicles and quantum computing,” the statement added. That was it.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s response was only slightly better. She did thank Citadel and its team for their philanthropic work and economic impact, but went on to dismiss their importance, making absurd claims about how well Chicago is doing. “Our economic outlook has never been stronger and we will continue to build upon a best-in-class recovery in the nation amongst large U.S. cities,” she said.
If other members of Illinois’ ruling class said anything of substance at all I cannot find them.
Then there’s Rich Miller, a columnist and blogger who is better described as the de facto spokesperson for Illinois’ political establishment.
His Twitter post and headline said, “After apparent spectacular political failure, Ken Griffin takes ball, goes home to Florida.” What a venal and irresponsible response to a sad event that will truly hurt already struggling Chicago and Illinois.
Miller went on to ridicule Griffin’s statement that his decision to leave was driven in part by employees asking to relocate. “Yeah, it’s about the employees,” Miller wrote. Miller and others cynically ascribe Griffin’s decision only to the failing campaign of Richard Irvin for governor, who Griffin heavily supported. Employee concerns about crime, taxes, corruption, insurmountable debts and all the rest had nothing to do with it, they’d have us believe.
Illinois’ loss from Citadel’s departure is enormous. Griffin has personally donated roughly $1.5 billion during his residency in Illinois to a range of philanthropic causes. Over $600 million of that was in Chicago.
Griffin alone has paid more than $200 million in yearly state taxes in recent years, and huge tax sums no doubt have also been paid by his 1,000 Illinois employees, many of whom are very well paid. The Washington Free Beacon reports that Citadel employees have funneled over $1 billion to the state’s coffers over the past decade. See my colleagues’ separate article with more details on the impact.
None of that is of much importance, apparently, to those happy to see him leave.
How would Griffin haters explain their glee over his departure? If they were asked, they’d probably say what quite a few of them were saying on social media. It’s the standard characterization of conservatives like Griffin: He’s just another rich guy who cares nothing about the little guy. That’s why he regularly opposed the establishment, which is dedicated to equality. Helping the little guy is what we’re about in Illinois, and we don’t want people like him who oppose that.
Maybe someday they will be confronted with how that equality thing has been working out in Illinois after decades of near complete one-party rule. If that happened, they’d face the reality that Illinois ranks much worse than the national average – ninth worst compared to other states – in the standard measure for income inequality. They’d see that Illinois is no better than middling when measured by the number of its citizens below the poverty line, ranking twenty-second highest among the states. They’d be reminded that Illinois’ unemployment rate persistently lags the nation, and much more
The list goes on and on, but actual results mean nothing to them. It’s the thought and the words that they pretend to think count.
There’s a special irony here and a more important lesson. Illinois did reduce inequality by driving Griffin away. Inequality drops whenever the rich flee. But does that really help the poor and middle class? Of course not.
The point was made nicely in a recent op-ed by two University of Chicago law professors. More billionaires will increase income inequality here, “but that would be a boon to government revenue,” they wrote. “When it comes to policies, Illinois would be better served by ones that attract successful entrepreneurs, not ones that drive them out of the state.”
Those are the policies Griffin supported while he was here, and that’s what earned him the establishment’s ire.
So here we are. Illinois is now more equal. And poorer. The political establishment has one less opponent to worry about. The planet indeed evolves, as Griffin’s wing at the Field Museum displays. Just not always for the better.