Well into the crisis period, when banks such as Citigroup were operating on federal investment and when Citi's stock was in single digits, Vikram Pandit, the CEO, was observed with a lunch guest at Le Bernardin, one of the top-rated restaurants in New York. Pandit looked discerningly at the wine list, saw nothing by the glass that appealed, and ordered a $350 bottle so that, as he explained, he could savor "a glass of wine worth drinking." Pandit drank just one glass; his friend had none.
The book excerpt doesn't get into the question, but it'd be interesting to know who paid for that bottle of wine. Did Pandit expense it to Citi shareholders? Or did he pay for it with his own money? What do the tax rules say about how a company may treat such an expense? A $350 bottle of wine obviously isn't the core issue in a multi-trillion dollar financial crisis, and I see the whole crisis differently than Mr. Lowenstein. But I think he is correct to sense that the anecdote resonates, and not just out of reflexive class bias against the rich. If Mr. Pandit was having lunch with a friend and they were spending their own money, it's one thing, and it's hard to see the public-policy relevance. But if it was shareholder or taxpayer money, it's a different thing.
The other thing that would be nice to find out is what happened to the rest of the bottle of wine. Did Mr. Pandit take it home? Was it poured out into the sink? Did the restaurant staff end up drinking it?