. . . on the calendar. Citizen Jane agrees with Rush Limbaugh.
Demands have gone out for AIG to name names. Just who are these dastardly executives who had the audacity to accept bonuses when the company was going under?
Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh—stalwart defender that he is of all things capitalist—likened this quest for names to the witch hunts of the 1950s, in which Senator Joe McCarthy demanded the names of alleged communist sympathizers. I think the comparison is apt.
The desire behind these mean-spirited demands is to find scapegoats, and—like many or most of the casualties of McCarthyism—the people in question have most likely done nothing wrong—or, at least, nothing illegal.
That’s the whole point. There are not and apparently never have been laws to prohibit insurance companies from taking unreasonable risks, selling insurance on assets, or compensating their top traders and executives with exorbitant sums of money they didn’t earn.
And as for those individuals themselves, as far as we know, all they did was accept obscenely ridiculous sums of money for doing little or nothing—or in spite of making horrendous and costly mistakes. They all had a sweet deal going, some for many years. This doesn’t make them particularly admirable as individuals. But on the other hand, how were they to know that, really, the whole system resembled a huge Ponzi scheme? None of the rest of us—including Senators and Treasury Secretaries and Presidents—knew that the whole house of cards would come crashing down. Why should those individuals at AIG have been any more far-sighted?
Lots of people benefit from keeping the pistol pointed at these so-far blessedly anonymous AIG executives. People like them at other banks, investment firms, and insurance companies—who are probably checking about now to make sure their passports are still current. Members of the Bush administration, who probably would have cut off their own noses before admitting that they smelled a rat. People who brokered the deals on the receiving end of policies to insure high-risk mortgages and assets.
In a way, maybe we’re all partly to blame. In retrospect, there’s been a lot of strange stuff going on in the financial world for a long time now. As citizens, maybe we should have tried to educate ourselves better. Perhaps we might have wondered aloud why credit cards were being passed out like cookies at a grand opening—or how a coworker struggling from paycheck to paycheck can afford a quarter-million dollar house. Maybe we all lived a little—or a lot—beyond our means. How convenient it was to put off worrying about those things.
Let’s quit pointing fingers. Let’s quit worrying about a few measly millions that are a relatively tiny symptom of a potentially terminal illness. Let’s just figure out, from this day forward, how to fix this mess.
And let’s support the President we elected. Let’s give him and the all-star team of financial experts he assembled a little time to get things done.