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First, They Came For The Bonuses

by Mytheos Holt, published

With the passage of the bill calling for a 90 percent tax on the AIG bonuses, the three-ring economic, political and media circus centered around the AIG bonuses has now officially entered the realm of absurdity, and looks to be spending the remainder of its existence there.

And that circus is truly representative of everything that is wrong with the discourse surrounding the financial crisis and the Obama administration as of this moment, for in it one hears the dissonant notes of envy, hypocrisy and cynicism all attempting forcefully to obscure the crescendo of cronyism which currently dominates this political symphony of Statism.

Despite the high-flown rhetorical false dichotomy between Wall Street and Main Street, it is apparent that neither Wall Street nor Main Street finds this tragic farce enjoyable or productive, for coiled at its roots lies the dormant serpentine force of totalitarianism.

Last Thursday's Wall Street Journal features several different pieces on the AIG scandal, bearing such encouraging, joyful titles as "Obama's AIG Panic," "Washington Has Always Demonized Wall St" and "Spitzer Spouts Off" (and yes, that Spitizer and no, not like that). In the first piece, the author observes that "By shouting 'greed' in a crowded and panicky Washington, our supposed financial stewards thus gave license to everyone in the media and Capitol Hill to see who could claim to be most shocked and appalled at AIG." And what a reaction it has been, especially from those who are supposedly charged with keeping the banking community solvent! Congressman Barney Frank, the supposed bank czar, has recently declared his intention to ferret out the names of those who have received AIG bonuses, by subpoena if necessary, and presumably to punish them viciously. Yes, that's right, in a time when executives at major companies are getting death threats for taking bonuses, a congressional leader wants to get their names on the public record.

If nothing else, this shows that the Democratic modus operandi in response to AIG fulfilling what even Obama advisor Larry Summers admitted were legal obligations is to use the false dichotomy of the highwayman: "Your money or your life."

Congressman Frank certainly seems to have a corner on their lives, so his colleagues have decided that it's wiser to try to use ex post facto taxation to save face by grabbing the money which they voted to steal from taxpayers in order to give to AIG in the first place! Among those suffering from this advanced form of thief's remorse is New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who apparently wants to "tax it all." That's right - Congresswoman Maloney wanted a 100 percent tax rate on AIG bonuses, because letting them keep even 10 percent of their contractually obligated money is apparently an injustice. There must be a lesson somewhere in the Congressional record about Indian giving, because even Congresswoman Maloney's compatriot, Charlie Rangel, is deploring the usage of the tax code as a political weapon. Better late than never, I suppose.

Now, setting aside the scandalous portrayal of the bonus scandal, there is one interesting argument floating around for the taxation's effectiveness, and that comes from Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA) - one of the few people brave enough, incidentally, to vote against the Troubled Assets Relief Program that got us into this mess. According to Congressman Royce, a vote for the AIG tax is a vote to show that bailouts lead to negative consequences, thus teaching businesses like AIG that trying to avoid failure by turning to politicians is the worst option of all.

This is a fair argument, except that, given the excesses of the past eight years, all it will do is reinforce the business incentive to count on Republican corruption over Democratic corruption, which in turn will push the Republican party further down the path of indentured servitude to particular economic interests - something which is toxic for both politics and for the Republicans themselves. Moreover, the Democratic spin on this bill will only result in a more generalized feeling of resentment, which may lead to Congressman Royce's admirable philosophy facing even worse violations.

As one terrifying example of that spin, one need only look at the most recent column by Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik, in which Hiltzik celebrates the American public's supposed awakening to the idea that "so many huge fortunes landed in the hands of the undeserving rich," some of whom "added little value to the economy but merely moved money around in novel, excessively clever and ultimately destructive ways" while "others are corporate executives who were ridiculously overpaid whether they succeeded or failed at their jobs." Hiltzik's crypto-socialist broadside is simply the honest version of what really lurks under the pleasant, hopeful image which the current administration tries to project - namely, an overriding obsession with punishing what FDR called the "malefactors of great wealth." And all this despite the fact that AIG's employees received the bonuses because of politicians who were either too lazy to fix the lack of provisions in TARP, or were too corrupt to care.

And so, to those few optimistic souls who believe this exercise of raw state power can have a useful lesson, one can only issue this warning: By the time you realize what your well-meaning actions have done, there may be no one left to speak out for you.

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