I am as disgusted as the next person about the bonuses to AIG executives. Rewarding folks for failure is ridiculous. Making me pay for it feels like a crime. But I am even more concerned about the consequences of rage run amok. The AIG furor has the feel of an American Kristillnacht. Let's just all look away while an outrage is committed in our name.
Today's Hartford Courant reports that state lawmakers have issued a subpoena to AIG's chief executive to explain the bonus. This subpoena is an abuse of process. Those who signed it should be ashamed of behaving as little more than pimps to public rage. Even Connecticut's Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal, has signed on to this charade. Shame on you; each of you. You were elected to lead, not stoop to the lowest common denominator.
And it gets worse. The homes of AIG bonus-recipients in Connecticut are now tourist attractions for populist ragemongers. Buses will convey folks to the homes to gawk, scorn and harass the recipients. I say prosecute each and every one of these folks if they so much as step foot on property of one of these people. The bonus recipients did nothing wrong.
All this rage and fury is misdirected. Lawmakers ought to be walking the street in sack cloth and ash begging our fogriveness instead of pointing the finger at others. Where was Congress, Mr. Blumenthal and statelawmakers when the bailout plan was hatched? Why didn't they notice contracts struck before the bubble burst? The fault is theirs, and rather than behaving like a financial lynch mob set to attack private citizens, an angry public ought to preparing to count scalps at the next election of lawmakers.
The Government got snookered. Edward M. Liddy should be fired. And any future bailout money ladled into Wall Street's troughs ought to come with the explicit condition that bonuses will not be paid. These bailouts should be treated as constructive bankruptcies. A firm receiving funds agrees to restructure its obligations.
But, and this is a pivotal but, let's not get crazy about the folks who actually received the bonuses. A couple towns over from me in Fairfield a man named James Haas has a new nickname, "Jackpot Jimmy." And he has a lawn full of reporters and angry neighbors. You see, he got a bonus this week. People now have a local face toward which to direct their rage. Haas is frightened and concerned for his family's safety. He has received death threats. An angry mob has made him a marked man.
Part of that mob is sitting in Congress. There is no branch of government quite so dangerous as the legislature. Any self-righteous fool can mount a soap box and reform the world with words. But but a roomful of these fools in a room and call them Congress and they can make law. When inspired by rage and moment those laws can have all the appeal of gas can at a bonfire. Talk of a punitive tax on these bonuses makes a mockery of the rule of law. Call it intellectual treason.
When the recipients of the AIG bonuses entered into contracts to get rich, no one objected. That is because we were all giddy on the same helium being sucked from a balloon about to pop. Now the bubble has burst, and most of us are hurting. But we have only ourselves to blame.
I am angered by the bonuses. No doubt about it. But I am not angry at the folks who received them. I am envious of their windfall, but a more powerful emotion is now pity. I worry that an angry mob will trample them underfoot.
The focus of my anger is on the lawmakers and administration officials who negotiated a bailout without counting all the strings attached to the deal. These folks should be the focus of our rage.