A lot of angry people weighed in today about AIG awarding $165 million in bonuses to executives who helped put the large insurance company in the position of needing $170 billion in bailout money from the federal government. U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, may have made the most outrageous comment about the situation.
“I suggest, you know, obviously, maybe they ought to be removed,” Grassley said. “But I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they’d follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I’m sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide. And in the case of the Japanese, they usually commit suicide before they make any apology.”
Now I’m sure Grassley was speaking rhetorically and doesn’t actually want AIG executives to kill themselves, but surely there was a less inflammatory way to say what he meant. At the same time, Grassley’s comment seems to neatly summarize how the average taxpayer feels about the greedy executives who eagerly took bailout money from the government while continuing to run their failing businesses as if nothing had changed.
The root of what Grassley said holds true: these executives need to show remorse for screwing up so badly that generations of Americans will literally be paying for their mistakes. If they think they didn’t do anything wrong and insist on continuing business as usual, those people need to be fired or, at the very least, demoted in pay or position.
Approximately 4.4 million Americans have lost their jobs since the recession began in December 2007. Many of them are unemployed despite their job performances having nothing to do with why they were laid off. Yet AIG executives played a hand in causing their company’s near-collapse and they get bonuses. That doesn’t seem right, does it?
Perhaps President Obama will succeed in his attempt to block payment of the AIG bonuses. But I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen. After all, this is just another example of the great divide between the upper class and everyone else. Bernie Madoff, Enron executives and a few others notwithstanding, rich people who mess up don’t tend to be held accountable for their actions. The AIG bonus scandal likely will end up being just one more example of that.