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September 24, 2013

AIG’s CEO's Beliefs about Criticism of Bonuses Is a Disturbing Window into the Wall Street Mindset

Criticism of AIG paying bonuses to its employees after being bailed out by US taxpayers is as bad as murdering thousands of African Americans by hanging during the reign of terror know as Jim Crow. That’s what the CEO of AIG said.

What he said was about as bad as it gets (more on that below), but the window his remarks and beliefs opened into the Wall Street mindset is much more important.  On that, don’t miss WashPo’s Ezra Klein, Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum and Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi

As to what he actually said, AIG’s CEO believes that this is actually what was “intended” by the uproar and criticism of the bonus payments. It clearly never occurred to him that such criticism and outrage might be justified on the merits. It has also apparently never occurred to him that the pain and suffering inflicted on Main Street by AIG’s and Wall Street’s reckless if not criminal reckless trading and investments might give rise to such criticism.

Forgotten now is that these tens of millions of dollars in bonus payments to already unimaginably rich people were made in March of 2009 as unemployment was skyrocketing, the stock market was crashing, and people’s jobs, retirements, savings, and dreams were literally disappearing. Economic insecurity and fear of the future was gnawing at the dinner table of most American families who were struggling to get by because they were real victims of the Wall Street caused financial crash.

Now, five years after the worst financial collapse since 1929 which caused the worst economy since the Great Depression and Wall Street executives still think they did nothing wrong, still deserve all their bonuses and are still totally blind to egregious damage they have done to everyone else. Worse, anyone who disagrees with them is just a “pitchfork” rabble rouser with “hangman nooses.”

The AIG CEO’s comments follow from his other benighted beliefs: “We’re trying to find the villains [for the financial crisis]. There’s got to be a villain somewhere. The problem is that there isn’t a villain. There are villains. They are everybody.” This is the primary defense of the Wall Street: “blame everyone but us”! (This isn’t an isolated case: watch this laughableinterview of a former senior AIG executive misquoting Hillary Clinton and saying “I blame the crisis on everyone…. ‘it takes a nation.’ … blame everyone.” Disgracefully, this Wall Street mouthpiece never disclosed that he worked for AIG from 1998 to 2006, until just before its implosion.)

Sure, many people deserve blame for doing bad and wrong things before the crisis, but not everyone is equally blameworthy. Anyone not on the payroll of Wall Street can clearly see that any honest reckoning of the financial crash puts Wall Street’s too-big-to-fail and bailed-out institutions at the top of any list of culprits for the worst crash since 1929 and the economic wreckage it has caused and continues to cause this country. (A Better Marketsstudy showed that the costs are going to be more than $12.8 trillion.)

Wall Street was bailed out by US taxpayers and the government, paid themselves record bonuses and once again are riding record profits (and record bonuses) while the rest of the country has been economically devastated and they couldn’t care less. In fact, they believe they are being picked on and they have it bad. Indeed, they are as innocent as the thousands of victims hanged during Jim Crow, except the AIG and Wall Street “victims” got to keep their billions of dollars in bonuses, mansions, boats, sports cars, club memberships, house help and everything else.

Unsurprisingly, the AIG CEO grossly understates the number of AIG employees involved in the outrageous conduct that caused AIG to fail, threaten the collapse of the entire financial system, and required the taxpayer bailout to prevent another Great Depression. But, even the “less than 10 employees … behind the bad trades” that he cops to were never punished in any way, much less hanged. They are still living fat and happy with millions, tens of millions and in some cases hundreds of millions of dollars that they pocketed from egregious and reckless, if not criminal, conduct.

That doesn’t even mention all the others at AIG from the Board of Directors to the most senior executives who were supposed to responsibly manage AIG and supervise those trades and the many other executives, supervisors and staff in legal, risk and compliance who were supposed to make sure such outrageous risks were never undertaken in the first place. And, of course, the AIG CEO and other Wall Street apologists never mention the hundreds if not thousands of others who got big bonuses all those years when they were making all those high risk, complex trades and investments before it all blew up, bankrupting the company, threatening the economy and getting bailed out.

How could anyone five years after the crash have such disgraceful beliefs? It’s the predictable outcome of trillions of dollars of no strings bailouts for Wall Street with no accountability for the financial crash and Wall Street’s role in causing it. The insularity that surrounds the titans of Wall Street and the echo chamber that reinforces their victimhood filters out any thought that maybe, just maybe they had a role in causing the crash, that their riches are ill-gotten gains, and that the economic suffering in the country is largely due to their, at best, gross mismanagement of their dangerous too-big-to-fail firms.



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