"In essence, Paulson and his cronies turned the federal government into one gigantic, half-opaque holding company, one whose balance sheet includes the world's most appallingly large and risky hedge fund, a controlling stake in a dying insurance giant, huge investments in a group of teetering megabanks, and shares here and there in various auto-finance companies, student loans, and other failing businesses. Like AIG, this new federal holding company is a firm that has no mechanism for auditing itself and is run by leaders who have very little grasp of the daily operations of its disparate subsidiary operations." (Source: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/26793903/the_big_takeover/print)
The point here isn't to debate bailing out the banks, which I fear I am not as far up the learning curve as I would need to be able to truly grasp all the details, but to look at the attitude that is being portrayed in the piece. By far this is one of the tamer quotes; another section calls Hank Paulson a "bald-headed Frankensteinian goon" and another talks about a "guy who acted like making huge bets with other people's money would make his dick bigger." Obviously very yellow journalism, but also very in tune with what the audience is feeling. If this had been my first article to read about the bank bailout, I could see myself falling into the trap the author lays, carefully layering facts and details with crass judgment. It's not necessarily misleading - there are very valid points about the lack of oversight and deregulation that should be taken seriously. The problem is that the article is not about AIG's deregulation - it's about class warfare.
No solutions are ever presented to the problem. The entire article is one big rant about how taxpayer money is being spent bailing out guys who are in an exclusive club, who caused the problem in the first place, and who expect to be catered to due to their lifestyle. In fact, the article takes the position that what the bankers are doing (working long hours, ulcers) and deliberately derides them for it - who cares since you guys caused the problem and have lots of money? Here's the quote so you don't feel I'm exaggerating:
The most galling thing about this financial crisis is that so many Wall Street types think they actually deserve not only their huge bonuses and lavish lifestyles but the awesome political power their own mistakes have left them in possession of. When challenged, they talk about how hard they work, the 90-hour weeks, the stress, the failed marriages, the hemorrhoids and gallstones they all get before they hit 40.
"But wait a minute," you say to them. "No one ever asked you to stay up all night eight days a week trying to get filthy rich shorting what's left of the American auto industry or selling $600 billion in toxic, irredeemable mortgages to ex-strippers on work release and Taco Bell clerks. Actually, come to think of it, why are we even giving taxpayer money to you people? Why are we not throwing your ass in jail instead?"
Here we find ourselves throwing anger not at the architects of the failure, but specifically at "Wall Street types", not at the government or even Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner's policy of bailing out AIG in specific, but workers which to most Americans are indistinguishable to anyone else who works in a suit and a tie. There is no clear idea of what a Wall Street type does - I'm assuming there are multiple jobs and tiers and involvement, yet we are to direct our anger at the mere image of wealth when we have none.
The reason I bring any of this up is because this is dangerous. It's the pendulum swing of anger and intolerance that continues to return in new incarnations every generation or so. Getting angry at Wall Street doesn't erase the degrees and hard work and moving up from the bottom level of the company that many of those (mostly) men have endured. Nor does it make them responsible for the situation we find ourselves in - again, the idea of the corporation, the segmented knowledge that one has working for such a place. Just because you have a desk there doesn't make you responsible for every move the corporation makes. Hell, the article pretty much admits that the CEO and Director had no damn clue what was going on yet directs its anger towards not the named, not those in charge, but the unnamed as well.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, it's unfair to everyone who's losing jobs and homes. Period. There is no qualifier that makes it right for the people caught up in this depression, no amount of blame cast about unqualified loans and union job bashing that will make up for the sheer scope of people whose lives were destroyed by this (and still will be - it's not over.) However, to frame this in an "us vs. those who get bonuses" argument is derailing the entire discussion from where it needs to be - how the fuck do we keep this from happening again? It's casting blame to a straw man while leaving the issue out of the discussion. Being angry about employees receiving bonuses doesn't regulate the business or propose solutions; in fact, it drives a wedge even further that began in the time Bush was elected - anti-intellectualism. Just because Joe Banker wears a suit and a tie and toddles off to Wall Street at dawn to put in a 14 hour day so he can pay off his Harvard grad school loans doesn't make him evil. We don't need to lose any more intellectuals; we just need to give them incentives not to screw us over.
What strikes me as interesting is that all this kicked off during the Clinton administration, and Clinton is not a dumb man. Granted, it was during the time he had a Republican congress who liked to naysay his policies, but all the same I would be interested to hear his opinion. Taco?