Mar 21, 2009

Are we numb or just holding it together?

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: "The Obama Effect"| mind and mood| modern life| reboot| trust

AIG is the poster child for Wall Street gone bad.

AIG is the poster child for Wall Street gone bad.

So it’s clear that Obama is outraged on our (the taxpayers’) behalf, and we thank him for that. On the heels of the President’s recent dressing down of insurance giant AIG for its huge bonus payouts, CEO Edward Liddy told Congress he has called for the return of “at least half” of bonuses of more than $100,000—himself calling the payouts “distasteful.”



But what do we, the taxpayers, think? Are we as burning mad as our President, or are we just feeling cold toward it all?


In hearings, Congressman Gary Ackerman of New York cited “a tidal wave of rage” running throughout America right now. And a recent Harris Poll shows that 83 percent of adults do think bonuses should be returned and paid to shareholders, and that 87 percent think Wall Street should be subject to tougher regulation. Not surprising sentiments at a time when so many Americans fear for their jobs and homes and health care, and massive amounts of bailout money are going to banks.


But what is hard to believe is that the feeling isn’t even stronger. Amazingly, not all appears to be lost for Wall Street when it comes to public opinion. The same poll reveals that a shocking 20 percent of Americans disagree that Wall Street firms should only pay bonuses when they are doing well and making good profits. And while a majority of respondents believe that most successful people on Wall Street don’t deserve to make the kind of money they earn, a sizeable minority of 40 percent think they do deserve those big bucks.


A Daily Kos poll from just last week shows that an astonishing 76 percent of Americans have “no opinion” about Bernie Madoff, the Ponzi scheme operator who swindled $65 billion from unsuspecting investors, from Hollywood honchos to charitable foundations to a Holocaust survivor.


So are Americans inching toward apathy, or is it all just too chaotic and complex to truly contemplate? Perhaps right now, many Americans are just more focused on holding our own lives together than on looking for someone else to blame.

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    While I cringe at the thought of any "bailed out" company passing out bonuses, the following thoughts come to mind.
    1) how worse off would AIG be if employees knew mid -2008 they had lost their incentives to perform? In which case, corporate pay structure across the board needs reform, not just for top execs.
    2) In an era calling for greater accountability, how proud are the Universities, professors, and teachers of the performance of their students -- those at the center of this mess, from Wall Street executives, to mortgage brokers, to "in it over their heads" homeowners? How much blame does our education system deserve? Is accountability learned at home or in school?
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