Charles Krauthammer (with whom I rarely agree) has made a very good point that I was already thinking: $165 million in bonuses to the least popular executives in the galaxy (at AIG, for those who haven’t been paying attention) is a drop in the bucket in our mad mad world of billions and trillions.
To wit, “Now, in the scheme of things, $165 million is a rounding error. It amounts to less than 1/18,500 of the $3.1 trillion federal budget. It’s less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the bailout money given to AIG alone. If Bill Gates were to pay these AIG bonuses every year for the next 100 years, he’d still be left with more than half his personal fortune.”
That’s where he lost me. It may be pocket change for Bill Gates, but if someone making the median household income of roughly $50,000 (and dropping) tried to pay this tab, it would take roughly 3,300 years (that’s the year 5309, by which time it is unlikely that there will be such a thing as dollars).
Krauthammer laid out this whole string of ratios to assure us that this is not worth “poisoning the well” with the partisan mayhem that has broken out in Congress. Nor is it worth overturning various legal and constitutional obstacles to retroactive taxing and punishment.
That’s all true, and I agree that forcibly trying to take the money back is a lost cause that will do more harm than good. Far better to invite them to pay it back and keep working to clean up their mess as a public service, and hope that none of those death threats are serious.
However, $165 million dollars is still a lot of money. So is the $220 million owed in back taxes (!) by 13 companies that got bailout money! Two of these owe more than $100 million apiece! From as far back as 2004!!! That is, they each owe 2000 years worth of income for the average family in this country as BACK TAXES!!!(!) And the government can’t tell us who they are.
My regular readers may notice that I have just used more exclamation points in the previous paragraph than I have used in all of my previous blog entries combined (except for that one other time I got worked into a froth).
The point is not to abuse punctuation, but to properly emphasize that there is a really absurd level of corruption that is in a whole different universe than that inhabited by us little people. Actually, scratch that. The proper number of exclamation points would fill this whole blog entry. When someone can make mistakes (or cheat) in ways that are thousands of times the total of my income, I know that this system has gotten too far out of whack.
However, there is still some hope. In my last post I compared AIG to the global mutual insurance sector, and found that they are roughly the same size (even though the latter is made up of a bunch of different democratic organizations rather than one nasty behemoth). The same question could be asked of banking and many other sectors: What would happen if the capitalist system just fully tanked? Would cooperatives be able to step into the breach?
Tune in next time, when I rassle this hairy beast of a question.
On another note…
Meanwhile, I have a question: WordPress tracks all sorts of data about your collective visits to my little blog here, and I’ve noticed that occasionally I’ll get lots of visits to a certain old post (right now “Coopgeek vs. the Wall Street Journal” is pretty popular). Sometimes these are accompanied by large clusters of similar but not identical web searches. For example, a while back there were tons of people who found me by searching for “deflation pros and cons” or some variation of that theme.
So here’s my question: Is there a class or discussion group out there that has discovered little ol’ Coopgeek? If so, please announce yourself; I’m terribly curious. If you like I can keep your comment private. Thank you.