Thanks and apologies to Jake DeSantis

Today’s New York Times included a letter of resignation from one Jake DeSantis from AIG Financial Products, the Very Same Division That Brought The Economy T0 Its Knees.  It is a very brave, beautiful, and important piece of writing, which rightly condemns the mob thinking that is starting to take over.

I was not as inflammatory as most, but I got caught up in the general rage directed at a fairly large operation (400 people) in which relatively few people (already gone) did a tremendous amount of damage. And for my miniscule role in the hysteria that was misdirected against them, I owe an apology to those who are working in good faith to clean up others’ messes at AIG-FP.

DeSantis will be donating his entire AIG bonus to charities that are helping people affected by the economic crisis, rather than returning it. That way, the money doesn’t “disappear back into the obscurity of A.I.G.’s or the federal government’s budget.”  We should all hope that he isn’t taxed out of 90 percent of that potential donation.

We should also hope that we are able to keep a level head throughout this situation. It will be uncomfortable enough without misguided overreactions that cast a blanket of blame upon everyone involved in the troubled firms. Even those who committed damaging acts deserve compassion, for I am sure that most of them lie awake at night wondering what they could have done differently. I, for one, will try to focus my criticism more on behavior and less on individuals and organizations.

The problem is systemic in nature. Tying votes and profit only to the amount of money invested rewards greedy behavior with more money and more power, and thereby launches a vicious cycle reinforcing the very behavior that has done so much damage and caused so much outrage. Some reward for funding a venture is appropriate and those who fund businesses rightly have an interest in how they are run, but not when it results in obscene concentrations of wealth and power, and entrenched poverty.

Accountability is important, but even more important is the need to make changes to the architecture of the system that go beyond mere regulation that tries to stop an unstoppable flow. The more we can voluntarily divert our resources into enterprises with internal democracy (cooperatives, majority-owned ESOPs, and other commonly owned enterprises like the Green Bay Packers and W.L. Gore & Associates), the less energy we will need to pour into an essentially futile struggle to discourage the very behavior that typical capitalist corporations encourage through their linking of profit and power to wealth.

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