If only the bankers knew about our great national mission

Tom Friedman:

He should have gone on national TV and had the fireside chat with the country that is long overdue. That’s a talk where he lays out exactly how deep the crisis we are in is, exactly how much sacrifice we’re all going to have to make to get out of it, and then calls on those A.I.G. brokers — and everyone else who, in our rush to heal our banking system, may have gotten bonuses they did not deserve — and tells them that their president is asking them to return their bonuses “for the sake of the country.”

Had Mr. Obama given A.I.G.’s American brokers a reputation to live up to, a great national mission to join, I’d bet anything we’d have gotten most of our money back voluntarily. Inspiring conduct has so much more of an impact than coercing it. And it would have elevated the president to where he belongs — above the angry gaggle in Congress.

Leaving aside the fact that I don’t think that would have made anyone give back their money, it reminds me of this from David Broder about Bush:

But I listened in vain for any admission of what I and others consider the greatest moral failing of the Bush presidency — his refusal to ask any sacrifice from most of the American people when he put the nation on a wartime footing after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bush authorized torture, used every sort of trick to violate the constitution, literally fiddled while New Orleans flooded, and left the country in a shambles. How on earth could not asking for sacrifice be his greatest moral failure? Obama is facing a catastrophic banking crisis and the Geithner plan has been found wanting in many influential quarters. How can a fireside chat be job number one?

Don’t get me wrong: if by “asked for sacrifice,” Broder means “rolled back his tax cuts,” then this was a great failing on Bush’s part (though it is still nowhere near his greatest failing and it’s not clear that’s what Broder means at all). And I agree that Obama could do a better job of describing the financial crisis to the public.

But to suggest over and over again that the main duty of the government is to tell the population what to do and how to feel is hopelessly naive, the sort of thing no one over the age of 12 should believe. It’s the same kind of thinking that makes our punditocracy hail an idiot like Mikheil Saakashvili as a hero of democracy because he likes to talk about freedom, the same kind that caused the media man-crushes on Huckabee and McCain (and, yes, it’s also part of the reason they liked Obama better than Hillary).

The president of the United States oversees a multi-trillion dollar budget, a vast foreign policy apparatus, countless scientific and judicial issues. The decisions a president makes about these things have profound effects, not just on the U.S. economy but possibly on the future of human civilization (see climate change and nuclear proliferation). How on earth can a few fireside chats and calls for sacrifice be the primary thing by which they are judged?






64 replies
  1. 1
    A Mom Anon says:

    How is it that anyone ever listened to Tom Friedman about anything? Ever? How is he some expert on any topic, except perhaps moustache grooming tips? He lives inside a huge privledged bubble,it’s time for him to stfu.

    Obama’s done a better job of trying to reach regular people than anyone in elected office I’ve seen in awhile. He can only do so much. The rest is up to us. Of course,the what to do part is the hard thing,I’m not sure what that is beyond taking care of one’s own family and community. This whole AIG/economic meltdown has people pissed off,but I still don’t think the magnitude of it has really sunk in yet. Sadly,I think it will have to get much worse before the majority of Americans figure it out.

  2. 2
    mr. whipple says:

    Had Mr. Obama given A.I.G.’s American brokers a reputation to live up to, a great national mission to join, I’d bet anything we’d have gotten most of our money back voluntarily.

    I watch almost everything Obama does. He’s brought this up over and over and over again.

    I feel like I’ve walked into a madhouse.

  3. 3
    guest says:

    it’s obama’s fault wall street is full of greedy bastards!

  4. 4
    KJ says:

    Between Frank Rich’s "Katrina Moment" and this screed, I think this will be a no (more) news day for me. I’ll try again on Monday.

  5. 5
    JDM says:

    TOM motherfucking FRIEDMAN!?! Preening, posturing, arrogant patronizing intellectual and moral bankrupt? Financially bankrupt shopping center (former) heiress wife? Fuck him – he can shove an olive tress and a Lexus right up his reichwing asshole. Dipshit dumbfuck pus wad.

  6. 6
    El Cid says:

    Friedman says:

    Had Mr. Obama given A.I.G.’s American brokers a reputation to live up to, a great national mission to join, I’d bet anything we’d have gotten most of our money back voluntarily.

    And you said:

    But to suggest over and over again that the main duty of the government is to tell the population what to do and how to feel is hopelessly naive, the sort of thing no one over the age of 12 should believe.

    I’m going to emphasize that the context here is important. Friedman is arguing here that our wealthiest and most powerful citizens should not be compelled to refrain from exercising their own self interests, but should be allowed to choose to do so voluntarily.

    Let’s see how frequently this standard is applied to our regular, vast majority population, if the Friedmans and Broders of the world believe that we should be permitted to choose to comply with government rather than being legally compelled to do so.

  7. 7
    mr. whipple says:

    Between Frank Rich’s "Katrina Moment" and this screed, I think this will be a no (more) news day for me. I’ll try again on Monday.

    I’ve deleted a bunch of tabs from people I respect. Maybe I’ll go back when the hysteria abates.

  8. 8
    DougJ says:

    @El Cid

    Let’s see how frequently this standard is applied to our regular, vast majority population, if the Friedmans and Broders of the world believe that we should be permitted to choose to comply with government rather than being legally compelled to do so.

    That’s an excellent point.

  9. 9
    Jane says:

    Maybe not "the primary thing by which [Obama will be] judged", but fireside chats and calls for sacrifice are hugely, hugely important. The present populist outrage (that happens to have the bonuses as its current target) could be channeled into enormously constructive directions if Obama would ask our help. Not to do so is irresponsible — a very, very sad and scary omission.

    For myself, just tell me what to do! I wish BJ would do a "How We Can Do Our Part" post. The comments would have good suggestions….

  10. 10
    El Cid says:

    By the way, this also from the same Editorial page as Friedman’s column, by Eduardo Porter:

    The experts in the financial industry, by contrast, are pros. The mortgage-backed bonds they manufactured may have lost most of their value; debt markets may have frozen; economic activity might have fallen off a cliff. But what other industry can persuade the government to hand over several hundred billion dollars in a heartbeat?

    And @ DougJ: This is how the punditariat always thinks. They always identify with the views of and the need for self-direction by our most powerful and wealthy population segments.

    The rest of us are to receive a somewhat more compelling encounter with government, except when the likelihood of giving us a ‘choice’ is probabilistically much more likely to lead to us choosing some option in line with elites’ desires — i.e., giving us the ‘freedom’ to ‘choose’ to invest our own individual Social Security insurance contributions in the private market rather than be ‘compelled’ to pay into the current system.

    Funny how this all works.

  11. 11
    Brian J says:

    Wait a goddamn minute. After spending the last two years talking about the need to make sacrifices and doing everything he can to involve an entire generation in new and innovative ways to give back, he’s not doing enough to change the nation’s mentality? He’s been president for eight goddamn weeks and hasn’t had the chance to fully staff the Treasury Department. Shouldn’t most of the blame to go, you know, the party and the president that was in power for most of the last decade?

  12. 12
    joe in oklahoma says:

    one thing i agree on, it is past time for Obama to sit down and explain it all to the American people.

  13. 13
    bootlegger says:

    @mr. whipple: He has, actually, done this many times, you are correct and Friedman is, well, a dick.

    Y’all are right to mock the notion that the Lords of Finance will do something because POTUS tells them it would be a nice thing to do. However, people are inherently psychologically motivated to confirm the meanings of their group identities. Experiments show this is a more powerful psychological mechanism than so-called "rational choice".

    The AIG CEO testified that several (we don’t know how many) of his folks gave back *all* of the bonus money. People can be convinced, shamed if you will, into taking one for the team if they identify as a part of the group. Of course a narcissist who references only the other Lords won’t be swayed by this, but others will. This is my long-winded way of saying that asking the Lords of Finance to suck it up for the nation will sway at least some of them. How many? Depends on who they see as their primary reference group.

  14. 14
    Brian J says:

    To all of those who say Obama isn’t trying to talk to the American people: exactly what was the point of him doing something like going on "The Tonight Show"? You can argue whether or not this was the best way to do it, but it’s not as if he’s refusing to engage the people.

  15. 15
    bootlegger says:

    OT: The Ballon Juice 2nd Chance tourney pool is now up. It will start with the Sweet 16.

  16. 16
    Jim Pharo says:

    Um Doug? Tom Friedman is, and has been for a very long time, an idiot. I don’t know why people who seem to be as smart as you would ever read him.

    If you really want to work up a head of steam, I have some old John Birch Society pamphlets you could look at…

  17. 17
    ploeg says:

    Considering that a lot of these AIG employees are supposedly residents of London, England, I’m certain that a round of "Do it for the good old USA" would do a lot of good with them.

  18. 18
    Laura W says:

    @bootlegger: Ho Boy.
    Ya mean I can double my suckitude?
    Count me in.

  19. 19
    liberal says:

    Bush authorized torture, used every sort of trick to violate the constitution, literally fiddled while New Orleans flooded, and left the country in a shambles.

    Look, I find the torture stuff as despicable as the next guy, but it’s at least two orders of magnitude less egregious than this item: "illegally invading a country with no legitimate provocation, resulting in thousands of dead and wounded American soldiers, hundreds of thousands of dead civilians, four million refugees, nearly a trillion dollars spent directly, an additional trillion or two in adverse economic effects, and increased regional destabilization."

    Not to pick on you in particular, but I don’t understand why everyone focuses on the torture and not the illegality of the war in Iraq. From a strictly utilitarian perspective, the latter is by far the greater calamity.

  20. 20
    liberal says:

    @Jim Pharo:

    I don’t know why people who seem to be as smart as you would ever read him.

    Entertainment.

  21. 21
    Dennis-SGMM says:

    Freidman would be totally onboard if Obama declared that his plan is an economic Surge so we have to wait six more months to see if we’re making progress.

  22. 22
    Davis X. Machina says:

    How on earth can a few fireside chats and calls for sacrifice be the primary thing by which they are judged?

    Think like a Villager. They sell affect, optics, attitude, sizzle. Is it surprising that they think that that’s the only part of the President’s job that really matters?

    Xenophanes the pre-Socratic used to say that if horses and cattle had hands, their statues of their gods would have hooves and horns.

  23. 23
    Davis X. Machina says:

    I don’t know why people who seem to be as smart as you would ever read him.

    My theory: Lent.

  24. 24

    For those saying President Obama hasn’t explained it all to the nation perhaps you weren’t paying attention to his two, count em, two televised town hall meetings this past week and his appearance on Jay Leno. Its funny how the Leno appearance was hijacked by the Special Olympics comment in the media but you want to know what he had to say about the situation?

    http://swampland.blogs.time.co.....more-11568

    Q Let me ask you about this. I know you are angry –- because, you know, doing what I do, you kind of study body language a little bit. And you looked very angry about these bonuses. Actually, stunned.
    THE PRESIDENT: Stunned. "Stunned" is the word.
    Q Tell people what happened. I know people have been over it, just –-
    THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, here’s what happened. You’ve got a company, AIG, which used to be just a regular, old insurance company. Then they insured a whole bunch of stuff and they were very profitable and it was a good, solid company.
    Then they decided –- some smart person decided, let’s put a hedge fund on top of the insurance company and let’s sell these derivative products to banks all around the world –- which are basically guarantees or insurance policies on all these sub-prime mortgages.
    And this smart person said, you know, none of these things are going to go bust; this sub-prime thing, it’s a great deal, you can make a lot of profit. So they sold a whole bunch of them –- billions and billions of dollars. And what happened is, is that when people started going bust on sub-prime mortgages you had $30 worth of debt on every dollar worth of mortgage –- and the whole house of cards just started falling down.
    So the problem with AIG was that it owed so much and was tangled up with so many banks and institutions that if you had allowed it to just liquidate, to go into bankruptcy, it could have brought the whole financial system down. So it was the right thing to do to intervene in AIG.
    Now, the question is, who in their right mind, when your company is going bust, decides we’re going to be paying a whole bunch of bonuses to people? And that, I think, speaks to a broader culture that existed on Wall Street, where I think people just had this general attitude of entitlement, where, we must be the best and the brightest, we deserve $10 million or $50 million or $100 million dollar payouts –-
    Q Right.
    THE PRESIDENT: And, you know, the immediate bonuses that went to AIG are a problem. But the larger problem is we’ve got to get back to an attitude where people know enough is enough, and people have a sense of responsibility and they understand that their actions are going to have an impact on everybody. And if we can get back to those values that built America, then I think we’re going to be okay. (Applause.)
    Q Well, you know, it’s interesting, when you said -– it’s, like, I had to laugh the other day when the CEO of AIG said, okay, I’ve asked them to give half the bonuses back. Now, if you rob a bank and you go into court –- (laughter) –- and you go, Your Honor, I’m going to give you half the money back. (Laughter.) And they seem stunned that we’re not jumping at this wonderful offer.
    THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, the only place I think that might work is in Hollywood. (Laughter.)
    Q Let me ask you this. Now, I heard them say, well, one of the problems is it’s contractual and if we don’t pay these bonuses, well, they can sue us. All the time people say, so sue me.
    THE PRESIDENT: So sue me, right.
    Q I mean, the federal government is in debt a trillion dollars. We’re broke — sue us. Sue me. (Laughter and applause.)
    THE PRESIDENT: In fairness, I think that part of the calculation they were making was the way the contracts were written said, if you don’t pay us immediately, then we can claim three times as much as we were owed under the bonuses. And so they were making a legal calculation, and their legal judgment was not necessarily wrong.
    But there’s a moral and an ethical aspect to this, as well. And I think that’s what has gotten everybody so fired up. The main thing –- we’re going to do everything we can to see if we can get these bonuses back. But I think the most important thing that we can do is make sure that we put in a bunch of financial regulatory mechanisms to prevent companies like an AIG holding the rest of us hostage. Because that’s –- that’s the real problem.
    The problem is not just what’s happened over the last six months. The problem is what was happening for years, where people were able to take huge, excessive risks with other people’s money, putting the entire financial system at risk –- and there were no checks, there were no balances, there was nobody overseeing the process.
    And so what we’re going to be moving very aggressively on –- even as we try to fix the current mess –- is make sure that before somebody makes a bad bet you say, hold on, you can’t do that.

    Now that, to me, was a very straightforward explanation of what happened. Maybe its time for people to start paying attention instead of waiting to be spoonfed. Im just saying.

  25. 25
    liberal says:

    @bootlegger:

    People can be convinced, shamed if you will, into taking one for the team if they identify as a part of the group.

    I think a much more effective tactic than shame would be harassment: publish their names and addresses.

  26. 26
    liberal says:

    @ploeg:

    Considering that a lot of these AIG employees are supposedly residents of London, England…

    Some of them are undoubtably American citizens.

  27. 27
    bootlegger says:

    @Laura W: Going to stick with your Most Excellent strategery?

  28. 28
    Laura W says:

    @bootlegger:
    "Bite me."
    (You can be darn certain that I AM going to review all of the uniforms this go around. I can’t say more because Stuck hangs on my every strategic word now, hoping to emulate me.)

  29. 29
    guest says:

    “for the sake of the country.”

    funny how friedman put this in quotes. it’s as if he himself recognizes the irony of his resorting to this appeal.

  30. 30
    bootlegger says:

    @liberal: Yes, identification is an important part of this process. Anonymity allows the individual to escape "shame", just witness how people talk to each other on here at times. People say things that if they said face to face would get them a black eye.

    However, my concern is that some idiot, one of Beck’s Citizens with Political Correctness Syndrome, will do something violent.

    I don’t know how to balance the two. Maybe fear of violence is a good deterrent, but its bad for social order.

  31. 31
    Graham says:

    I know it’s a foolish thing to say, but I smell change in the air. I mean Guns of August type change, where the continents shift and the stars realign.

    What had before seemed serious now seems momentous. Geithner’s neck is on the line, Obama seems economically uncertain, if not adrift.

    I don’t have anything intelligent to say about it, any more than you can say anything intelligent about an approaching hurricane. Except maybe that we live in interesting times.

    To stretch a metaphor even further, when the wave comes who is going to be riding it? Obama, or the likes of Limbaugh? Obama needs to start paddling now.

  32. 32
    mr. whipple says:

    For those saying President Obama hasn’t explained it all to the nation perhaps you weren’t paying attention to his two, count em, two televised town hall meetings this past week and his appearance on Jay Leno.

    I watched both, anxious to see the crowds rip him to shreds over the *anger* that the blogosphere and cable has flogged for a week.

    While Obama did have remarks about this in his openings, there wasn’t a single question about AIG bonuses. Why is that?

  33. 33
    RAM says:

    "Had Mr. Obama given A.I.G.’s American brokers a reputation to live up to, a great national mission to join, I’d bet anything we’d have gotten most of our money back voluntarily."

    On the other hand, I bet AIG’s brass would have been helpless with laughter. If those guys had cared about their reputations or "a great national mission to join" they wouldn’t have destroyed the economy of the ENTIRE WORLD for their own private gain. What does it take to make people realize that a large proportion of the upper echelons of the world financial system are no different than people like Willie Sutton, who when asked why he robbed banks, answered with some incredulity, "Because that’s where the money is!"

  34. 34
    bootlegger says:

    @Laura W: LOL, you go girl! No one will be more pleased than I if you win.

  35. 35
    JL says:

    OT Does any one here do the NYTimes crossword puzzle? What’s the theme?

  36. 36
    bootlegger says:

    @RAM: Your blanket assertion is belied by the fact that at least some already gave back their bonuses.
    Only an idiot would argue, as Friedman does, that this will sway all the Lords of Finance, but psychologically it will effect at least some of them.
    Also, as noted above, those folks in London, unless they have a strong "American" social identity will not be effected by the appeal to national loyalty.

  37. 37
    jcricket says:

    If by sacrifice Mr. Friedman means not shopping at one of his wife’s families malls, I think we can get behind that. Oh wait, we did, and now GGP is basically in bankruptcy/receivership. The mall is flat?

    So, so, so much schadenfreude.

    And frankly, we’re so far out of whack from where we need to be policy-wise on economics, and there’s 30+ years of Republican bullshit/propaganda to de-condition, so it’s a nearly impossible task to explain what’s up to the American public. That said, Obama’s done a better job than most Democrats making it clear that Republican policies (if they even offer any) are what got us in this mess, and they can’t get us out.

    But even Obama has to offer tax cuts to sweeten the medicine – because everyone believes taxes are the enemy and are too high. Smart politics yes, but in the long run, pretty much all of us will have to get used to higher taxes. In theory, we’ll get a lot from that (infrastructure, national healthcare, Social Security, mass transit, other safety net services), so we’ll be on-board. But that’s a long way off.

  38. 38

    Mr Whipple asked

    While Obama did have remarks about this in his openings, there wasn’t a single question about AIG bonuses. Why is that?

    I would say because he preemptively addressed the bonuses at both townhalls. However in the first town hall there was a question about how it all happened as far as the financial collapse. And in his answer President Obama really got into the weeds of the situation and it could accurately be described as a wonkish answer. Unfortunately its almost impossible to find that answer in its entirety on the web. Trust me I know because I have been looking for it for days. Instead you only get short paraphrasing of it and the reference to him making an analogy of AIG to a suicide bomber. The unfortunate thing is that his analogy has been misinterpreted as being a statement about the bonuses. In point of fact what he was talking about was that while we are mad at AIG, if they go under they are going to end up taking a lot of big banks with them. And thats why we can’t just say screw em and cut off the spigot. Instead we have to work to carefully disentangle the good from the bad and then wind the bad parts down.

  39. 39
    JL says:

    @Graham: Maybe we need a media that will report things in a fair way and not hype the news.
    @sgwhiteinfla: Your post was excellent. Although I did see the interview, obviously, most reporters did not because they were more concerned about his special olympics gaff than anything else.

  40. 40
    Dennis-SGMM says:

    @guest:
    What Friedman chooses not to believe is that, for most of these people, they are their country. They chose to fuck the Western economies for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks: because that’s where the money is. It was just business.

  41. 41
    JL says:

    Of course, in Friedman’s imaginary world, the traders at AIG would not have squandered away trillions. I stopped reading Friedman after 9/11.

  42. 42
    ploeg says:

    Well, we were told that some of those receiving bonuses have given them back. I don’t remember anything re: how many and how much, though.

    And while I grant the likelihood that there are some US citizens among the AIG employees who received bonuses and live in London, it is probable that most of these people are not US citizens. In any event, these people are probably not terribly well inclined to give up their bonuses voluntarily, especially as the future oF AIG as a going concern is unclear and it would be nice to have a little something in the bank if the worst does come to pass.

  43. 43
    woody says:

    It has become difficult for us proles to countenance calls from the various cadres of elites for ‘more sacrifice’ for the "public good" when it is even more difficult to discover what ‘sacrifices’ those calling for our ‘sacrifices’ have made, or even if they admit to the existence of the public good for the sake of which ‘sacrifice’ is required.

    I don’t see any evidence that anybody other than those already taking it in the shortz is in any imminent danger of ‘sacrificing’ any-fucking-thing…

  44. 44
    kay says:

    Obama can’t restore faith in financial institutions. He didn’t violate that trust. They did.
    Obama can try to restore faith in government’s ability to regulate. He can be the cop. He can’t rehab the criminal.

    I’m completely baffled why no one is asking this question:

    "what can Wall Street and financial institutions do to restore public trust in both their business practices and their competence?"

  45. 45
  46. 46
    Ash says:

    "what can Wall Street and financial institutions do to restore public trust in both their business practices and their competence?"

    Well isn’t it obvious kay? That would require the finance industry to take some fucking responsibility for the shitpile they’ve dropped practically the entire world in. But nooooooooo, we can’t do that to those hard working capitalists who just trusted the market. NOOOOOOO.

    And Obama hasn’t done enough? Not in the town halls. The weekly videos? The Tonight Show? The number of press conferences? The national address in a few days?

    Ugh. Fuck the entire village.

  47. 47
  48. 48
    JL says:

    @Jennifer: The link does not work.

  49. 49
    Emma Anne says:

    @A Mom Anon:

    How is it that anyone ever listened to Tom Friedman about anything? Ever?

    Actually, Friedman didn’t used to be an idiot. His book From Beirut to Jerusalem was really good. He lived in those countries and wrote about them in a really even handed, thoughtful way. His wife lived in Beirut, too, when people were being blown up regularly.

    I don’t know what the hell happened. It wasn’t just 9-11, because the Lexus and the Olive Tree were before that. Mad cow disease maybe.

  50. 50
    PeakVT says:

    That’s a talk where he lays out exactly how deep the crisis we are in is, exactly how much sacrifice we’re all going to have to make to get out of it

    The American people have repeatedly demonstrated that they don’t want to hear the truth and will punish anyone who tells it. I am quite sure Obama knows this. I am quite sure that Friedman knows it as well, but he wrote that line anyway because he’s paid to write b*llsh*t.

  51. 51
    Ash Can says:

    @sgwhiteinfla: Thank you for that.

    I love Josh Marshall, but at this point I think even he’s being suckered into the Grab-the-Headline shell game. Whoever or whatever is grabbing the headlines wins the news cycle. And then the game begins all over again. Every day. Right now, AIG is sitting at the table with a big pile of grabbed headlines in front of it. The pile of headlines at Obama’s spot is smaller, and includes lower-value chips such as "Special Olympics Gaffe" and that kind of crap. What a lot of people are missing, though, is that while the game’s going on, Obama’s photographing everyone at the table with his cell phone and texting with the SEC and FBI.

    Like sgwhiteinfla says, Obama’s been talking publicly about the economy till he’s blue in the face. People don’t listen to his weekly radio addresses? Fine; more town halls. People don’t watch those? Fine; everybody watches Leno. Right?

    People still aren’t paying attention? Well, like Ash says above, he’s got a national address coming up. Maybe he should use a telestrator and have John Madden along to do commentary. After all, people seemed to actually pay attention when he filled out his bracket board for ESPN the other day.

  52. 52
    El Cid says:

    I’m afraid I have to depart from the sort of argument which says that Americans in general are too worried About The Big Things to bitch and moan about the AIG bonuses; it was only a month ago that for several days I literally went nowhere in public without hearing ordinary people around me fiercely discussing The Octomom. I was stuck on a plane for several hours listening to people analyze this threat to civilization.

    People discuss what the 24 hour news channels promote as the Issue Of The Day.

    When it’s wall to wall Octomom, a nation rouses itself to condemn this weird lady and her fertilization habits; when it’s wall to wall AIG bonuses, a nation rouses itself to say to the TV screen that this is all bullsh*t. When it’s wall to wall New 3rd World Hitler, then it’s ‘we gotta take [him / them] out’.

  53. 53
    Davis X. Machina says:

    I love Josh Marshall, but at this point I think even he’s being suckered into the Grab-the-Headline shell game.

    One third of Marshall’s franchise is TPM-Muckraker, after all, and the AIG thing is right up that alley. I don’t think he’s so much sucked in as doing what made his bones in the first place.

  54. 54
    kay says:

    @Ash:

    I’ve been trying to come up with a comparison to what I’m witnessing with finance and Wall Street in any other sector or profession or group of individuals. I can’t. I tried. I flipped through manufacturing, and health care and legal and even "hospitality". What ostensibly free market enterprise destroys their own credibility and then continues to do so? INSISTS on their "right" to continue to do so? Not only that, but then whines incessantly that it is the job of government to restore trust…in them?
    A complete and utter abdication of responsibility doesn’t even cover it, because it isn’t negligent or passive. It’s active.
    The AIG financial products group said to the NYTimes business blogger "pay us, or we’ll take our inside information and use it against AIG". That’s the statement of psychopaths. It’s a threat.

  55. 55
    JL says:

    @kay: It’s not the same magnitude but companies have decided that good or bad, their CEO’s deserve a fortune, think of Nardelli who was shown the door at HD with a satchel filled with 200 million. As the President says, we have lost our moral compass.

  56. 56
    Jason F says:

    @El Cid:

    I’m going to emphasize that the context here is important. Friedman is arguing here that our wealthiest and most powerful citizens should not be compelled to refrain from exercising their own self interests, but should be allowed to choose to do so voluntarily.

    And this is the bottom line truth about Friedman’s screed. The same pundits who have been whining about a 3-percentage point increase in the marginal tax rate on income over $250,000 are saying that people should be asked to sacrifice? How about you go fuck yourself, Tom Friedman — how’s that for a sacrifice?

  57. 57
    kay says:

    @JL:

    I hate to harp on this, but there are some generally understood RULES here in America. The people that get paid these sort of salaries are not employees. They are themselves franchises. They invent something, and start and then own a company. They are elite athletes, who are a massive money-making draw or actors or performers who, as individuals, function as a unique and profitable product.
    They aren’t employees, and they particularly aren’t employees of publicly-funded companies. These people are overpaid. It’s all screwed up, and, finally, people noticed, because they were paying them. It’s a scam, and they got caught.

  58. 58
    liberal says:

    @bootlegger:

    I don’t know how to balance the two. Maybe fear of violence is a good deterrent, but its bad for social order.

    Yes, though given that financial elites are stealing hundreds of billions, even trillions, of dollars now, I’d say that social order has broken down.

    We’re talking about mass scale looting. Just because there’s no glass lying around doesn’t mean it’s not going on.

  59. 59
    Steeplejack says:

    @JL: I do the Times crossword when I see it. But I haven’t seen today’s. Is that what you’re talking about, or is your question more general?

  60. 60
    JL says:

    @Steeplejack: @Steeplejack: Today’s! I finally figured it out but still have a few holes. There’s a few areas that completely stumped me and I had to use google to look up actors and such.

  61. 61
    AnneLaurie says:

    Like sgwhiteinfla says, Obama’s been talking publicly about the economy till he’s blue in the face. People don’t listen to his weekly radio addresses? Fine; more town halls. People don’t watch those? Fine; everybody watches Leno. Right?

    … And the ditto-heads on tvsquad.com can’t decide whether Obama’s Leno appearance is an outrageous "insult to the dignity of his office" or a mockable "just the sort of cheap publicity stunt you’d expect from this teleprompter-crazed monkey in a suit". But one thing they are *very* sure of — Obama’s projected television address this Tuesday, which required the re-scheduling of American Idol, is the worst insult to Americans since the Twin Towers fell. People are "entitled" to a predictable relaxation schedule! Which is waay more important than boring words about boring economics again!

    And Tom Friedman’s idiocy is the Serious Punditocracy’s face of the same emotional coin: For Friedman, as for the nameless internet screechers who find the correct programming of their Tivo far more consequential than anything the President might have to say, "Economics" is a form of religious belief. Understanding how global financial networks function is not a science, it’s a branch of theological studies. We’ve manage to re-create a Chaucerian society with shinier toys and better dentistry, where the barons feud and the priests bicker over entitlements, and then everyone sits down together (the peasants squatting humbly in the back) for an entertaining evenings’ worth of ballads, smutty stories and fart jokes. As an eminence among the Media Village Idiots, Friedman is aware that certain AIG prelates may have violated the sanctity of their calling, but he is sure that a public appeal to their higher natures is all that will be necessary to force their repentance. After all, the right standing of the Economics religion is the foundation of our mutual universe — surely the tonsured dignitaries of the High Church of Finance would not risk disturbing the very roots of our modern world!

  62. 62
    Steeplejack says:

    @JL: Well, it’s Sunday, so you get a little slack. I refused to leave the house today, so no Times for me.

  63. 63
    The Other Steve says:

    Shouldn’t we allow these AIG employees another six months to see if they change their minds?

  64. 64
    Neo says:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

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