It’s getting impossible to keep up with the rhetoric and political noise surrounding AIG, the banks, and executive bonuses. Will the government try to rein in executive pay generally, rather than just at AIG? Is this an example of the kind of misguided policy and mass hysteria which results when you try to put politicians in charge of for-profit businesses? Will it wreck the economy outright? Or is the real problem that "the administration’s officials are too marinated in the insiders’ culture to police it, reform it or own up to their own past complicity with it"?
I don’t have any answers, but I do have a question: might we might be seeing the first real rumblings of class warfare — the genuine article, not the Republican talking-point — in this country?
In one corner are the technocrats not only in finance but also in government and the media: people who can understand the importance of distinguishing between a $250,000 base salary, a $2.5 million bonus, a $250 million bonus pool, a $2.5 billion bonus pool, a $250 billion bailout package, a $2.5 trillion monetary stimulus, and so on.
In the other corner are the real people, the angry people, the unemployed people — and with them their elected representatives in Congress. They’re not interested in such distinctions any more, they’re not interested in what’s fair or what’s sensible. They saw their real wages stagnate for decades as the orgy of plutocratic self-congratulation reached obscene levels only to keep on growing. All they ever had was the American Dream: the idea that they, too, might one day become dynastically wealthy and join the overclass.
Now, of course, that dream is shattered — and, what’s worse, it turns out that very overclass is responsible for the working classes’ own present straits. While the talking heads in New York and Washington throw around their millions and billions and trillions before commuting home to their comfortable middle-class-and-better lifestyles, the rest of the country is mad as hell, and ain’t gonna take it any more. They’re not interested in constructive solutions or in leveraging private capital or in the sanctity of contracts: fuck that shit. Those days are over. They want to see jail time, confiscatory policies, and worse.
As inequality grew in America over the past 30 years, there was always the risk that it would snap back violently and dramatically. That day is not yet here, but it’s closer than it has ever been, and its possibility cannot be discounted. Barack Obama smells the public mood, and is trying to respond to it in a grown-up and non-incendiary way. Congress smells it too, and is being rather less grown-up about things. And Wall Street still largely remains inside its bubble, watching the tour buses on the outside with fear and incomprehension. But unless some very senior executives start smelling the coffee sharpish, they might end up facing the biggest tail risk of them all.
Reprinted from Portfolio.com