Friday, October 16, 2009

AIG and Misplaced Outrage

Earlier this week, Neil Barofsky blamed Timothy "Tax Cheat" Geithner and the Treasury department for the travesty of yet more bonuses paid out to employees by TARP fund recipient AIG. It is worth noting that not all of these "outrageous bonuses" went to executives; indeed, there were bonuses across a wide range of amounts to employees at all levels of the organization...

But why do we need a TARP? I've always thought of a "tarp" as something you use to cover the load of trash that you're taking out to the landfill. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind, perhaps?

The United States of America pioneered one of the most efficient means in history of infusing cash into ailing businesses (financial and otherwise): It's called, "going public." Naturally, not all corporations are publicly traded. Most of the larger ones that do business nationwide are, and there are numerous reasons for it.

In a nutshell, trading in stocks not only means that private individuals gain an ownership interest in a corporation, but it also means that a corporation gets to borrow money from its shareholders. What do we, the shareholders, get in return? It varies from company-to-company as to the particulars, but the privileges can generally be boiled down to two categories: dividends and voting rights. If enough shareholders are dissatisfied about the direction a corporation is taking, they have the opportunity to either vote the offending parties off of the board of directors, or sell the stock in its entirety and get out, hopefully getting back all of the money they originally invested.

What recourse do we have the government? We've heard about how "we all own General Motors now," but do we have any say in how the company is run? Can we sell our stock in AIG and get any of our money back? When the government is involved, we have all the burden and responsibility of stock ownership, but we have none of the perks. The closest thing we have to a board of directors in the mighty Federal Government is Congress, which consists of 535 representatives and senators. The most populous (and arguably the most liberal) state among the fifty only has the right to vote on 55 of those seats, while the other 480 help to make rules which are just as binding. The smallest of the states can only vote on three(!) of those seats, leaving the other 532 to foist legally binding mandates on us all.

The continuing arrogance must be stopped. Don't wait until 2010 to do something.

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