The Bank Executive Bailout Shame

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The Associated Press has crunched the numbers: “Banks that are getting taxpayer bailouts awarded their top executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and other benefits last year, an Associated Press analysis reveals.”

The CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein: $54 million. The CEO of Merrill Lynch, John A. Thain: $83 million. The chairman of Capital One, Richard D. Fairbank: more than $17 million. The average for each of the banks’ top executives: $2.6 million

Yes I know, private schools cost a lot, and these are hard-working men, and by gosh, they had no idea they were profiting for years on a scheme that now imperils every hardworking family in the world. Yes I know, some did better than others, and we need them now to help clean up the mess. Some have even been so noble as to announce they are taking pay cuts next year. But to all that I will also say this. This current financial crisis, we now know, began in the summer of 2007, a year and a half ago. And these men are already rich–ridiculously so. And they have failed, in many cases almost completely, in their mandates, not just to protect their own investors, but to protect the public trust. If they now beg of the public trough, if they feel themselves fit to claim the mantle of the “public interest” for their own enterprises and fortunes, then they must also accept a public responsibility, not just a private one. And if James Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, needs more than $200,000 a year to commute by private jet between Chicago and New York, then I dare a patriotic American, or anyone with some sense of communal responsibility, to stand up and say Dimon should not damn well pay the fee himself, even as his company continues to suck from the public tit.

It all calls to mind the words of H.L. Mencken, who wrote in 1922 of the country he loved and ceaselessly exposed:

And here, more than anywhere else I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, or private and communal folly–the unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages and throat-slittings, of theological buffooneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries, of miscellaneous rogueries, villainies, imbecilities, grotesqueries, and extravagances–is so inordinately gross and preposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest conceivable amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only the man who was born with a petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night, and to awake every morning with all the eager, unflagging expectation of a Sunday-school superintendent touring the Paris peep-shows.

Except I don’t feel like laughing, just now.