Archive for the ‘AIG’ Category
[NOTE: This post was originally made on March 23, 2009. But with the recent discussion of Paul Ryan's long-standing commitment to Rand's thought--which he now appears to be trying to deny in spite of evidence to the contrary--I thought this post worth a rebroadcast. On Ryan's commitment to Rand, see the article in The Atlantic Wire, “Audio Surfaces of Paul Ryan’s Effusive Love of Ayn Rand.”]
In times such as these, our times, when unregulated capitalism has once again proven that it can bring down the house, literally, it’s worth reminding ourselves about the voices that have spoken so eloquently in favor of selfishness over the years. (Not Adam Smith, by the way; he thought that sympathy was a basic feature of human nature.) Here is Colbert discussing one of the leading lights of selfishness, Ayn Rand.
The Word – Rand Illusion | March 11th | ColbertNation.com
On Capitalism Run Amok, readers might want to check out Sullivan’s site today, March 23rd, “Are The Jacobins At The Gates?” Let’s just say, a bit over the top, but worth a look. (Btw, Sullivan thinks of himself as a conservative.)
P.S. Interesting fact: Stephen Colbert was a philosophy major at Hampden-Sydney College. Training in philosophy has its uses.
At today’s Congressional Hearing:
“We are meeting today at a high point of public anger,” said Mr. Liddy, a former chief executive of Allstate who was installed as A.I.G.’s chief when the Federal Reserve announced its rescue package. “I share that anger. As a businessman of some 37 years, I have seen the good side of capitalism. Over the last few months, in reviewing how A.I.G. had been run in prior years, I have also seen evidence of its bad side.” NY Times, March 18, 2009.
I watched a good portion of Edward M. Liddy’s testimony before Congress today. I hadn’t planned to. I got caught up. Liddy took on the job of CEO at A.I.G. for 1 dollar a year. He appears to be a man sincerely dedicated to the service of his country. However, while by no means clueless about the possible reaction of the American people to the AIG bonuses, he did not realize that his arguments amounted to telling the American people that we had been blackmailed. If he hadn’t agreed to pay the executives of the compromised division their bonuses, they would have walked, AIG would have tanked, and our economy would have headed into a death spiral. Or so he claimed. Liddy needed to retain these folks. And he could only do so by paying out millions. (Yes, he made it clear time and again that there were contracts that had to be honored, but as congressmen pointed out, the company could have chosen not to pay and accepted the possibility of being sued.)
“Of the 418 employees who received bonuses, 298 got more than $100,000, according to the New York attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo. The highest bonus was $6.4 million, and 6 other employees received more than $4 million. Fifteen other people received bonuses of more than $2 million and 51 received $1 million to $2 million.” NY Times, March 18, 2009
The danger to the nation due to a complete financial collapse is far greater than the danger of terrorism. And this is just what Liddy was claiming might happen if these executives walked and AIG tanked. So we have people dying in the fight against terrorism, but we have others insisting on the entire amounts of their bonuses in order to cooperate and prevent financial ruin. As patriotic Americans (that is, those who are Americans), they should have offered to work for a small portion of what they were being paid, especially the top earning executives.
Each contract with each employee had its own unique structure, reported Liddy. They simply couldn’t hold back the funds. However, today he reported that he has asked the executives to return 50% of the money. They don’t have to, but as good Americans they might. (Why didn’t he ask this of them last week? or a month ago? or ask for more?) Think about this, as you think about all those who are on the street without jobs, including Wall Street people. Think about the sense of entitlement that these AIG executives have. Think about why so many of us didn’t see this sense of entitlement as dangerous to the well-being of our nation until very recently.
The American people have been sold a bill of goods for almost two generations now, and it goes something like this: if we take advantage of the magic of the market, if we just look out for number 1, the free market will reward us as a nation. Yes, there are folks in the military who sacrifice, and there are those who volunteer for civilian service, but at the end of the day we serve our country and communities best by seeking our own fortunes.
I am putting this too starkly you say? Perhaps. But it became the mantra of Wall Street. And as they once said about GM, what’s good for Wall Street is good for America. Just watch those 401k’s grow, and never take any money out of them. The market always makes a profit in the long run. (Of course what they forget to tell you is that the long run can be very long indeed.)
The party’s almost over, as so many have declared. The party, however, is not just about living the high life in good financial times. The party is about having a set of beliefs that comfort and aid us in getting on in the world. And one set of these beliefs has involved the goodness of capitalism and the free market. We have spoken about them as if they are gods. They are not. Capitalism can be an exceedingly productive economic system, but only when operating under proper guidance and regulation. There are no free lunches and there are no entirely free markets. Believing so is exceedingly dangerous, especially when this ideology replaces our common sense about the sacrifices and labors required to build and maintain communities and a nation.
AIG, Bernie, foreclosures, housing bubble, -401K, recession, depression, global financial meltdown, Eric Cantor, Mad Money, etc.
It’s time for a break, if only a short one.
Let’s return for a moment to how our grandparents (or perhaps our great-grandparents) kept their spirits up in the Great Depression. From “Follow the Fleet” (1936):
The word is out. Unless AIG pays their executives millions more in bonuses, they might lose the best and the brightest of their employees. Corporate raiders will swoop out of the clouds and plunder their human capital. And then where would AIG be? And then where would we be? (According to FOX, if AIG cannot retain their top execs, it has threatened to morph into a black hole and take the inner planets with it.)
But wait. We may have nothing to fear but fear itself. Let us not forget that AIG is in the business of insuring companies against their own incompetence. The solution is simple. AIG should insure itself against its own incompetence through one of its products, for example, FinancialGuard (see below). So, even if it were to lose its best and brightest by not paying out the bonuses, AIG could still survive through the miricle of insurance.
Here is AIG/Australia hawking one “product” that can help save it (and us):
What is it?
Professional indemnity insurance on a civil liability basis
Why do you need it?
The activities of regulators, the changing distribution of financial institutions products and a more informed and litigious consumer environment lie behind the increase in the frequency of civil liability claims against financial institutions….
Our Civil Liability product provides blanket protection against the financial consequences of a legally enforceable obligation in which a civil liability is incurred arising from services provided. Covers includes defence costs and civil penalties.
Who needs it?
All Financial Institutions including Banks, Building Societies, Investment Management Companies, Insurance Companies and Stockbrokers.
And under a discussion of assets on the AIG site we find the following pitch:
A company’s assets are vital to its operations. And protecting those assets is essential to the well being of a business. Assets can be tangible and intangible and can include a company’s corporate reputation, as well as physical assets such as property or goods. We offer standard or customised programmes on a domestic or global scale as well as a wide range of products covering more demanding and specialist risks.
Protection of assets!! Protection for corporate reputation!! Protection from the activities of regulators!! AIG can save itself (and us).
Up until now little beside blind greed and gross incompetence have been offered to explain AIG’s behavior. Here is an alternative hypothesis: Someone inside AIG decided that the best way to stimulate the market for its financial insurance products was to come up with an example (AIG’s own failure) that would scare the daylights out of even the most confident of finance people, pushing them right into the arms of AIG’s financial insurance sales force. Insanely diabolical, wouldn’t you say?
And if this hypothesis is incorrect, I have another: AIG is a corporate comic genius.
P.S. Here’s five bucks. Feel free to buy yourself half a dozen shares of AIG.