THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why We Hate Them

Mistreated Customers Fuel Populist Rage

“Populist anger in America is the anger of dispossession,” writes Newsweek‘s Rick Perlstein. “The delinking of effort and reward has become all too manifest. That always makes Americans angry. We do not like to reward those who do not produce.”

That’s not it. This is about abused customers. After decades of insults, they can’t believe they’re being made to save companies that treat them like crap.

I’m a calm person. Yet my most recent bank statement featured three items that brought my blood to a fast boil. One was a $10 “income wire transfer fee.” A newspaper that publishes this column paid for it by wiring the money to my account. The bank charged me ten bucks–for depositing money! Money that, by the way, they invest in what the banking industry calls “the overnight call float.”

The same statement included a $3 fee for using an ATM that belongs to a different bank. Compared to my bank, loan sharks are sweethearts. If I take out $20 every day and pay three dollars each time, that’s 15 percent interest a day–or 5,475 percent a year. Did I mention that the fee was a mistake? I never use ATMs at other banks. To straighten out this $3 fee, I’ll have to waste my time explaining myself to someone at a call center in India, typing my account number into a keypad so I can repeat it by voice after waiting on hold.

Then there’s what my bank calls AN IMPORTANT CHANGE CONCERNING THE PROCESSING OF YOUR CHECKS EFFECTIVE MARCH 20, 2009: “As checks you have written are presented to us for payment during the course of a business day,” they explain, “we will place a hold on available funds in your account of those checks, resulting in a reduction in your available account balance throughout that day.” This is Bankese for: “You will pay bounce fees even when you have enough money in your account for checks to clear.”

I won’t even mention the time they hit me with a $120 fine in a single month–twelve separate fees at $10 a pop–for being stupid enough to use the line of credit they once begged me to take.

I hate my bank. My bank is Citibank. Citibank sucks.

If Citibank wasn’t an evil, customer-hating band of fee vultures, I might not be quite so annoyed at the fact that its parent company, Citigroup, had just received $20 billion in direct investment plus $306 billion in loan guarantees from the U.S. government (i.e. us), of which I am a subsidiary. That’s $1,100 per American citizen, plus compound interest paid to Chinese investors who buy U.S. Treasury obligations. The fact that Citigroup “didn’t produce” has nothing to do with it. I would rather set $1,100 on fire than hand it over to Citigroup.

Which brings us to the American International Group. As you know, AIG executives sparked populist anger by paying themselves $165 million in bonuses after accepting a government bailout. “Take away taxpayers’ sense of ownership stake in an issue (especially, as with AIG, when taxpayers literally own the company) and their rage will not go away,” says Perlstein. “It festers…And that’s when the ‘bad’ kind of populism–the hateful kind; the violent kind; the demagogic kind–can flourish.”

Wrong again. Americans’ “ownership stake” in AIG isn’t why they’re in torches-and-pitchforks mode. Those bonuses only amount to 55 cents per person–no biggie. The Iraq War will cost us at least $10,000 each. The reason we’re enraged is that AIG is an insurance company.

We hate insurance companies.

Health insurers are the worst. They repeatedly deny claims they know are legitimate because many sick patients will give up fighting and eat the expense. They arbitrarily decide that tests, procedures, and even life-saving operations are “optional.” They literally murder their customers! Insurers even “make use of sophisticated data tools dubbed ‘denial engines,’ which are touted to reduce reimbursements by three to ten percent,” says U.S. News & World Report. But homeowner insurance companies aren’t better. State Farm’s refusal to pay victims of hurricane Katrina because their policies covered wind but not flooding is typical. “They said, ‘If a tornado came through and two days later the water came, it’s all flood,” remembers a Katrina victim in Louisiana.

They were lucky State Farm told them anything. Other storm survivors spent hours on hold, trying in vain to get through to companies that had happily collected their premiums for years.

Banks like Citibank and insurance companies like AIG may well be “too big to fail,” as Obama’s team at Treasury argues. So don’t let them fail. Nationalize them instead. And send their current and former executives to Bagram.

Also writing for Newsweek, Robert J. Samuelson calls our contempt for corporate leeches “a dangerous mindset” that “justifies punitive taxes, widespread corporate mandates, selective subsidies and more meddling in companies’ everyday operations.” Gee, how terrible that would be, what with them doing so well without meddling from the guvmint.

I have a suggestion for Mr. Samuelson and the high-flying captains of industry he champions: If banks and insurance companies want taxpayers to save their steak-fattened butts, let them accept some changes that will make Americans like them better. For banks, no more fees on checking or savings accounts. Period. For credit card companies, reset all interest rates at one percent over prime. Give customers a full month to pay their bills. No more unilateral changes in rates. For insurance companies, the presumption should be that all claims are legitimate unless proven otherwise. If a doctor approves it, pay out without being asked twice.

Oh, and one more thing: Get rid of phone trees. Fire the half-a-world-away call centers. Ban voice recognition systems–“say yes or no–I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.” Hire actual people to answer the phone. Make them pick it up on the first ring and transfer calls to the proper department.

I’d pay $1,100 for that.

COPYRIGHT 2009 TED RALL

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49 Responses to “THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Why We Hate Them”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Ugh, you socialist liberals.

    Guess what Ted? If you don’t like Citibank, here’s a novel idea. Switch banks! Try a credit union! Stuff your money in mayo jar under the bed! You have options!

    Banks are in the business of making money, so your suggestions are ridiculous on their face. This is what’s out-of-control: the notion that by bailing out banks you now have the right to tell them how to do business. For shame.

    There is a natural order to be preserved here. It damn well will be.

  2. Aggie Dude Says:

    This is why I use, and have always used, a credit union.

  3. Andy Says:

    Citibank ted??? Don’t they have credit unions in NYC?

  4. Andy Says:

    Citibank ted??? Don’t they have credit unions in NYC?

  5. Jason Says:

    God damn.

    There are few things in this world that make me as angry as when I find myself in 100% agreement with Ted Rall.

    Well, 100% agreement except for the “if a doctor approves it, pay out without being asked twice.” There are a lot of crooked doctors out there, so I can’t agree with that one.

    Other than that, though, I completely agree with this column.

    And that really shows how screwed up America is.

    If everybody had just voted for Ron Paul then I wouldn’t have to be agreeing with this Commie bastard!

  6. JonD Says:

    Great piece Ted! I’m still not ready to put my torch out, or my pitchfork down.

  7. guerren Says:

    i do believe that “guvmint” is spelled “gub’mint”, but i could be wrong.

    and ted, please stop being so smart, populist, honest, etc. it’s only going to get you in trouble.

    -money(g)
    seattle, wa

  8. Ted Rall Says:

    Credit unions are a bad option in NYC because they hardly have any ATMs. Credit unions charge fees for using ATMs outside their networks, just like Citibank. And since Citibank has the city’s biggest network of ATMs, so when you need money you’re not usually far from a no-fee ATM.

    If I didn’t rely on ATMs I would dump Citi.

  9. Ted Rall Says:

    Credit unions are a bad option in NYC because they hardly have any ATMs. Credit unions charge fees for using ATMs outside their networks, just like Citibank. And since Citibank has the city’s biggest network of ATMs, so when you need money you’re not usually far from a no-fee ATM.

    If I didn’t rely on ATMs I would dump Citi.

  10. Ted Rall Says:

    And to the first Anon. up there:

    Banks used to make lots of money before ATM fees. Checking accounts used to be free. How ever did they survive?

    The answer is that they didn’t pay their execs as much.

  11. Ted Rall Says:

    And to the first Anon. up there:

    Banks used to make lots of money before ATM fees. Checking accounts used to be free. How ever did they survive?

    The answer is that they didn’t pay their execs as much.

  12. Kurt Says:

    To Anon # 1,

    The taxpayers of the United States own a majority of Citigroup. We absolutely have the right and responsibility to tell the what to do.

    On another point… How do you feel about the right of collective bargaining? Did you want our friends at GM, Chrysler and Ford to have to take a pay and benefit cut? Why do you feel that the federal government and by extension the people of the United States get to tell the employees of GM that they have to eat a big shit sandwich, but you are cool with the 5 guys with houses in the Hamptons that work at Citi getting a couple hundred million more courtesy of our hard work?

    If that is what you believe than you can go fuck yourself. I am so tired of middle class people being okay with someone stealing from us nakedly but begrudging somebody make $5k more than them from having a decent retirement. That is the best example of stupid that I can think of. Its okay to hate your friends and neighbors and to want them to sink into your pit of ever ending despair, but you will shovel money out of your own bank account, tax contributions and 401k to support a nameless, faceless rich guy who has his job because great granddaddy was white enough, english enough and probably tall enough to go to Harvard or Yale.

  13. Aggie Dude Says:

    This is what’s out-of-control: the notion that by bailing out banks you now have the right to tell them how to do business. For shame.

    What an absolutely idiotic notion, in 7 comments, two of which from Ted, and one of which directly addresses the comment where this was uttered…..How the hell did everyone miss how stupid this is.

    Nationalizing companies that are so hosed it’s the only option and we don’t want the consequences of them going bankrupt ABSOLUTELY gives Ted the RIGHT, as a CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES (I’m going on on a limb here, Ted, if it’s wrong I’m so blaming you), to offer his suggestion for how these banks do business.

    That is precisely how public trading of companies is SUPPOSED to work. In this case, The Federal government of the United States owns 80% of AIG, enough by far to dictate how they do business.

    Anon, why don’t you check yourself into an assisted suicide clinic and rid us of the annoyance. If you’re going to be a jerk, it helps to be accurate.

  14. The Reverend Mr. Smith Says:

    I had to skip down to the comments as soon as I saw what your bank was. There is absolutely no excuse to use a megabank like Citibank or B of A. National City treats me quite well (as long as I don’t use other ATMs), or they did until they were absorbed by PNC, an even better bank.

    OK, back to the rest of the column.

  15. jazzage Says:

    Yes, Ted!!! I would still begrudge these greedy bastards a penny of bailout money or bonuses even if their companies did not go out of the way to express their disdain for us lowly customers.But it makes it easier to hate them. The automated response systems are the worst – by the time I finally get Annesh in Mumbai on the phone I want to marinate the CEO in gasoline and set him on the grill. When I close down my Chase savings account tomorrow I will cheerfully explain that the reason is the statements their CEO made about the unfairness of us proles vilifying the poor bankers and that maybe when the guillotines come out he will finally “get it”.

  16. Joe Says:

    I hardly ever agree with Ted, but boy is he right about insurance companies. Collect money year after year and do whatever it takes not to make good on their policies. I hate them bastards!

  17. Incitatus Says:

    You were off to a good start, but then you blew it all by essentially agreeing with the bipartisan consensus that crooks like AIG and Citigroup are too big to fail.

    Your brilliant “solution”: nationalize them, so that instead of stiffing their customers, they’ll stiff all American taxpayers. Why, throw in permanent employment and you’d have a perfect South American sinecure. Talk about copying a model that works.

  18. Incitatus Says:

    You were off to a good start, but then you blew it all by essentially agreeing with the bipartisan consensus that crooks like AIG and Citigroup are too big to fail.

    Your brilliant “solution”: nationalize them, so that instead of stiffing their customers, they’ll stiff all American taxpayers. Why, throw in permanent employment and you’d have a perfect South American sinecure. Talk about copying a model that works.

  19. Jason Says:

    There actually are some reasons why people have
    to use big banks. They are small exceptions, but they do exist. Take me, for instance. I’m currently in the second year of the whole Walking The Earth Like Kane in “Kung Fu” thing. If I want to be able to send money back to America and keep paying off my credit card, then I can’t very well go with a tiny little credit union. If I’m wrong on this, please tell me because I’d love an opportunity to get away from the Bank of America.

    And health insurance companies are just absolute bastards. After quitting my job a few years back, I was turned down by every company I went to because I had suffered a single seizure on one night in the preceding three years. I think many healthy people don’t fully appreciate the crap that these bastards pull on those of us with pre-existing conditions. I haven’t been sold on Universal health Care, but I’m still not against some regulation of the industry.

    And, yeah, I do think Ted is right here. If the government has stolen my money (“income tax” for the rest of you) and then handed it over to these banks, I think I have every right to demand that they stop screwing me with bullshit fees. I’m a shareholder now, baby.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    I can not think of a business model more unconscionable than for-profit insurance.

    “Hey, it’s not like we were ever going to honor our contract with a small fry like you. We’ve got an obligation to our shareholders, don’t ya know.”

    It is morally on a par with an extortion racket. (Actually, it often resembles an extortion racket rather directly.) I am appalled that such an abomination is legal at all.

  21. Captain ZZZ Says:

    I have no problem with all the rage against banks and insurance companies, since all the fees are totally ridiculous. I have an issue with passing a law that retroactively add a tax on the AIG bonus, which would violate the rule of law that democracy is based on. The moment you enact a law to deliberately punish a group of people you don’t like, we go from a law based society to a emotion based nightmare.

    Sure, put a crazy tax on everyone who makes over 1 million or something, but you can only enforce it in the future, not in the past when it didn’t exist. No need for the USA to turn into a banana republic.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    Open an account in a Credit Union and start living within means. No more loud living America buddies.

    AIG Bonus is something like few US soldiers shooting innocents in Iraq. Big talk on insignificant thing while missing the whole issue.

    First stop bailing out the way it is being done. Let those pirates fail. Let them be bought over by Chinese or whoever. Let them go to hell. Disaster due to bank’s failure just another WMD threat.

    It is shame for this country – with so much ‘educated’ people and economic noble laureates – to pump in money and yet would not nationalize them. Even an illiterate living in slums around the call centers cannot accept this folly.

    We have shit all over us. F!@# the anti-communist attitude. You ass on fire Americans… wake up.

  23. Anonymous Says:

    As a matter of fact those executives deserve the bonus for making fool of the illiterate tax payers through their buddies in government.

    Reward the smart. Losers shut up…

  24. Anonymous Says:

    I work in the optical industry. Sell glasses I used to make before the pig corporation closed where I worked, now I sell shit made by hicks, half of which would have gotten me fired for presenting at my previous job, but people want cheap…

    Anyways, insurers are the worst part of it. One time the main insurer we work with had a “Glitch” and sent out dozens of threatening letters to people denying previous payments and demanding refunds. One lady got a bill, along with a threatening letter (legal action and prosecution for criminal fraud) for US$20,000 for a procedure that had been performed on her husband. Except the doctor that did it was a minimal practicioner, she couldn’t do eye surgery or anything, she’d charged him $10 and hoped the insurance company would pay her $40. And I charged him $100, to later get $150 extra out of a $450 regular price product.

    But she was charged. He wasn’t in the picture. The man had passed away. On the date this “Service” had allegedly occurred they were shoveling dirt on the man’s coffin, he was in no further need of a doctor’s services, nor an insurer’s…

    Needless to say her manner on the phone was loud and abusive, and I couldn’t really blame her. That started two weeks of every other phone call being an often shrieking, enraged person, about all the customers from the last two years.

    What really irritates me is that processing one insured person can lose me two sales since it takes forever to look it up on the computer and then call and have to ask a ton of personal information and give it to the foreigner/prisoner doing the work.

  25. G. M. Palmer Says:

    Ted — why use an ATM?
    Also, why do you use so much cash?

    If you don’t want to carry around a wad of cash (that you could easily get in a weekly trip to your local, small bank or credit union), then you can just use your debit card.

    Unless all you eat is hot dogs from NYC vendors. . .

  26. Aggie Dude Says:

    All snarking aside, I don’t agree at all with Ted’s original premise, which is that the outrage is over how people get treated as customers.

    Americans have long bought into their role as consumer rather than citizen, as Anon #1’s comment attests to. We don’t have the right to do anything but choose To Buy or Not To Buy. “You vote with your dollar”….I’ve heard that a million times over the years.

    I live in Meeeeeeeshigan, and I don’t really see any outrage. I think the outrage is mainly in the media frenzy and a few constructed organizations making PR stunts, like ACORN’s tour of AIG exec’s homes.

    There isn’t any real outrage here, Ted. So you can go to a different bank and get treated like crap? There’s no solution, every company has a rap sheet of unhappy customers….Coke or Pepsi…either way you get tooth rot.

    The real issue is scale and size, these institutions are huge and they need to be cut down.

  27. Grouchy Says:

    Americans have long bought into their role as consumer rather than citizen…

    Aggie Dude and I agree on a lot things.

    I bet if someone analyzed the bile being spewed by the media, they’d find the word “consumer” used 100 times for every instance that the concept of “citizen” is mentioned. Is anyone out there at FAIR? Can you get on this?

    Our role is to lay on the bed in our bloated state, while the feeders swarm around stuffing our faces. I get offended when anybody refers to me as a “consumer.” It makes me fighting mad.

  28. Anonymous Says:

    Aaah Ted

    you no understand

    you not own government. bank own government. government beat u up if no likey. if you no likey bank, maybe bank no likey you.

    maybe government no likey you.

    now government busy reorganizing financial system. when finished they reorganize you too. you no typey no funny column when government finished reorganizing you.

    Hahahahahah HAHAHAHA HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  29. Anonymous Says:

    For extra credit: Look up what Citibank used to be called during the late 1920s. Now see if you can figure out why they changed their name.

    Those who repeat history are bound to be ignored.

  30. jazzage Says:

    I know a lot of people full of rage, like bring out the guillotines and wicker baskets rage. One of the first that should be taken care of when the revolution comes is that brain dead ass Paul Samuelson. If you are a toady for the ruling class you too can write articles for trash magazines like Newsweek. The first people to have a fit when someone suggests that big corporations loose some of their many forms of welfare, or that maybe people who actually produce something for a living get a break are the “free market” cretins.

  31. jazzage Says:

    I know a lot of people full of rage, like bring out the guillotines and wicker baskets rage. One of the first that should be taken care of when the revolution comes is that brain dead ass Paul Samuelson. If you are a toady for the ruling class you too can write articles for trash magazines like Newsweek. The first people to have a fit when someone suggests that big corporations loose some of their many forms of welfare, or that maybe people who actually produce something for a living get a break are the “free market” cretins.

  32. Incitatus Says:

    Aggie, there are a number of reason why being a “consumer” beats being a “citizen” (a.k.a ballot caster), the main one being that you’re not forced to keep patronizing your vendor for four additional years after he screws you for the first time.

  33. Anonymous Says:

    I agree with the article in general, but it contains a horrendous example of bad math.

    A 15% charge on a daily $20 ATM withdrawal does not in any way translate to 5,475% per annum. If you do that every day, withdrawing $7,300 over that year, your ATMs fees will be $1,095, or 15%.

    The only way you can turn that into 5,475% per annum is if you made a daily withdrawal of $20 with a $3 ATM fee, and then redeposited the same $20 to repeat the process the next day. That would be 5,475% per annum, but only on that $20. It would also be monumentally stupid, much moreso than even someone who would regualrly withdraw $20 a day off an ATM with a $3 fee.

    I do agree that most banks are vultures with the fees, but I don’t think the case needs the hyperbole of exaggerating numbers with bad math.

  34. Anonymous Says:

    I agree with the article in general, but it contains a horrendous example of bad math.

    A 15% charge on a daily $20 ATM withdrawal does not in any way translate to 5,475% per annum. If you do that every day, withdrawing $7,300 over that year, your ATMs fees will be $1,095, or 15%.

    The only way you can turn that into 5,475% per annum is if you made a daily withdrawal of $20 with a $3 ATM fee, and then redeposited the same $20 to repeat the process the next day. That would be 5,475% per annum, but only on that $20. It would also be monumentally stupid, much moreso than even someone who would regualrly withdraw $20 a day off an ATM with a $3 fee.

    I do agree that most banks are vultures with the fees, but I don’t think the case needs the hyperbole of exaggerating numbers with bad math.

  35. Aggie Dude Says:

    Aggie, there are a number of reason why being a “consumer” beats being a “citizen” (a.k.a ballot caster), the main one being that you’re not forced to keep patronizing your vendor for four additional years after he screws you for the first time.

    Incitatus, there is far more to citizenship than just ballot casting. In fact, reducing us to simply ‘voters’ or ‘ballot casters’ is completely consistent with the consumer mentality. We simply consume media information, political marketing and advertising, and then go vote yes/no at the ballot. That’s a very market based approach.

    For example, how many times have you heard that “the Republican brand has been tarnished”? As though a political party is a brand which only need be marketed or packaged in the right way and fed to consumers. In this way, there is absolutely no discussion of process, only a decision to buy or not buy.

    So do you want Tyson or Holly Farms chicken? They’re both produced in factory farms using the same techniques. Do you want coke or pepsi? They both rot your teeth, both use corn syrup instead of sugar (in the US only…I wonder why that is?).

    We’re actually systematically trained to NOT be citizens, in the sense that citizenship grants the right to participation. Casting a ballot is the least one can do. Unfortunately we’re worked into the ground trying to make ends meet, leaving only the privileged classes to participate in governance, meaning they organize policy to serve their values and interests.

    When even the homeless participate in governance, then come talk to me about the difference between citizenship and consumer.

    Of course, all that makes the assumption that one has to choose. We are all (preferably) citizens, consumers AND producers. Once we start recognizing that these all interact in society and are inseparable, maybe will move forward. Until then, I’m left lecturing grown men about basic concepts.

  36. Aggie Dude Says:

    Aggie, there are a number of reason why being a “consumer” beats being a “citizen” (a.k.a ballot caster), the main one being that you’re not forced to keep patronizing your vendor for four additional years after he screws you for the first time.

    Incitatus, there is far more to citizenship than just ballot casting. In fact, reducing us to simply ‘voters’ or ‘ballot casters’ is completely consistent with the consumer mentality. We simply consume media information, political marketing and advertising, and then go vote yes/no at the ballot. That’s a very market based approach.

    For example, how many times have you heard that “the Republican brand has been tarnished”? As though a political party is a brand which only need be marketed or packaged in the right way and fed to consumers. In this way, there is absolutely no discussion of process, only a decision to buy or not buy.

    So do you want Tyson or Holly Farms chicken? They’re both produced in factory farms using the same techniques. Do you want coke or pepsi? They both rot your teeth, both use corn syrup instead of sugar (in the US only…I wonder why that is?).

    We’re actually systematically trained to NOT be citizens, in the sense that citizenship grants the right to participation. Casting a ballot is the least one can do. Unfortunately we’re worked into the ground trying to make ends meet, leaving only the privileged classes to participate in governance, meaning they organize policy to serve their values and interests.

    When even the homeless participate in governance, then come talk to me about the difference between citizenship and consumer.

    Of course, all that makes the assumption that one has to choose. We are all (preferably) citizens, consumers AND producers. Once we start recognizing that these all interact in society and are inseparable, maybe will move forward. Until then, I’m left lecturing grown men about basic concepts.

  37. Anonymous Says:

    5,475% of $7,300 is a few hundred bucks shy of $400K. Bad math indeed.

  38. Anonymous Says:

    "You were off to a good start, but then you blew it all by essentially agreeing with the bipartisan consensus that crooks like AIG and Citigroup are too big to fail.

    Your brilliant "solution": nationalize them, so that instead of stiffing their customers, they'll stiff all American taxpayers. Why, throw in permanent employment and you'd have a perfect South American sinecure. Talk about copying a model that works."
    – Incitatus

    My solution is to nationalize the bank and shoot all the assholes who f*&ked it up in the first place. Does it helf? No, but it makes me feel better, like kicking Allan Greenspan to death with iron shod shoes, or mis-hanging* the entire Bush clan after a Nuremburg-style trial. Good for the soul it is.

    – Strelnikov

    __________________________
    *i.e. tying the noose so they slip through and break their legs, or choke to death instead of breaking their necks…pretty common in Old West hangings.

  39. Anonymous Says:

    This is rather amusing to read the comments of people who have no clue about how business works. Kind of like listening to teenagers trying to discuss serious issues like the Israeli peace process or how to help Africa escape poverty–good intentions, lots of passion, but very little actual knowledge.

    Do businesses treat their customers like crap? Yes they do, every day. I’ve been a “victim” of it hundreds of times. Do businesses that fail deserve to fail? Generally speaking, yes. Was the bailout a mistake? In every respect, yes. Are executives overpaid? Absolutely, though I defy anyone posting a comment here to do a better job than business’s current leaders (and I’m even talking about the ones running their companies into the ground. If you were in their shoes, the responsibility and sheer volume of work that needs to be organized and directed would overwhelm you within a couple of hours. It at least took most of them a few months or several years to fail).

    All right, so executives get paid lots of money. Let’s say the top 5 people at AIG make an average of, oh, $20M a year in total compensation. That’s $100M between all of them. Now let’s say that instead of $20M a year, you decide to be more equitable and give them each a mere $200K each, with the remaining $99M to be split among all the other employees (116,000 as of last fall, but that’s sure to be lower–let’s cut it in half for argument’s sake). So you take that $99M, and divide it 58,000 ways. Congratulations, each employee has an additional $1,707 for the entire year–a nice little supplement to be sure, but hardly a major incentive to do a better job, and hardly an amount to keep you in your home if you’re struggling financially. I could do the same simple analysis with GM and a number of other companies but you get the idea.

    The reason executives get paid so much is because, in theory, they add value that is disproportionate relative to the percentage of employees that they make up. They, theoretically, add a skillset that very few people have. Now, I will be the first to say that those who have pushed financial companies into the ground don’t deserve massive compensation. That results from an off-hands attitude by both boards of directors and shareholders, and it’s foolish to pay them that much money for poor performance. But the hoopla over executive pay isn’t about how it’s unfair because of bad performance. Liberals were griping about CEO pay even when those CEOs were causing their companies to prosper and create jobs. In reality, it comes down to envy and greed. Are CEOs greedy? Many of them, yes. Incredibly greedy. Are the “populists” who are pushing for confiscatory taxes on AIG bonuses greedy? You’d better believe it, a greed born of envy and a frustration that you’re not making that much.

    I understand the frustration. My company (not AIG, by the way) has laid off most of my friends, and I live in fear of losing my job any day now. There are a lot of days where I resent the people at the top for continuing to make hundreds of thousands of dollars while laying off heads of struggling families. But here’s the reality: I don’t have their skillset, and I’m not willing to accept the level of responsibility that they assume in running this company. Nor could I, at least at this point in my career. My company would crash and burn under my leadership, rather than limping along under theirs.

    Enough with the populist “righteous indignation.” Are these bonuses a waste of your taxpayer money? Probably. But in buying AIG, the government knew that there would be contracts previously entered into by AIG that would seem foolish or even morally wrong. It’s why they got where they are. Let’s blame the pols who put us on the hook for a disaster of a company, not the people who are trying to turn it around.

  40. Incitatus Says:

    Aggie sez:
    So do you want Tyson or Holly Farms chicken?

    Do you want Republicrats or Demoticans?

    They’re both produced in factory farms using the same techniques. Do you want coke or pepsi? They both rot your teeth, both use corn syrup instead of sugar (in the US only…I wonder why that is?).

    Ooh, ooh teacher, ask me, I know that one. Because of government intervention keeping corn prices and supply artificially high and in the meantime keeping the healthier Latin American cane sugar out of the market through protectionist tariffs.
    Isn’t gub’mint wunnerful?

  41. Incitatus Says:

    Quoth Strelnikov:
    My solution is to nationalize the bank and shoot all the assholes who f*&ked it up in the first place.

    You want to shoot Barney Frank and Chris Dodd also? I think they’re pond scum, but I’m against the death penalty, even for unrecoverable criminals like them or the Bush gang.

  42. Anonymous Says:

    There’s another reason for the outrage. A lot of us are paying for the failings of AIG and Citigroup in other ways besides the government bailouts – some of us who don’t work in the insurance industry or anywhere near Wall Street have lost jobs or have reduced income because the economy has fallen apart – I’m on pace to make half of what I made last year and a lot of people I know are unemployed including a husband and wife I know in the tech industry. Most of us have lost huge percentages of their retirement accounts – which is pretty awful for people nearing or at retirement age. WE are outraged because people who worked at a company that took ridiculous risks and profited from those risks in other years don’t feel that they need to share any of the downside with the rest of us. WE didn’t lose any money for AIG, either. Is it fair that we should pay the price for what a couple of people at AIG did? (In case you don’t notice the sarcastic tone – this is the argument being put forth by those poor people at AIG who are being made to feel bad for taking bonuses).

  43. Anonymous Says:

    "Quoth Strelnikov:
    My solution is to nationalize the bank and shoot all the assholes who f*&ked it up in the first place.

    You want to shoot Barney Frank and Chris Dodd also? I think they're pond scum, but I'm against the death penalty, even for unrecoverable criminals like them or the Bush gang."
    – Incitatus

    I'd rather repopulate Siberia with these clowns, but the Russian government probably would say "nyet" because they're too scummy even for Putin.

    As for the long-winded Anon., I'm sorry that you feel you have to justify the suits' stupidity.

    – Strelnikov

  44. Angelo Says:

    HEY ANONYMOUS IDIOTS

    make a name, and keep it when you post here so that there can be a discussion!!!

  45. kurt Says:

    Anon justifying salaries- Read some of Ted’s other work for a number of links to studies that effectively disprove your theory. I am sure Aggie could also help.

    Incitatus- You are way too smart to buy into that Rush BS that this is all Chris Dodd and Barney Frank’s fault because they compromised to get a few votes from the republican’t extremists. A quick scan of the facts should blow them out out the water. I hope you really aren’t that lazy.

  46. Incitatus Says:

    Kurt,

    This is of course not only Dodd’s and Frank’s fault. They’re part of a long line of culprits (Greenspan, Paulson, Clinton, Bush etc etc) on both sides of the ruling party. You’re too smart not to know it.

  47. Incitatus Says:

    Oh, By the way, I don’t live in the US, and I have never heard Limbaugh’s show. I don’t know why you assume that anybody who says something similar to what he might have uttered once is a mindless rant show listening drone. You know the ditty, even a broken clock yadda-yadda.

  48. Kurt Says:

    Incitatus,

    I didn’t intend to say you listened to Rush… I said you were repeating a lie that originated with Rush. If you read a newspaper, website or watch CNN, FOX or any other cable news channel, you will get a heavy dose of BS. Most of that BS originates with Drudge or Limbaugh. The lazy reporters don’t investigate the facts and the truth never gets reported. I will never forget the time O’Rielly used a clip from the TV show “24” to make some point about how fun and useful torture is, only to see the dialogue from “24” quoted the next day on Drudge and then in several medium sized newspapers as thought that TV scene had been footage of some actual terrorist giving up good intel. Our countries media is owned by the same 5 assholes who own everything else and they have got 2/3rds of the idiots in this country buying into their BS.

    The facts remain however that the housing crisis AND the insurance crisis originated in provisions in 3 bills that were supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Party. In all three cases Frank objected and then used his power to reduce the bad and compromised and agreed to what the majority wanted. Dodd, on the other hand, is owned and operated by Citibank and Household bank. He has done a number of things at the behest of banking that I think were foolish. That said, Sen. Dodd has also done a number of good things for this country.

  49. Anonymous Says:

    Ditto on the bad math, Ted. It's so bad it made me stop reading. Might want to edit it.

    Re: Torture on "24" … "24," horrible and evil as it is — and what a terrible sell-out-bastard career choice it has been for Kiefer Sutherland — it is only the most extreme example so far of the "torture works!" principle that has been in effect on American TV since at least the '70s, when Starsky & Hutch were (so I am informed) regularly beating useful information out of a pimp named "Huggy Bear."

    Did Hollywood's lazy propagation of this war-crime-as-plot-device, decade after decade, merely reflect America’s descent into moral iniquity, or did it, in fact, cause it?

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