I’m no Maureen Dowd fan (and even less of a Tom Friedman one), but I have to applaud her column on Sunday, which is something of an anthem for readers outraged by what’s been going on on Wall Street and in Washington.
The president’s disgust at Wall Street looters was good. But we need more. We need disgorgement.
Disgorgement is when courts force wrongdoers to repay ill-gotten gains. And I’m ill at the gains gotten by scummy executives acting all Gordon Gekko while they’re getting bailed out by us.
Here’s Dowd hitting on the theme of financialization, the idea that too much of our economy and our brainpower has been allocated toward finance:
At least the old robber barons made great products. When you make money out of money, unmoored from morality and regulators, it must unhinge you. How else to explain corporate welfare queens partridge hunting in England, buying French jets and shopping for Lamborghinis?
She raps Obama for being too demure with his “shameful” remarks, and nails Rudy Giuliani for his idiotic defense of the bonuses:
Rudy Giuliani resurfaced Friday to defend corporate bonuses, telling CNN that cutting them would mean less spending in restaurants and stores.
Stupid. Even without bonuses, these gazillionaires can still eat out. It’s like Rudy’s trickle-up Make Work Program: Make Leisure.
And Dowd approvingly quotes Claire McCaskill’s full-throated condemnation of Wall Street:
Claire McCaskill popped out a bill to limit the pay of anyone at firms taking federal money to no more than the president makes — $400,000.
“These people are idiots,” she said on the Senate floor. “You can’t use taxpayer money to pay out $18 billion in bonuses. … Right now they’re on the hook to us. And they owe us something other than a fancy wastebasket and $50 million jet.”
Now that’s populism!
Senator Chuck Grassley gives the quote of the week:
Senator Chuck Grassley urged the administration to snatch back the bonuses. “They ought to give ’em back or we should go get ’em,” the Republican told me. “If this were Japan and a corporate executive did what is being done on Wall Street, they’d either go out and commit suicide or go before the board of directors and the country and take a very deep bow and apologize.”
Finally, she ends with this refutation of all those who’ve put forward the canard that the banks need to give bonuses to retain employees:
Some Obama policy makers still buy into the notion that if they’re too strict, these economic royalists, to use F.D.R.’s epithet, might balk at the bailout, preferring perks over the prospect of their banks going belly-up.
The president needs to think like Andrew Cuomo. “ ‘Performance bonus’ for many of the C.E.O.’s is an oxymoron,” he said. “I would tell them, a) you don’t deserve a bonus, b) where are you going to go? and c) if you want to go, go.”
Adding, Paul Krugman’s column yesterday is also a home run. He slams Obama for being mealymouthed toward the banks:
When I read recent remarks on financial policy by top Obama administration officials, I feel as if I’ve entered a time warp — as if it’s still 2005, Alan Greenspan is still the Maestro, and bankers are still heroes of capitalism.
“We have a financial system that is run by private shareholders, managed by private institutions, and we’d like to do our best to preserve that system,” says Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary — as he prepares to put taxpayers on the hook for that system’s immense losses.
Meanwhile, a Washington Post report based on administration sources says that Mr. Geithner and Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s top economic adviser, “think governments make poor bank managers” — as opposed, presumably, to the private-sector geniuses who managed to lose more than a trillion dollars in the space of a few years.
Krugman is right on to say if taxpayers are going to funnel cash into the banks and guarantee their debt, we ought to wipe out their shareholders and give control of the institutions to the taxpayers.
Here’s where the ball goes over the fence:
Meanwhile, Wall Street’s culture of excess seems to have been barely dented by the crisis. “Say I’m a banker and I created $30 million. I should get a part of that,” one banker told The New York Times. And if you’re a banker and you destroyed $30 billion? Uncle Sam to the rescue!
Amen.Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.