The anger rises. The fury rages at a new economic order that rules our lives. American capitalism has now been redefined to mean the freedom of the rich to reap enormous rewards if the risks they take do work out and — more important — if those risks don’t work out, for everybody else to bail out the rich. In the U.S. financial world, we have an economic hybrid: free enterprise for the working majority and socialism for the privileged rich.
Listen to the good news for Goldman Sachs: In 2008, to save the New York investment firm from collapse, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) of the national government — underwritten by the tax dollars of waitresses, machinists and firefighters — came up with an emergency loan of $10 billion to keep Goldman afloat. But the insolence of wealth was not shaken. In that year when Goldman earned $2.3 billion — while tin-cupping $10 billion from the U.S. Treasury — it still rewarded its top employees with bonuses of $4.8 billion.
To be fair, Goldman Sachs has since repaid with interest its $10 billion lifesaving loan to Citigroup, which eagerly welcomed $45 billion in taxpayer help in 2008 while simultaneously running up a company loss of $27.7 billion — shockingly — still honored its failed corporate leadership with $5.33 billion in bonuses. Citigroup, let it be noted, is one-third owned by U.S. taxpayers.
Don’t overlook JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, which between them paid out to their brass $5.69 billion more in bonuses than the two organizations made in profits — while at the same time seeking and accepting $35 billion in transfusions from their fellow taxpayers. The road to wealth is obviously using other people’s money.
As the widely admired American philosopher Donald Trump once told us, “The point is that you can’t be too greedy.”
All of this took place while Americans’ median income was falling to $50,303 a year last year from $52,163, wiping out all of the gains from the preceding decade and dropping to its lowest level since 1997, and the nation’s unemployment rate is at its highest in 26 years.
Yesterday, 14,000 Americans lost their health insurance. Both today and again tomorrow, another 14,000 will suffer the loss of their health insurance. Every minute of this day, another seven families — that means 424 each hour — will lose their homes to foreclosure. Unlike Bank of America and Morgan Stanley, two additional corporate welfare clients, these ordinary folks are obviously not “too big to fail.”
While a record 5.4 million Americans have been out of work for six months or more, the Senate — which obligingly rescued those bonus-addicted financial giants — has hesitated to even extend unemployment benefits to fellow citizens.
Has official Washington somehow forgotten — in a society where too often we are what we do — just how cruel life can be when we are “doing nothing”?
“We have always known,” the greatest U.S. president of the 20th century told his fellow citizens, “that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”
The question, 70 years after Franklin Roosevelt made that statement, is do we agree, and are we sufficiently outraged to rebel against taxpayer-subsidized socialism for the rich and a cold shoulder to our hurting brothers and sisters?
— Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.