Monday, May 21 , 2018, 4:33 am | Fair 52º

 
 
 
 

Mark Shields: Fanning the Flames of a Populist Revolt

Wall Street knows no shame, but Congress and the White House also bear the blame.

Wow, are we ever slow learners. At his second inaugural, some 72 years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt told us what we are still painfully learning in daily headlines about Wall Street financiers pocketing hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts but still rewarding themselves with close to $20 billion in year-end bonuses. This is what FDR said: “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we now know that it is bad economics.”

Mark Shields
Mark Shields
These Bonus Babies of Wall Street live by their own selfish rule: Privatize all profit, and socialize any and all loss. Last year, according to New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, as reported by Ben White in The New York Times, brokerage units of Manhattan’s financial companies lost some $35 billion. The companies that employed these financial geniuses, after invoking apocalyptic visions of imminent economic collapse and terrifying Washington into a three-quarters-of-a-trillion-dollar taxpayer-funded bailout, were and are still effectively on the public dole.

How could these master money-mavens — having been accomplices to this national financial debacle — morally, ethically or civically justify paying themselves bonuses? Sadly, too many on Wall Street know no shame.

Public outrage is building fast. Consider this: On the PBS show, NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, Martin Feldstein, the former chairman of President Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, a man of rock-solid conservative credentials and no advocate of government regulation of business, had this to say when asked about the latest Wall Street payday bonuses and any public reprisal: “I think where the government is actually putting capital into individual businesses, where the government is bailing out those specific businesses, then it has a different kind of authority to be able to request limits.”

While a leading conservative economist gives a qualified green light to public intervention limiting the salaries and bonuses bailed-out bankers heap upon themselves, elected politicians — the same ones who imposed severe pay cuts on blue-collar American autoworkers as a condition of public loans to the auto companies — have been timid and reluctant to do the same for bankers.

Here is my formula. Any private business that tin-cups the U.S. Treasury for a taxpayer-bailout to pay its bills, by definition, can pay no dividends until its taxpayer-bailout is paid in full. All transactions of that now public-private entity shall be fully transparent. Its books shall be available for scrutiny by its stockholders — the citizens of the United States. No employee of any bailed-out private company shall be paid more than the president of the United States, who earns $400,000 a year.

There will be no wailing tolerated about the “market’s” inability to attract talented and gifted people to work for such slave wages. Because of the rocketing unemployment in the financial sector, there is not a pool of qualified talent looking for work, there is a veritable ocean!

No American has a more hazardous mission than a U.S. Marine Corps lance corporal who is a squad leader in Iraq or Afghanistan. His work, which keeps him away from loved ones for long stretches, is dangerous and demanding — death is no stranger. For all of this, he earns approximately $21,000 a year. Are we to believe that his fellow American citizens will not live and work in New York City for up to 20 times as much?

We know there is, sadly, precious little shame on Wall Street. But what about on Capitol Hill and in the White House? Do they not feel the rage of average Americans at this ripping-off of the taxpayers by arrogant, self-centered and taxpayer-subsidized individuals and companies? No more delays and debates. The time for tough federal action on these rip-off artists is now.

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.

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