Bankers, the new welfare queens

Forget welfare queens. We’ve never seen an entitlement mentality quite like this—where bonuses were not rewards for work well done but guaranteed entitlements written into high-end contracts. The AIG financial division folks managed to have no performance-based criteria for their bonuses. And despite bankrupting a company they still felt entitled to an extra helping of tax-payer cash. Apologists claim such compensation packages are necessary to retain talent in a competitive business culture. Others point to the inviolate nature of contracts and shrug apologetically while pocketing the cash. Apparently “accountability” is just a word for management power-points—it has no meaning for these folks when it collides with self-interest. Proportion and perspective have lost their meaning as well—if you mention that the average household income United States is around $50,000 a year, they squint as if you’re talking about another species. That’s a fraction of financial industry base salaries, let alone bonuses—even after the house of cards collapses…

This new populist anger isn’t going to fade away anytime soon. History shows that demagogues rise when the economy turns south. During the Great Depression, populist anger was directed at big business, pumped up by voices like Huey Long on the left and Father Coughlin on the right. When conservative populism reared its head in the late 1960s, anger shifted towards big business. But now we’ve got both— populist anger at big business and big government. It’s a perfect political storm and Republican and Democrat incumbents could be equally vulnerable to associational attack come 2010.