March 17, 2009
A U.S. Senator talks of honorable suicide for well-heeled executives who have received company bonuses and then benefited from bailout money from the taxpayers. Armed guards are posted outside the insurance giant AIG to protect its employees from an angry public. The President declares himself outraged at corporate excess. Larry Summers, the Obama Administration's top economic adviser, says the same. Thus our national economy is fast transforming into a giant kabuki play, or more precisely a sewa-mono, a domestic drama in which theft and suicide are classic themes.
What is becoming of this nation if it is not the puppeteering of what should be an economy of risk and reward where, with reasonable regulation for health, consumer disclosure, and mitigation of monopolies, the government steps back and allows customers and investors to act on opportunity and react to failure? The greed of some private sector actors is real enough, but the umbrage of many political actors rings hollow. Can we recover the bonuses paid to executives who could not keep their businesses profitable? Why, government has made unprofitability the test of whether certain businesses, like certain mortgagees, get aid.
Here is a simpler idea: anyone who receives government bailout aid, direct or indirect, or benefits from a no-bid government contract of any kind, forfeits their right as individuals to donate to federal political campaigns for a period of five years. That would have some genuine impact on this Kabuki cycle