Bon­nie & Clyde, Hil­lary & Obama, Fran­nie & Fred­die

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics -

Now we see what Bon­nie and Clyde could have made of them­selves if only they had gone to Har­vard Busi­ness School. Ma­chine guns and fast get­away cars are not nearly as ef­fi­cient as com­put­ers, lawyers and imag­i­na­tive ac­count­ing.

Bon­nie and Clyde re­lieved de­pos­i­tors of their sav­ings at lit­tle banks in out of the way places, deal­ing only in re­tail. The Lehman broth­ers and their sis­ters, Bear Stearns and AIG, re­lieved in­vestors of their money on Wall Street and now get to re­lieve tax­pay­ers of their money from coast to coast, deal­ing in whole­sale. The broth­ers and sis­ters have given “free mar­kets” an en­tirely new mean­ing. They’re free to take the money and run, with Hank Paul­son driv­ing the get­away car.

Bon­nie and Clyde had to plan their rob­beries care­fully. If they hit a bank in Jo­plin and the haul was too small to pay for gro­ceries and gaso­line, they wor­ried about where and when to eat. Too many bad choices and they were hun­gry and out of cash with noth­ing to carry. The Lehman broth­ers and their greedy and ul­ti­mately in­com­pe­tent ilk didn’t have to worry. They were too big to fail, and gov­ern­ment en­ablers would al­ways be there.

But cap­i­tal­ism, with its win­ners and losers, risks and re­wards, is only for the poor. The rich — the in­vest­ment bankers, the high rollers and the croupiers at the Wall Street casino — get so­cial­ism, with never a worry about get­ting “shaken out” by the free mar­ket. So this is what Ge­orge W.’s “com­pas­sion­ate con­ser­vatism” was all about. Who knew?

The busi­ness re­porters at Reuters sat down over the Sept. 20-21 week­end and did the math, to see who will pay for the night­mare on Wall Street. They reckon the res­cue will even­tu­ally cost $1,800,000,000,000, when all the var­i­ous res­cue mea­sures are counted. (Tril­lions are no longer ex­otic fig­ures; our type­set­ters are run­ning out of ze­roes.) This sum is equal to 13 per­cent of the en­tire U.S. Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct and con­sid­er­ably more than twice the en­tire eco­nomic prod­uct of both Canada and Spain. If that’s not scary enough, th­ese mea­sures will cost ev­ery Amer­i­can $6,000 in in­creased taxes, now or later, or about $15,500 for each house­hold. That’s only the av­er­age; since some tax­pay­ers pay more (and you know who you are) and some pay less (and you know who they are), this will re­quire send­ing for Bill Clin­ton to feel all that pain.

We’re told that this is no time to play the blame game. But why not? Since we’re all stock­hold­ers now in a vast Ponzi scheme, we should have some say in who gets thrown into the street and who doesn’t. The Democrats are par­tic­u­larly ea­ger to avoid the blame game. They fiercely op­posed leg­is­la­tion in 2005 that would have im­posed san­ity on Fan­nie Mae and Fred­die Mac, whence came this mis­ery. The leg­is­la­tion was writ­ten by three se­na­tors, in­clud­ing, as it hap­pens, John McCain. The se­na­tors who blocked it were, as it hap­pens, Barack Obama, Hil­lary Clin­ton and Chris Dodd. This un­holy trio took more than a quar­ter of a mil­lion dol­lars in cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from ex­ec­u­tives and em­ploy­ees of Fan­nie and Fred­die. Just a co­in­ci­dence, of course.

The men and women who blew up Wall Street, count­ing on the rest of us to clean up the de­bris, will now move on to other places where life will con­tinue to be rich. For ex­am­ple, the aver- age an­nual salary at Gold­man Sachs, which has yet to go bust, is $521,000, in­clud­ing sec­re­taries. The chair­man took away $38 mil­lion last year, and bonuses of $2 mil­lion, $5 mil­lion and $10 mil­lion are the norm.

The New York em­ploy­ees of bank­rupt Lehman Broth­ers will share a bonus pool of $2.5 bil­lion — the “b” is cor­rect — for their good work in as­sist­ing in the de­struc­tion of the com­pany. Bar­clays Bank PLC of Lon­don, which is buy­ing the rub­ble, says the New York staff will nev­er­the­less get their bonuses. Bar­clays is even ne­go­ti­at­ing with 30 top Lehman ex­ec­u­tives to hire them for jobs at Bar­clays pay­ing mil­lions of dol­lars a year.

Ex­ec­u­tive salaries in a pri­vate busi­ness are the le­git­i­mate con­cern only of the stock­hold­ers; if stock­hold­ers want to pay ridicu­lous salaries and bonuses in­stead of tak­ing the prof­its as re­turn on their in­vest­ment, they’re en­ti­tled. (Bon­nie and Clyde would have been ashamed of such greed.) When tax­pay­ers are abused by hav­ing to pay for a bailout, we’re en­ti­tled to take charge, through our elected of­fi­cials. So con­grat­u­la­tions to all. We’re all Wall Street bankers now.

Wes­ley Pru­den is ed­i­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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