Should the beleaguered executives of AIG get another $250 million in bonuses?
They say the bonuses are pledged and earned. They've been working hard to sell off parts of bankrupt AIG and to manage under dire circumstances. Most of these folks weren't those who drove the reckless gambling on credit default swaps that broke the company and nearly brought down the global economy. Sure, people are angry at AIG and at Wall Street, but why should hardworking executives who are doing the best they can to save the taxpayers money (now that we own AIG) not be rewarded for their services?
Should the autoworkers at General Motors be forced to give up their secure health care plans and take drastic cuts in pay and benefits? They weren't the executives who drove the company off the cliff. They weren't responsible for the economic collapse which devastated auto sales as consumers tightened their belts. They aren't the retirees whose benefits hurt GM's ability to compete with Japanese and Korean companies that have no "legacy costs" for retirees. They aren't responsible for the failure of Washington to pass comprehensive health care reform.
Why should workers who make up the core of America's middle class, once the pride of this society, be stripped of any hope of achieving the modest American dream?
This Great Recession is bad and getting worse. The most recent job reports show that the recession has essentially erased all the jobs created during the years of the alleged Bush "recovery." And more layoffs, more foreclosures and more bankruptcies are coming. The so-called "consensus" forecast suggests that the economy will soon start getting better, but the people won't. Unemployment is projected to rise above 10 percent even after the "recovery" formally begins.
This is a time when Americans deserve common sense and common justice. Choices must be made; priorities must be defined.
At this time, Pope Benedict XVI has issued the encyclical "Caritas in Veritate"--Charity in Truth--calling for a moral vision to guide our future. In the globalization that led up to the crisis, the pope writes, "the world's wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase. In rich countries, new sectors of society are succumbing to poverty and new forms of poverty are emerging." In poorer areas, a few enjoy lavish wealth while most exist in "situations of dehumanizing deprivation."
And now in the crisis, unemployment is rising across the world. "Being out of work or dependent on public or private assistance for a prolonged period," the encyclical warns, "undermines the freedom and creativity of the person and his family and social relationships, causing great psychological and spiritual suffering."
Everyone must be reminded that "the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity: 'Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life,'" the pope writes, quoting the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.
The encyclical calls on governments to act and individuals to support public and private action to build a common good. This vision says much about the choices we face.
Surely, we need to help those in greatest need. The young, the urban dweller, the minority, the manufacturing and construction workers need work--and there is work to be done. The wealthy who have both benefitted from the speculation and built an economy of growing inequality should bear the greatest burden in rectifying the situation.
Today, workers are continuing to lose their jobs and their homes. Banks have fended off bankruptcy, and bankers are clamoring to go back to business and bonuses as usual. The administration will have to act not for those with clout but for those with need. We must revive this economy from the bottom up, not the top down.