What is the essence of public stupidity? There are two possible paths to public stupid. First, obviously, is to be wrong. But, not merely wrong, not holding an opinion that I disagree with--No! Type one public stupidity means being absolutely, factually wrong. Paul Revere did not ride to warn the British off. Raped women can get pregnant. There is no significant disagreement among climate scientists on the reality of human caused climate change. The founders did not conceive the United States as a Christian nation. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The second form of public stupidity is saying something so face-palmingly offensive or impolitic that your friends rush to deny they even know you. Today we have type two stupid.*
I'm not sure if you remember, but way back in the fall of 2008--which is, like, 5000 years in reality TV watcher attention span years and 2000 internet years--an unregulated investment market almost destroyed the global economy. Pensions for millions of Americans near or past retirement age evaporated. The economies of several South European countries collapsed. Millions of Americans lost their jobs and, therefore, their homes. In an attempt to stop the crash, the Bush administration committed the taxpayers of the US to 700 million dollars to bail out some of those responsible. The investment house AIG was one of the lucky survivors. A few months later, they gave the people most responsible 165 million in bonuses. In the face of an outraged public, AIG's PR flaks explained that they needed to pay those bonuses to retain the best and the brightest because the investment community was so robust that their competitors were lining up to steal the people who made trillions of dollars of the global economy evaporate.
Now, you would think that, if you were one of the companies who was responsible for the near collapse of Western Civilization; if you only survived because you were bailed out by billions of dollars from the American taxpayers; that you only survived to get that bailout because you lasted a few days beyond your competitors before admitting that you had also destroyed the wealth of your smallest, most vulnerable investors; that you might try not to remind everyone about those days. You or I might behave in that manner, but not so AIG CEO Bob Benmosche. His painful memories are not of the tens of millions of Americans whose futures were destroyed. His empathy is not for those who lost their homes, pensions, or retirement accounts. No. His empathy and outrage are for those brave, noble top level employees who destroyed the economy and faced criticism. Yes, some of these people had to face the horrors of bad publicity and mean words while collecting bonuses bigger than the mortgages of many people who lost their homes.
That brings us to yesterday. The current CEO of AIG, Bob Benmosche, remembers the horror of those days:
Now you have these bright young people who had nothing to do with [the bad investments that almost destroyed the global economy] ... They understand the derivatives very well...And if they are so blameless, they must have been completely ignored by senior management.
they understand the complexity. ...
They're all scared. They [made] good livings. They probably lived beyond their means. ... They aren't going to stay there for nothing.Because, with half of our competitors wiped out, there's a worker's market bidding for their talent.
The uproar over bonuses "was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that–sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong."Yeah! Having some people say bad words about you is "just as bad and just as wrong" as being dragged through the streets, beaten, hung, and set on fire. America would owe those poor lynching victims a major apology if they were still alive.
Wait, they are still alive? And, they're richer than before? But the bad words, the bad words, no amount of taxpayer money can make up for that. Can it? I don't know. Ask the 47 percent.
* If anyone has a recommendation for type three public stupid, put it in the comments here or on Facebook. Hell, if you can find me on Twitter (@archymck), use that, too.