Adding Pikes and Tumbrils to the Populist Arsenal

by matttbastard

Hilzoy sharpens her pitchfork (what? Hil so owns a pitchfork — and, from what I’ve heard, has quite the loverly garden) and pins the AIG bonus issue–and out-of-touch Wall Street execs—to the wall:

[T]he real issue isn’t bonuses. It’s your compensation, period. It’s the fact that, after doing your very best to wreck the world economy, you regard yourselves as entitled to levels of compensation that people who actually make things can only fantasize about. The bonus part is just the icing on the cake.

Oddly, though, the idea that bonuses have something to do with performance isn’t limited to us outsiders. The WSJ article also contains this gem:

“Under the forthcoming rules, bonuses could come to no more than one-third of the total annual compensation paid to employees covered by the restrictions. Some compensation experts view the bonus limits as a mistake that turns the notion of pay for performance on its head, despite Wall Street’s culpability for the recession and credit crisis.”

Oh noes! We can’t have the notion of pay for performance turned on its head! Not on Wall Street!

[...]

As someone who thinks that levels of compensation in the US are absurdly unequal, and that this is bad for the country, it’s tempting to say: oh, go ahead, you idiots. Keep your sense of entitlement to other people’s money. Make people come after you with pikes and tumbrils. See if I care.

The thing is, I don’t think that rage normally leads to good policy. (Though, as I’ve said before, I really believe that it would help a lot with moral hazard if people found the experience of having the government bail out their firms profoundly unpleasant.) And I’m sure that my inner policy wonk will shortly regain control. Still, at the moment, it’s awfully tempting. I think of people I’ve known who have worked hard all their lives for not very much money, only to be completely bankrupted by unforeseen medical catastrophes, and I imagine these people being asked to support investment bankers in the style to which they have become accustomed, and fury feels like exactly the right response.”

Here’s hoping Hil’s inner policy wonk doesn’t regain control any time soon — she definitely needs to include the phrase “pikes and tumbrils” in more posts.

h/t Sarah (who has a must-read piece over at GC on growing public fury with AIG –GO!!!)

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One thought on “Adding Pikes and Tumbrils to the Populist Arsenal

  1. Nicely done. I agree with Hilzoy that rage tends to produce bad policy — there’s always the danger that populist rage will tilt hard right, or become rigid and tyrannical (see Robespierre). Then we’re all in danger of ending up in the tumbrils.

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