bureaucracybusters

GREED-TESTING FOR CEOS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 21, 2013 at 1:28 am

Robert Benmosche, the CEO of American International Group (AIG) has some blunt advice to college graduates searching for work in a tight job market.

“You have to accept the hand that’s been dealt you in life,” Benmosche said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. “Don’t cry about it. Deal with it.”

Typical advice from a one-percenter whose company, AIG, suffered a liquidity crisis when its credit ratings were downgraded below “AA” levels in September 2008.

And how did AIG “deal with” its own crisis?  It went crying to its Uncle Sugar, the United States Government, for a bailout.

Which it promptly got.

The United States Federal Reserve Bank, on September 16, 2008, made an $85 billion loan to the company to meet increased collateral obligations resulting from its credit rating downgrade–and thus saving it from certain bankruptcy.

In return, the Government took an 80% stake in the firm.

(The bailout eventually ballooned to $182 billion in exchange for a 92%  stake.)

College graduates, said Benmosche, need to seize the opportunities that become available to them, even if their options are limited.

“They want me to talk to the students and give them a sense of encouragement, especially with the high unemployment,” said Benmosche.

“My advice will be, ‘Whatever opportunity comes your way, take it. Take it and treat it as if it’s the only one that’s coming your way, because that actually may be the truth.’”

Of course, willing-to-work college graduates who can’t find willing-to-hire employers won’t be able to count on a generous bailout from the Federal Government.

To which most of them will owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans.

It’s long past time to apply to “untouchable” CEOs like Robert Benmosche the same criteria that right-wing Republicans demand be applied to welfare recipients.

Throughout the past year Republican lawmakers have pursued welfare drug-testing in Congress and more than 30 states.

Some bills have even targeted people who claim unemployment insurance and food stamps, despite scanty evidence the poor and jobless are disproportionately on drugs.

The concept of background screening is actually sound. But Republicans are aiming it at the wrong end of the economic spectrum.

Since 2008, the government has handed out billions of dollars in bailouts to the wealthiest corporations in the country.

The reason: To rescue the economy from the calamity produced by the criminal greed and recklessness of those same corporations.

For example:

  • The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) has invested $118.5 billion in restoring liquidity to the financial markets.
  • Federal Reserve rescue efforts: $1.5 trillion invested.
  • Federal stimulus programs designed to save or create jobs and jumpstart the economy from recession. $577.8 billion invested.
  • American International Group: Multifaceted bailout to help insurers through restructuring, minimize the need to post collateral and get rid of toxic assets. $127.4 billion invested.
  • FDIC bank takeovers: Cost to FDIC fund that insures losses depositors suffer when a bank fails. $45.4 billion billion invested.
  • Other financial initiatives designed to rescue the financial sector. $366.4 billion invested.
  • Other housing initiatives designed to rescue the housing market and prevent foreclosures. $130.6 billion invested.

Total of federal monies invested: $3 trillion.

It’s important to note that these figures–supplied by the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Congressional Budget Ooffice and the White House–date from November 16, 2009.

And it’s equally important to remember that welfare recipients did not

  • hold CEO positions at any of the banks so far bailed out;
  • run such insurance companies as American International Group (AIG);
  • administer the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, known as Freddie Mac;
  • command the Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae.

The 2010 documentary “Inside Job” chronicles the events leading to the 2008 global financial crisis. One of its most insightful moments occurs at a party held by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

“We can’t control our greed,” the CEO of a large bank admits to his fellow guests.

“You should regulate us more.”

Greed is defined as an excessive desire for wealth or goods. At its worst, greed trumps rationality, judgment and concern about the damage it may cause.

Greed begins in the neurochemistry of the brain. A neurotransmitter called dopamine fuels our greed. The higher the dopamine levels in the brain, the greater the pleasure we experience.

Cocaine, for example, directly increases dopamine levels. So does money.

Harvard researcher Hans Breiter has found, via magnetic resonance imaging studies, that the craving for money activates the same regions of the brain as the lust for sex, cocaine or any other pleasure-inducer.

Dopamine is most reliably activated by an experience we haven’t had before. We crave recreating that experience.

But snorting the same amount of cocaine, or earning the same sum of money, does not cause dopamine levels to increase. So the pleasure-seeker must increase the amount of stimuli to keep enjoying the euphoria.

In time, this incessant craving for pleasure becomes an addiction. And feeding that addiction–with ever more money–becomes the overriding goal.

Thus, the infamous line–”Greed is good”–in the 1987 film, “Wall Street,” turns out to be both false and deadly for all concerned.

But the situation need not remain this way.

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