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AIG's Counterparties Should Pay Us Back for Bonuses


It's a drop in the bucket, but it's also the right thing to do.

After 6 months of doing everything in its power to conceal the truth from taxpayers, disgraced AIG (AIG) finally came clean and told its owners, the US taxpayers, what we already knew: The firm had been used as a conduit to funnel hundreds of billions of dollars to companies like Goldman Sachs(GS) and Deutsche Bank (DB).

Let's just reflect on this for a moment: Our government has determined, with no vote or discussion, that certain firms needed to be saved. After all, if AIG couldn't make do on its CDO obligations, Goldman would suffer. And why should Goldman suffer, if it were properly hedged?

The reality, of course, is that Goldman wasn't properly hedged. In a truly free market, Goldman would have a tombstone right next to lesser firms like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.

I could go into a huge discourse on the extensive government influence that Goldman and its former executives have. You certainly don't need 6 degrees of anything to get from Goldman to the seat of power in American finance: The AIG decision was made on Hank Paulson's watch, who is only Goldman's former CEO. What's done is done at this point, and there's certainly no going back.

But something can be done. AIG executives recently received nearly $200 million in bonuses. This from the group that destroyed, in a remarkably short period of time, one of the great American business franchises. These bonuses are for the very geniuses that decided that writing virtually unlimited insurance on the health of certain securities was a good idea.

Hey, I would do that too: Heads, I win, I get paid a ton of money; tails, I lose, the US financial system melts down, the government bails me, my firm, and my counterparties out, and I make a ton of money! Nice work, if you can get it.

Here's what we ought to do. Every firm that was made whole via the taxpayer bailout of AIG needs to pay their pro-rata share of the bonus. It's a drop in the bucket -- what's $200 million on $100 billion plus? -- but it's the right thing to do. I think we've forgotten about the right thing, and it's disturbing to say the least. I understand the fact that there are contracts. I also understand that if the firm went broke like it should have, those employees would be unsecured creditors. Good luck with that claim.

I also understand that, just as some of the best FBI agents are reformed criminals, many of these financial products "specialists" have the best expertise to manage the triage we're going through. Fair enough. But they're working for the counter parties - the ultimate beneficiaries of our hard-earned tax dollars. The least the Goldman's of the world can do is pay that bill.
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