Editor’s note: The following satirical plea was penned while the board of AIG – the insurance giant bailed by U.S. taxpayers during the 2008 financial crisis – was considering whether to join a lawsuit one of the company’s shareholders filed against the U.S. government. AIG’s board has subsequently declined to join the lawsuit.
Oh lords of Wall Street, titans of our economy, from whom all bonuses flow, we humbly beseech you to let live the litigation wherein AIG may sue the American public for failing to be more generous in saving AIG from ruin.
We humbly ask that you cause the AIG Board to disregard any notion of decency, common sense, or patriotism, and join in the lawsuit against the government of the United States, as was demanded by AIG shareholder Hank Greenberg.
We modestly remind you and your minions that we collected about $1,000 from every taxpayer in September, 2008, and donated $170 billion to AIG, so that it might make good on bets it lost to Goldman Sachs and other lords of Wall Street. And we also paid the $175 million worth of bonuses to individuals at AIG that made the bad bets, because we were reminded of the sanctity of contract, and informed that these and only these individuals could succeed in fixing this failure.
Beholding this greatest bailout in world history, we asked our Congress to approve the 2010 Wall Street Reform Act so that, as our President saith, “Never again, will America be held hostage by a bank that’s too big to fail.”
But lo, oh lords of Wall Street, we do suffereth amnesia. We forget. We do not remember this AIG bailout of 2008. And in this state, we allow the giant banks to return to Washington and to beseech our Congress to deny the reform law, to petition the regulatory agencies to dilute the rules.
We do thank you, overseers of the Almighty Dollar, for JP Morgan’s London Whale loss and the revelation that the nation’s smartest banks can lose $7 billion without knowing it, for the Barclays’ admission that it fixed the LIBOR interest rate 237 times that casts light on integrity of average traders, for the government’s epiphany not to prosecute criminal money laundering activity at HSBC because it is too big to jail.
Now we ask this, oh omnipotent beings of the 1 percent, so that the 99 percent can behold for more than a day the new, true, full meaning of chutzpah. AIG may sue the government because our bailout that saved it from bankruptcy was $22 billion short on generosity. As Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, and ranking member of the House oversight committee prophesied, “This is like suing the paramedic who just gave you CPR because he didn’t give you a pillow.”
But as this lawsuit commands, the fiduciary duty to shareholders of board members leaves no room for decency, or civic responsibility. Corporations are people, too, our Supreme Court has reaffirmed.
And so, without ongoing attention to this litigation, we will suffer the amnesia of the 2008 Wall Street bailout. We will forget why strong regulation of Wall Street will protect Main Street. We will allow the Wall Street army of lobbyists run amok in Washington without regard to the harms that unfettered, taxpayer guaranteed gambling wreaks on average citizens.
We ask that this litigation lives so that we can understand the harms of too-big-to-fail, too-big-to-manage, too-big-to-jail, and now, as it seems, that there are banks whose legal duty to shareholders render them too-priggish-to-bail.
We ask this in the name of avarice.
Bartlett Naylor is Public Citizen’s financial policy reform advocate. You can follow him on Twitter at @BartNaylor.