"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark..."

The greed, corruption and blatant lack of ethics that has ravaged practically all of the financial institutions in the United States is not new unfortunately. I was working at Arthur Andersen as a real estate consultant when the Enron scandal broke in 2001, which resulted in the eventual collapse of both companies. Because of the actions of a few, approximately tens of thousands of employees globally were suddenly out of work at Arthur Andersen as the 89 year old company fell apart piecemeal. With Enron, individuals that had worked at the company their entire lives, lost not only their jobs but their life savings.

(AP Photo/ Seth Wenig)

Fast forward eight years and the degree of corruption is so pervasive it has become systemic. Federal bailout after bailout is needed just to keep the financial institutions barely afloat. The numbers that are tossed around ($700 billion, $900 billion, one trillion...) are so incredibly high (but according to many economists, not high enough) and yet while I am struggling comprehend how much money this really is, I have at the same time almost become desensitized to the number.

And yet, so many of these financial executives who are drowning in their own immorality continue to reward themselves with mind boggling bonuses while pleading for bailout funds. The biggest offense I have heard so far is from Merrill Lynch. I read in the newspaper today that in spite of operating losses of $41.2 billion in 2008, and just days shy of Bank of America's acquisition of Merrill Lynch with government funds, Merrill executives rewarded themselves with bonuses totaling just under $4 billion! (The top four executives alone took home $121 million)!

No doubt those numbers alone are infuriating. It is my tax dollars that these crooks are pocketing! However, it was not until yesterday, when I heard Jeffrey Sachs', a man who has spent so much of his life fighting to alleviate global poverty, in an interview with Rachel Maddow that I finally appreciated the full degree of this depravity. According to Sachs, "What Merrill took in bonuses is about what the U.S. gives for all its help to the world's poorest people in Africa. And they just took that. They just grabbed that in a moment. And now we have a shortfall for AIDS, TB and malaria. This is millions of...[lives] at stake."

When I heard that, I sat still, unable to move for a few minutes in shock and horror. Could this be? And so I did a little research. According to the Brookings Institution, under the latter half of the George W. Bush years, the United States gave $3.9 billion in foreign aid to Sub-Saharan Africa to help the world's poorest of the poor. In December 2008, 700 Merrill executives gave themselves $3.6 billion in bonuses with money they did NOT have. To quote Marcellus in Hamlet, "something is rotten..." and boy, does it reek.

No comments:

Post a Comment