Friday, November 28, 2008

Executive Punishment

George Packer of The New Yorker has a good idea that won't go anywhere:
In private life, extreme indebtedness, bankruptcy, the ruin of those close to you, and dependence on the government dole are generally thought to be causes for anguish, self-denial, and a degree of shame. But if you’re a financial executive with an exalted title, a big enough salary, a deep enough debt, and a vast enough handout, these same disasters entitle you to go on living and feeling about yourself much as you did before. You even have a right to think that the taxpayers owe it to you—that it’s for their own good, not yours. You don’t have to explain yourself; you certainly don’t have to apologize.

I would like to see these malefactors of great wealth apologize to the country. I would like to see them organize their own press conference in a lineup on Wall Street and, in the manner of disgraced Japanese officials, bow low to the pavement, express contrition, and beg their countrymen’s forgiveness. Such a scene would go some way toward cleansing the smell of the financial crisis.

In Japan, humiliated executives resign -- when they don't commit suicide. In Switzerland, Packer informs us, the bad bankers were shamed into forgoing twety-seven million dollars in salary and compensation.

But here, in the U.S., Packer says the best we can hope for is that "like the parents of two-year-olds, the next Congress should summon them to Washington and publicly punish these executives who... "see morality as something external to themselves, as that which the big people say they must do."

It's not enough, if you ask us, but it's a start.

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