If you turn on/read the news these days it seems like everybody's mad about the economy. Between this week's widespread outrage over the AIG bonuses and Jon Stewarts' channelling populist anger last week, it's clear that nobody's happy about the status quo and everybody's looking for someone to blame. The public blames the media, the media blames Wall Street executives, politicians blame each other along with anyone else that's convenient for the moment. But the only thing that's abundantly clear is that, in the eloquent words of Stewart,"it's not a f—ing game."
It's a good point, and people have every right to be upset. I don't think anyone could plausibly argue that it's fair for executives at AIG to get bonuses when other people lose their jobs and homes due to their incompetence. But with that said, it's time for someone to start reining all the populist anger in.
Anyone who's studied the French Revolution knows that populist rage can be a dangerous thing when it gets out of control. I'm not saying we're even in the same realm today, but it demonstrates the sort of irrationality that people can show when they're angry and looking for a scapegoat. The tyranny of the mob is a crazy thing. To me the oddest manifestation is the special tax that Congress passed yesterday to tax Wall Street bonuses. It may have been good for quelling a little anger, but it won't really help to solve the financial crisis and in that sense it was really just a diversion from the goal of making the economy viable again.
The administration has taken an interesting position in all of this. Recognizing populist anger, President Barack Obama has expressed his anger as well. Yet he has tried to play both sides of the fence by saying the anger has to be harnessed and that we should be looking forward rather than searching for a scapegoat. I agree with the sentiment, but anger like that doesn't lend itself to clear, rational thought. Obama and friends may be whipping up a fire that they can't control, if you ask me, getting angry won't get us too far.