The scandal of the week seems to be the bonuses paid to executives at AIG, a company that is only afloat because congress has okayed an almost endless pump of money to flow into it. They've spent more to keep AIG afloat in the past six months than they've spent on national parks, law enforcement, education, prisons, roads, or toilet seats for submarines. Of course, there's outrage that executives of a company that is such a sieve of tax dollars are paid any bonuses at all.
Today, congress approved at tax that is carefully crafted to take back all the money from the bonuses (save for a modest $250,000 per bonus... we don't want to leave these people homeless after all).
I've listened to the bloodlust on the radio and I find myself, once again, on the wrong side of public opinion. I'm far, far more disturbed that congress has just used our tax code -- laws that are supposed to produce the revenue to fuel our government -- as a punitive measure to single out and take the money from a few hundred employees that are currently at the top of the public's shit list. If this passes the senate, and is signed into law, this opens the door for abuses I don't even want to contemplate. If we say it's okay to tax this handful of people at rates of almost 90% in order to soothe public outrage, then what happens the next time someone unpopular suddenly finds themselves getting rich, or richer? You think, "Hey! That would be great!" Oil executives? Tax 'em until no one dares own a rig, let alone an oil refinery. Big pharma? They're all blood suckers! Let's suck them dry first. Tobacco execs? They're damn close to murderers. Don't leave them a dime.
Using the tax code to punish may sound like a good idea... as long as your friends are in power. Let's say that you are a devoted liberal, and feel that there should be strong economic penalties on tobacco execs, oil men, and people who look at cancer patients as economic resources to be exploited. You will use the power of taxation only to further the public good.
But, only a fool would think that their party and friends will hold power in Washington forever. Sooner or later, those oilmen and tobacco execs are going to run for congress since it pays better, and the next thing you know they'll have the power to tax the things they find distasteful--windmill farms and personal trainers and any movie star who goes to the third world and returns with more children than she left with.
Don't give political powers to your friends if you wouldn't trust the same powers to your enemies.
So, I really hope that congress fails to enact this tax. And, finally... is anyone else stunned that a congress that is passing a budget his year that will be over ONE TRILLION DOLLARS IN THE RED is daring to scold anyone on their economic mismanagement? It's congress who should most be ashamed that they are collecting paychecks. In December, they asked the auto company CEO's if they would be willing to work for a dollar a year until their companies were back on track. Would congress do the same until they pass a balanced budget?