Ian Bremmer and Sean West
The Wall Street Journal
After quietly tolerating $170 billion in bailout money for AIG, why have the public, Congress and the administration suddenly blown up about a tiny fraction of that amount that is being paid out in retention payments and bonuses? After all, the AIG bailout channels U.S. taxpayer dollars to foreign banks and even potentially covers hedge-fund profits.
The reason is one of political expediency: The bonuses represent greed in the face of dire circumstances, which resonates with Joe the TARP-funder. The public now has an Enron-like target on which to unload its collective frustration about the financial meltdown. While public outrage is understandable, pandering to it jeopardizes the administration's credentials in a sloppy attempt to score populist points. This raises the political risk for all investors in the U.S. (both domestic and foreign) significantly.
The financial-sector rescue necessitates unpopular actions that will only be politically worth it if the administration actually solves the crisis. Until recently, the Obama administration had taken pragmatic if slow actions that it deemed necessary to fend off disaster, as opposed to pursuing an ideological agenda in how it implements the bailout.
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