Populist anger at AIG: Has it gone too far?
Just like many Americans, I was enraged when news broke that AIG
planned to pay $165 million in bonuses to its executives, some of whom
aren’t even with the company anymore. But I read two items in the news
today that makes me concerned about whether America’s populist anger
toward the insurance giant has, in fact, become too hostile.
The Washington Post published an article this morning describing the palpable fear
of employees at the headquarters of AIG Financial Products in
Connecticut. And not just over the fear of their company’s future, but
fear of their personal safety. Protesters have been staking out in
front of AIG employees’ homes. The company has received death threats
and calls to blow up the headquarters. An employee had in London had to
relocate because a tabloid had printed his address.
Then, this afternoon, Gawker posted a memo from AIG to its employees, detailing security measures all employees should undertake to keep themselves safe.
In many respects, I find these reports even more outrageous than the
news about the bonuses. As the Post mentions, most of the employees
that instigated the behavior that led to the company’s downfall - like
credit derivatives written on mortgage-backed securities - are long
gone. Now, the employees who didn’t participate in this behavior are
left to clean up the mess. And they’re receiving memos telling them not
to wear AIG apparel in public, to walk in groups, and to be escorted
whenever inside an AIG facility.
Death threats, stake-outs and intimidation on the part of the American public are just as infuriating as executive bonuses.
Don’t get me wrong - I’m not defending AIG. I agree that their
behavior before and after this economic crisis has been despicable. But
I don’t think any of these employees deserve to receive threats, or be
forced to move away from their homes out of fear of public retaliation.
Mob mentality is a dangerous thing. Just as dangerous as wasteful spending and corporate irresponsibility.
And as good as public outrage might feel right now, it won’t do any
good unless it leads to strategic, rational action to prevent this
economic crisis from worsening.