GM is practically dancing a jig and mouthing "yassuh, boss" every time they call Washington for emergency cash, while AIG's "Dream Team" impetuously suffers its way through the humiliating process of asking our government for a new truckload of greenbacks. Maybe the management at GM didn't read the same "How To Be Successful In Business Without Really Trying" books as the execs at AIG. You know the ones I'm talking about, where they impart the famous dictum, "in order to get people to give you money, you have to act like you don’t need it."
GM can't get the 20 or 30 billion or so that it says it needs to stay open unless everybody in its food chain - employees, suppliers, bond holders, executives - gives something up. The kind of restructuring they are going go through is a lot like going through a bankruptcy, except there's no judge involved. Even the smart people at GM, the ones considered to be the brains of the operation, have to give up their pound of flesh. I guess this would be the "old fashioned" way of asking the American public to lend a hand when things in your business have gone horribly wrong on your watch.
The attitude that seems to permeate the culture of AIG - "we are impervious to our mistakes" - is the thing that has Americans of every stripe ready to tar and feather anybody with an employee badge from the insurance giant. When we see this kind of arrogance and self centeredness from a company that will need 200 to 300 billion dollars by the time this is finished just to become a shell of its former self, it gets the nation's collective dander up.
The ideological terrorists who crashed those planes into the World Trade Center have had much less impact on our economy and our national psyche than our own homegrown financial terrorists who are reporting to work today at AIG, these Americans of ours who feel so strongly about deserving bonuses for being smart and wrong that they are willing to hold the country hostage in order to get it.
I don't have a problem with paying an office professional more than assembly line technicians because the professional can do complex quadratic equations in his head and manipulate computer models with impunity. What I do have a problem with is the disconnect we have fostered within this group of people when they feel that they are entitled to the reward just for being smart - not for being smart and right.
You won't see this in any study, because the only dysfunctional culture we will identify by name in this country is always in a ghetto, but my own unscientific years of observation in the suburbs has shown me what you already know but may not want to articulate - that the arrogant, reckless and entitled attitudes being displayed by the execs and the rank and file at AIG, who are mostly college educated white men, is homegrown right here in our nation's own suburbs.
If you want to see for yourself, take a ride to your nearest upscale suburban area around the time school gets out and park your car at a gas station near a high school, or next to a Starbucks.
When you grow up in isolation from the factories and warehouses and power plants, when you are cloistered in a bubble of perpetual youth that has no room for the old, the infirm, or the mentally ill, when you are segregated from the people who make the deliveries when you click your mouse, the thing you know as reality is different, different enough for you to believe that the people who turn wrenches and lift boxes and operate heavy equipment need you more than you need them.
Congress could horsewhip AIG CEO Edward Liddy today in their congressional hearing, the way they used to do to runaway slaves - shirt off, blood streaming down his back, the cries of agony echoing across D.C. - but it won't change the way his people think about what they've done, or how absolutely wrong they have been, or how much their errant calculations are responsible for taking America's economy to the brink of disaster.
Whether we can convince AIG's "Dream Team" that this alternate universe they think we live in - the one where it costs you all your marbles when you are dead wrong - is really the real world remains to be seen.