Now that everyone's talking about the meltdown on Wall Street, it's cold comfort that the problems on Main Street are getting air time too.
The American Dream is under attack. At a time when working families across the country are losing their homes, their jobs, and the very hope through adversity that sets this great nation apart from all others, it's not enough to talk about the markets. It's not enough to talk about foreclosures. It's not enough to acknowledge the impact on ordinary people without addressing the root cause of the crisis: basic inequality.
We can make this financial crisis a complicated discussion about CDOs and SIVs and any number of acronyms made up in the last few years to describe the trade in structured debt that is now being questioned by the very corporate types who created the system. We can debate the $85 billion set aside to shore up AIG, the $200 billion bailout provided to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the trillion dollar price tag that's been floated to cover all the major financial collapses so far.
But the real problem is simple. We've done far too little to ensure people in this country have good jobs with health care and the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty. At the same time, we've done far too much to ensure the wealthiest one percent of Americans have every opportunity to take big risks, pay less in taxes, and force the government to step in when their big gambles don't pay off. Now we're demanding ordinary Americans pony up $2,000 a piece to clean up the mess.
No one's arguing that the government shouldn't be stepping in now that there's a crisis. We've got to get on the ball for future crises now.
However, as lawmakers and regulators are scrambling to calculate the ultimate tab for the willful risks of banking and investment CEOs, ordinary Americans can and should make one request of our own: No golden parachutes for failed corporate executives. Taxpayers absolutely cannot be forced to foot the bill for the poor decisions and unnecessary risks taken by firms designed to rake in profits at any cost, while CEOs engage in reckless and damaging behavior without personal consequences.
After tanking our economy and leaving taxpayers to foot the bill, the least that Wall Street's corporate executives can do is finance their next round of golf--on their own dime.
Andy Stern is International President of the 2 million member Service Employees International Union (SEIU).