In a recent column, the conservative Charles Krauthammer correctly notes that the amount of money involved in the AIG bonuses is miniscule by comparison to the size of the bailout loan to this company. And he correctly cautions to beware of action when people are angry. We should not be engaging in extra-legal remedies—period—but especially not for relative chump change.
What I have wondered about is the outrage over such a relatively small amount of money, when so much else is deserving of so much more outrage. My best surmise thus far is that some people are outraged because they still adhere to the out-of-fashion idea that people should receive bonuses for good performance only and not receive them for non-performance or, worse, bad performance. But the outrage of many people is a toxic mix of envy and hypocrisy.
The slogan may go back before my time, but I recall being stunned in the 1950s, when I first saw a TV advertisement that urged me to buy a product on the grounds that “you deserve a break today.” As a late Depression baby, the notion that I did not have to earn a break was contrary to the way I and everyone whom I knew were raised.
Most of the decision-makers in Washington and New York are now a generation younger than I am. So it should come as no surprise that none of them thought such bonuses were inappropriate. I think that most “Depression” kids and their hard-working descendants today would have recognized the problem. But many “boomers,” now the “busters” of the economy, were blind to it because of their sense of entitlement (i.e., deserving). AIG officers just had more money to give to those who, by past standards, had not earned it, especially in contributing to the current economic collapse.
That notion has been implemented by inattentive parents and character-free parenting, and institutionalized in education, public and private. Education is geared to reward self-esteem and self-centeredness; education rewards desires, not results. Of course, I exaggerate, but I do so in the service of truth: just consider the implications of social promotion and grade inflation for students, and, for teachers, more than COLA salary increases for no additional work and no improvement in student performance.
To be fair, not all teachers want more in these hard times. In California, teachers just want to hold onto their jobs. In one Maryland country, teachers are voluntarily forgoing their contractual 5-percent salary increase because of the economy. But, in New Mexico, with one of the worst—that is, poorest performing—educational systems in the country, teachers are doing their best to get legislation calling for a large salary increase. New Mexico seems less the Land of Enchantment than the Land of Entitlement.