It is frustrating that American banks, post bailout, are paying out record bonuses given that many of those banks would not be in business if they hadn’t received a handout at the tax payers’ expense. In response, President Obama is now threatening to heavily tax these bonuses to send the banking industry the message that the American people will not stand for such behavior. The depiction of these banks in the media and by the government, however, is far too simplified. Not all banks are the same. Some banks simply didn’t need the bailout and other banks received aid indirectly when the government bailed out their debtors.
For a company like AIG, the issue is quite clear. They would have failed had we not bailed them out. As a result, we now own most of their company. AIG clearly shouldn’t give their executives a bonus. Moreover, as shareholders, we have every right to demand that those executives don’t get a bonus. On the other hand, some banks didn’t need a bailout. Capital One, for instance, was forced to take the government’s money so as to help stabilize the economic disaster. Their cooperation helped conceal the real problem areas (i.e. Citibank and Bank of America), thus preventing investors from cutting and running on companies that desperately required the bailout to stay afloat. Those banks which didn’t need the bailout repaid that money almost immediately and they shouldn’t be penalized. If anything, they should be rewarded for helping the American economy stay afloat and for having a sustainable business model when, all around them, other giants of their industry were toppling.