In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Monday, AIG CEO Robert Benmosche compared the public anger over AIG's bonuses to lynch mobs in the Deep South.
According to Benmosche, the young people who worked at the insurance giant didn't do anything to hurt the economy, and outrage over the bonuses they received paralleled the extrajudicial killing mobs that murdered African Americans during the 19th and 20th centuries. "It was just as bad and just as wrong ... It is a shame we put them through that," he said.
If you haven't entered a rage blackout yet from the insensitivity of Benmosche's remarks, here's the full quote, otherwise known as the most out-of-touch statement of the ... week? month? year?
Now you have these bright young people [in the financial-products unit] who had nothing to do with [the bad bets that hurt the company.] … They understand the derivatives very well; they understand the complexity. … They’re all scared. They [had made] good livings. They probably lived beyond their means. …They aren’t going to stay there for nothing.
[The uproar over bonuses] was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that — sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong.
We wouldn’t be here today had they not stayed and accepted … dramatically reduced pay. … They really contributed an enormous amount [to AIG’s survival] and proved to the world they are good people. It is a shame we put them through that.
Ah, yes, the bright young martyrs who had "probably lived beyond their means" and then "accepted" reduced pay. Because living beyond one's means wasn't the entire issue for much of the rest of the American population who was affected by the recession and didn't receive hefty bonuses for their efforts.
For the record: It's been five years since AIG was rescued with a $85 billion loan from the government after the insurance giant nearly collapsed due to mismanagement. AIG has since paid its executives $165 million in bonuses and briefly considered suing the government for more. The company also expressed disappointment AIG never received a "thank you" from government officials — though for what is unclear.