Newton’s Third Law of Human Dynamics

March 18, 2009, 4:26 PM UTC

So now Congress is going to go after the AIG bonuses, responding to the rage that most sentient beings are feeling right now about the whole question. One suggestion is that the Government simply impose a 100% tax on the sums received by A.I.G. bonus heads. This would seem to be a logical extension of the Government’s current policy of taking about 52% of all my income. Still, it’s a dramatic solution to the problem.

I’m just as mad any anybody else at those numbskulls at A.I.G., of course.  It really stinks. You have to wonder how a “retention bonus” is meant to affect the performance of a manager who has already left the organization. Like, that’s just stupid.

If you want to give me some bulls**t rationale for why you’re going to suck up billions of dollars and spew it out to your colleagues and pals, come up with something credible or at least appropriately truculent, like “We did it. We’re keeping it. If you don’t like it, fire us and pay us our contractually-mandated severance packages.”  That at least is a truthful presentation of the executive mind-set.

Still, you have to worry a little about the policy implications. Does the government – even in pursuit of fairness and equity – have the right to implement new, punitive laws against individuals who have displeased it, and Us? New laws that prevent such things happening in the future, no question. But laws that retroactively impose justice kind of make me nervous for some reason. 

In the case of A.I.G., the government owns 80% of the company now, so it’s easy simply to assert that We the People can pretty much do what we want. And maybe we should. There’s no question that taxpayers didn’t fork over all that money so that individuals could haul it away in shopping bags as they exited the building they helped to wreck.

But you’ve got to think that Business is in for a really rough ride from here on in. Sweeping in on the heels of what all these moron financial types and other brain-damaged economists have wrought will be  a host of new laws, new regulations, new ways to protect the nation and its citizens from the greed and collective criminal mind of Wall Street, its denizens and its running dogs. And we deserve whatever we get.

Newton’s Third Law states that every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. He was talking about physics. But it’s equally applicable to less scientific stuff as well.

Terror, for instance, breeds repression and a more surveillant society, one more concerned about safety and security and less about personal liberty.  In the wake of 9/11, this country did many things out of anger, fear and a desire to hold those guilty accountable. Some were reasonable. Others, in retrospect, were not.  Equal and opposite reactions are not always as good as they first may appear. 

Bernie Madoff is not the only criminal who prowled Wall Street. In many ways, he’s just the fall guy, a dramatic extension of the way business was done every day in the big craps game. In these A.I.G. guys, we have a perfect example of the global business culture that ran things for a long time and still does. Their very presence cries out for retribution, and Newton must be served.