When the automakers first sought federal help, southern Republican senators quickly demanded that the United Autoworkers reopen their contract and agree to major givebacks if their industry was to get taxpayer help. The existing UAW contract, only recently signed, was already controversial for the concessions the union had made. No matter. Spouting labor cost figures having no basis in reality, the conservatives forced hundreds of thousands of UAW families and retirees to take cuts in their standard of living -- this at a time when the last thing the economy needed was a new assault on effective demand.
When Wall Street came calling for help -- 20 or more times as much -- none of these guardians of the public purse ever thought of demanding that those labor contracts be renegotiated. Or even making sure that Wall Streeters forgo their obscenely large bonuses. Now that bonuses have been safely paid, of course, the senators are full of indignation.
Little can be done, we are told. If we try to get our money back, the bonus babies will sue, costing more than it's worth. Consider what this means. Hundreds of thousands of workers in the auto industry aren't suing and are making sacrifices to stave off a disaster not of their own making.
Meanwhile, the perpetrators of the disaster are threatening to sue if we, the taxpayers, don't give them what they think they are owed. Some of this bonus money will go for high living. Even worse, it will add to the vast pools of capital sitting out there with less and less to do, looking for some new get-rich-quick scheme -- maybe like mortgage-backed securities.