One of the hallmarks of revolution -- particularly of the socialist variety -- is retribution. My previous posts about the Obama brand of "retributive justice" have focused on the systemic penalties that his policies have on those who produce wealth. They are punitive -- bot not focused on specific individuals. Until now, I was of a mind that not even in Obama's "new America" would we be stringing up capitalists to cries of "off with their heads". I guess I've underestimated the zeal of the anti-business zealots in the Congress. Last week the House voted 328-93 to slap a 90% tax -- ex post facto -- on the bonuses of anyone at every bank receiving $5 billion in TARP money who earns more than $250,000 a year. A draft Senate version is even broader. This tax applies to income earned last year and under legally binding employment contracts. It is confiscatory and punitive to the extreme, and targets many talented and innocent executives who have been working in good faith and have had nothing at all to do with the melt down at their companies.
Keep in mind that many of the banks who took TARP money did so under pressure from Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson, who famously gathered them into a meeting room at Treasury and twisted arms until they took Federal bail out funds whether they wanted them or not. Now the government apparently has these companies where it wants them: having forced them to take the money, they are now confiscating the wealth created by the individuals who run them. Its a classic nationalization power play worthy of Hugo Chavez. And it is patently un-American and unconstitutional.
The The Wall Street Journal has an important lead editorial on this today -- I won't repeat it here. But this is a salient paragraph from it that is worth keeping in mind:
The financial system will suffer in particular, just when the Obama Administration is desperately seeking more private capital to ride out future losses. Facing such limits on the ability to reward talent, every bank CEO will try to pay off the TARP as soon as possible, whether or not this leaves the bank with a weaker capital base. Hedge funds and other investors that Treasury needs for its new Public-Private Investment Program, or for the Federal Reserve's TALF, will also be warier, if they'll play at all. Treasury may promise nothing punitive for these programs, but that's also what it said about the TARP.
America is quickly becoming a banana republic with executive fiat taking precedence over legal contracts. It will fully undermine our system -- and reflects the total lack of understanding that our government has about how incentives influence business and how markets work.
Viva la revolucion!!