Keep Your Eye on the Ball

The pitchI woke up this morning, brewed a cup of coffee and flipped on “Morning Joe,” MSNBC’s political news program, like I always do. For about the fifth day in a row the hotly-debated topic under discussion was the same: AIG. Not just AIG, but how AIG, in good conscience, can give out $165 million in bonuses, while we, the taxpayer, own 80 percent of the company though our $175 billion investment in the company. This is very difficult to understand, especially now, when many of us are having a very tough time paying the mortgage.

Having heard enough of the story, I flipped to The Today Show right at the top of the first hour and guess what the lead segment was?  

Of course the bonus payments are unconscionable, especially in these very turbulent times. But this story is little more than a distraction, or at best, a metaphor for the times in which we live. Until we are out of the woods on this crisis, we must keep our perspective, and remember these three truisms:

1. We are not in the “million-dollar business” anymore;

2. We’ve passed the “billion dollar business;”

3. We are definitely in the “trillion dollar business.”

Given the extent of our financial woes, we simply do not have time to debate the millions, or even the billions. We have a TARP package that is approaching a a trillion dollars, a stimulus package that is most of a trillion dollars, and a $3.5 trillion dollar budget submitted by the president to the congress.

If we continue to be utterly consumed by these AIG bonuses, we are going to continue to waste precious time, brainpower, and resources on a distraction. There has never been a more important time than now to remain focused like a laser on the large pools of money and make sure that they are helping to loosen credit markets, sparking spending, helping the housing market, etc. This won’t be accomplished by having the president and his cabinet sucking up all the oxygen by going on every TV show to express their dismay and show their empathy. They should have foreseen this problem and put in some caveats beforehand (this administration and the last one). Now that they haven’t, it’s time to move on.

It gets me very nervous to see President Obama, Larry Summers, and other Obama cabinet members obsessed by AIG just because the media has a one track mind. That’s like losing your keys in the living room but looking for them in the kitchen because the light is better. I would rather have them watch the trillions than the millions. That’s because once you string a few trillion dollars together you are talking real money.

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