Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Let's Get This Straight: AIG Execs Got Bailout Bonuses, but Pensioners Get Cuts

Dean Baker
Common Dreams

No one has accused city workers in Chicago or Detroit of bringing down the economy, but they could face pension cuts

As we passed the fifth anniversary of the peak of the financial crisis this fall, the giant insurance company AIG was prominently featured in the retrospectives. AIG had issued hundreds of billions of dollars of credit default swaps (CDS) on subprime mortgage backed securities. When these mortgage-backed securities failed en masse, AIG didn't have the money to back them up.

City of Detroit pensioner Donald Smith sits across the street from the Federal Court House, to protest cuts in city workers' pensions. (Photo: Rebecca Cook/Reuters)This would have forced AIG into bankruptcy. However Lehman had declared bankruptcy the day before and the world was still engulfed in the aftershocks. The Bush administration and the Federal Reserve board decided that they would stop the cascade of failing financial institutions and bail out AIG. As a result, the government agreed to honor all the CDS issued by AIG and effectively became the owner of the company.

Chicago has been in the news recently because its mayor, Rahm Emanuel, seems intent on cutting the pensions that its current and retired employees have earned. Emanuel insists that the city can't afford these pensions and therefore workers and retirees will simply have to accept reduced benefits.

If the connection with AIG isn't immediately apparent, then you have to look a bit deeper. Folks may recall that AIG paid out $170m in bonuses to its employees in March 2009 with its top executives receiving bonuses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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