Witnessing the spectacle surrounding the bonuses at AIG, I have come to a rather frightening realization. This country is on the brink of conducting several very bloody class wars all at once. The AIG flap is one battle in a larger class war that pits Wall Street vs. Main Street. In a similar vein, you can look at this class war as management vs. worker or even upper class vs. middle class. Of course, that is not the only class war going on at all. The Treasury Department's loan modification plan went a long way toward creating mortgage class war between those that feel they have been responsible and those the same folks feel haven't been as responsible. Finally, the president has done an excellent job of stoking the traditional class war between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat by constantly demonizing the wealthy and also by tax policy that punishes them while giving away many things to those below them. There is even a class war being stoked by politicians for all ends between small and big businesses. As the recession deepens, expect the next manifestation of the class wars to be citizens versus foreigners. (especially as jobs go away and someone uses that to lament foreigners getting our jobs)
Class wars are among the most corrosive societal phenomenon ever created. They have lead to revolution. Karl Marx used them to push socialism. They were even a favorite of Adolph Hitler. There's no telling just how corrosive the current crop of class wars will be on the United States, but there is no doubt they will be bad. There is already an obscene amount of resentment and rage directed by one side of the class war to the other.
The AIG flap is just one manifestation. In fact, the tea parties are themselves a manifestation of the class war in which citizens are enraged as their tax dollars are going to fund those that they believe don't deserve it. With each bailout and give away, a certain segment believes that they are always the ones left out when cash is doled out.
What this will continue to lead to is further demonization of every opponent in each of these multiple class wars. Big fat cat Wall Street types will continue to be demonized. Those that took on more than they could afford to pay will also be demonized. The wealthy in general will continue to be demonized.
In his book, Slobbering Love Affair, Bernie Goldberg recounts a conversation he had with Pat Caddell. Caddell told him that the media has lost so much credibility that a loon could run on a radical agenda down the road by simply demonizing the media. In fact, we are now in the midst of several policy debates in which one or both sides is pushing their policy by demonizing one group or another. Such an environment will only lead to policy extremism. Furthermore, economic weakness is a perfect environment for extremists to exploit class warfare. When people are struggling, they are looking for someone to blame. That's exactly what has been happening as groups from all over have taken their place on the chopping block to be demonized for most of our problems.
This will lead to a series of successive policies in which demonized groups get theirs so to speak. The legislation penalizing AIG bonuses was the most obvious example. The massive increases of taxes on the "rich" is yet another example. Of course, the administration is planning on a series of new and massive regulations on most financial firms. Much of the legislation will have cheerleaders from those that believes its targets will be deserving of it. What we will do is lose all sense of perspective of good policy. Policy will no longer be formulated based on effectiveness. Rather, it will be viewed from the prism of how it can get behind those most sympathetic.
Our country likely doesn't appreciate just how terrible class warfare can be. That's because up until now it has never been so effective as to do serious damage. That will all end now. The next few years will be years in which finger pointing and demonizing will be the order of the day. Policy will be formulated based on all of this finger pointing, and our country will be much worse for it.
Please check out my new books, "Prosecutors Gone Wild: The Inside Story of the Trial of Chuck Panici, John Gliottoni, and Louise Marshall" and also, "The Definitive Dossier of PTSD in Whistleblowers"