Creating A Register of Shame For White-Collar Malefactors

The AIG bonus babies have received some negative attention lately, but by and large the perpetrators of our current economic crisis have escaped the kind of public humiliation suffered by misbehaving celebrities in other fields. Corrupt politicians are subject to media derision. Sports figures who take steroids, movie stars who drive drunk, and rock stars who shoot up are not spared public humiliation. Why should the corporate miscreants who did untold harm to millions upon millions of their fellow citizens, remain largely anonymous, shielded from public scorn?

Honest, hard-working laborers are being asked by their incompetent executives to renegotiate their labor contracts, while the contracts of the money-obsessed men who caused the crisis are said to be inviolate. Are the only valid contracts those held by individuals sick with greed?

Because of the shortsighted stupidity of these executives, millions of Americans will be unable to maintain the modest lifestyles to which they've become accustomed. Yet one AIG bonus baby exemplified the extraordinary narcissism of his ilk by complaining that losing his undeserved bonus would make it difficult to meet the high cost of private schools in Manhattan!

Most of those who work in the financial sector are, after all, parasitical. They may have MBAs and wear Armani suits instead of black shirts and green eyeshades, but they're merely gamblers, nonetheless. And unlike honest gamblers, they play with other people's money. They keep their winnings, and get bonuses when they lose.

In a true democracy these high rollers would be unable to hide behind their façade of respectability. They would be exposed. In colonial times they would have been put in the stocks for everyone to jeer at.

We need to create the modern equivalent. Let the Internet spread lists of the malefactors. Let every bank executive, hedge fund manager, credit default swap manipulator, AIG executive--every overpaid parasite responsible for plunging our nation into misery--be named, with pictures of each, and space for all to express their feelings about these virtuosi of avarice. Let artists create works exposing their flim-flams along with their names. Let musicians write satirical songs about them. Let writers pen comic poems about them. Let there be a wall of shame built with their names inscribed.

Even if our government is impotent against their financial power, we are not. If we can't make them pay financially for their misdeeds, we can make them pay with their reputations. These are folks whose greed has made them incapable of feeling shame or even a minimal sense of human decency. Public humiliation might have a therapeutic effect--might awaken their dormant humanity.

(In his inauguration speech, President Obama talked of a new way of doing things. To understand the cultural paradigm shift that engendered this change--the change that both the neo-cons and the Taliban have resisted so fiercely, see my latest book, THE CHRYSALIS EFFECT: THE METAMORPHOSIS OF GLOBAL CULTURE).