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AIG should not get a pass

Wednesday, March 4, 2009 | 1:17 p.m. CST; updated 5:50 p.m. CST, Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The corporations I least like to see bailed out are insurance companies. If an operation as gigantic as American International Group didn’t put a few pennies back for a rainy day, they definitely helped see to it that the rest of us didn’t have a dime left over in our paychecks to spare. This company does business all over the world and has headquarters in New York, London, Paris and Hong Kong. As of the end of 2008, it was already in debt to the Federal Reserve Bank for $150 billion.

Unlike the insurance companies most everyday people deal with, AIG’s U.S. management moved out of the personal insurance market into upscale corporate coverage and decided instead of having salaried agents that it would sell insurance through independent brokers. By the mid-2000s it had flown high and fast enough to become involved in an accounting scandal in which it was ultimately fined $1.6 billion and for which some of its executives faced criminal charges. By September 2008, it was back in a crisis that forced the Federal Reserve to act.

Now, I am sure that to Wall-Street types, these guys at AIG are experts at running their business. And since the company is said to be too big to be forced into failure, I guess every few years the government will be expected to bail it out. We can’t expect them to go into bankruptcy, can we? And, obviously, since the business is too big for them to run it efficiently, we couldn’t ask them to pare down and sell some of its holdings? It has to be the insurance provider to the world because these experts are the only people capable of doing that or they are they only ones who can get bailed out when they repeatedly fail.

What about the smaller insurance companies who sell personal insurance? I suppose they are expected to run their businesses efficiently, sell out or file bankruptcy. They are little so it’s OK for them to fail. They have only as big a market as they can service. They, obviously, are willing to let business people in other countries sell insurance to their own citizens.

It is true, I think, that some of our attitudes were developed in the Colonial Period of our history. The males of the majority began to perceive themselves as masters of the world. No goal which they were capable of perceiving were they incapable of achieving, at least in their own thinking. As decades and centuries marched on their vision became broader.

At first glance of the magnitude of AIG’s corporate model, one can only imagine that it would require a small well-governed country to operate it successfully. One can only believe that the financial geniuses of today are the reincarnated financial giants of yesterday gone berserk, the Rockefellers and Fords in warp time.

When I think of the 40 million people who can’t afford health insurance, the many more millions who can’t afford dental insurance and this one insurance conglomerate manages to mismanage tens of billions of dollars, it’s a lot to swallow. Some of us may not understand how big business operates, but apparently neither do AIG executives.

Nowadays, most adults understand the importance of insuring members of the family’s health and life, the family home, the car, the furniture. In fact, when it all boils down, many of us are insurance-poor. Because facing a disaster or catastrophic illness without insurance can easily force a person into bankruptcy. We like to think that the people we entrust to hold the money we may need for emergencies are honest and capable. This business with AIG does not inspire a lot of confidence.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if AIG would have to pay back its loans to the Federal Reserve Bank in health care for those who are uninsured? In my book that would be justice. It would have to pay doctor and hospital bills for people who have no insurance. Maybe, this would force it to understand that it can’t continue to believe that it can operate a worldwide business at a loss. For some strange reason no one has told these people that they are incompetent. Can you imagine anyone you know getting away with this kind of foolishness?

I realize these individuals think they are the financial elitists and the rest of us are supposed to support them, but I have to say, they have a better opinion of themselves than I do. In a country where some people resent feeding hungry children, I resent spending my tax dollars to support corporate welfare.

If AIG is going to be one of my dependents every year, can I get a deduction on my income tax? If so, can I have that in writing?

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at nolen@iland.net.


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