Autoworkers’ pay vs. AIG’s bonuses

It is a testament to our Gilded Age that is coming to a painful end that workers who build products with their hands in the heartland of America are told to throw long and honorable contracts to the wind, while mercenaries of greed who brought our economy to its knees are told their contracts rewarding incalculable disaster with unearned fortunes are beyond the reach of man and law.

Let us begin with two truths:

First, when I refer to mercenaries of greed whose unearned fortunes should be returned in the name of patriotism during a crisis, I do not refer to all of AIG. Many divisions of AIG have employees who work diligence and create value. For them, there are valid reasons for reward and retention, to the degree our situation can bear it.

Second, it is tragically sad and painfully true that in the case of those who build the cars, manage the plants and govern the companies contracts must be rewritten. Some benefits earned must be given back. The whole must be saved for any of the parts to survive and prosper. I will soon publish on The Hill’s Pundits Blog how AIG bailout money may have gone to foreign banks, hedge funds and short-sellers.

For now: Let’s be clear about the merits of the case, the justice of the cause, the equities of the matter and the implications for our economic future.

In the case of the cars, these are men and women at the center of our heartland, who make real products that are universally used. These are men and women who work with their hands, who build things that have value, who invest their hearts and souls in our communities, whose labor and toil and sweat are given with pride, whose fruits can be seen every hour, running through every artery and capillary of the nation.

In the case of the contracts of those who make the cars, these contracts involve hard-earned benefits from the toil of a generation for a job well done. These contracts are the sweat equity of a lifetime, earned through hard work, rewarding real accomplishment, given for merit when times were better.

In the case of the contracts of those who barter and trade and speculate with the paper instruments of manipulated money that are understood by only a few, and profit only a privileged elite even in the best of times, now at great cost to the nation as a whole, here is the deal they expect:

In return for nearly bankrupting the republic, when their paper transactions make fortunes, they keep their fortunes. When their paper transactions lose money, they keep their fortunes, and expect the heartland to pay the cost.

Many who so casually show contempt for the contracts earned by those whose hands make the cars, show reverence for the contracts of those whose hands shuffle the deck in the fixed games of manipulated money.

What makes a Gilded Age a Gilded Age is this: promoting injustice in the name of what is falsely called capitalism. Demeaning the value of those who make real things through hard work in the heartland of America, while proclaiming the value of those who barter paper money of decreasing value in manipulated markets and then expect the rest of us to pay the price of their failure.

I come not to bury AIG; which is true, but easy.

I come to praise the hard-working, law-abiding, God-fearing workers of the United States of America who love this country, who build this country with their hands and hearts and sweat. They are the men and women who line up first to serve our country when duty and danger call. They are the men and women who are the backbone of our republic, in the heartland of the nation, who ask for nothing more than a fair chance, and a square deal, and a just reward for a job well done.

These are the men and women who work to build America a little bit taller, and leave their kids a life that is a little bit better. They are willing to sacrifice for the good of the nation, as they always are, but true Americanism, true patriotism, and true capitalism, demand that those who have much more than they, those who bear the greatest responsibility for the cause of our crisis, stand in line, alongside them.

As our Gilded Age comes to a painful close, let’s remember the difference between those who build the cars with their hands and build the nation with their labor, versus those who offer a slick deal and seek a fast buck in the fly-by-night economy that must never again be allowed to bankrupt the republic.

Americanism, patriotism and capitalism demand no less.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at