Even before the Wall Street titans were sworn in last week, it appeared as if the goal of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s chair, Californian Phil Angelides, was to wring an apology from the men whose companies led the nation into an economic abyss. Whereas most Americans, let me venture, would like to wring their necks.
About twenty-five years ago, I wrote about “inseki jishoku,” the Japanese tradition of accepting responsibility for one’s actions and resigning one’s position as penitence. “These social balancing mechanisms are powerfully ingrained within the Japanese culture. In business activity, they create by necessity a ‘state of intimacy’ among management and employees,” William Ouchi, a management expert, told me at the time. I suggested that there would be less corporate crime in this country if American CEOs embraced a similar approach.
That never happened.
So what would be the point of a symbolic apology from the titans of the Money Industry – assuming they would be willing to offer one (they tried hard not to, in the event)?
No amount of apology is going to salve the grievous wound in the American psyche as the banks’ profits and bonuses break records.
Like most Americans, I am having a hard time getting my head around how these companies can claim to be earning a “profit” and their executives billions of dollars in extra compensation after American taxpayers were forced to pitch in trillions of dollars to keep the companies afloat.
The truth is that they were able to get away with it because no one in Washington ever imposed any kind of quid pro quo for the bailout.
No cap on the exorbitant interest rates we now pay to borrow our own money from the credit card companies, for example.
No relief for people trying to keep up with their mortgages and pay the rest of the bills.
If symbolism is what this is all about, I say we’ve moved beyond the “apology” stage. How about sending some of these people to jail for twenty years? Or is it "legal" to destroy an economy and cost Americans their life savings and jobs? I had hoped the Angelides investigation would be the beginning of an intensive investigation that, like the Watergate hearings, would lead to holding people criminally accountable for their actions. Not so far, at least.
As I watched the politicians and the leaders of Goldman Sachs, Chase and Bank of America sashay around an apology at the witness table, it reminded me of a scene from the Empire Strikes Back. Han Solo and the Millenium Falcon have just managed to elude Darth Vader’s entire fleet of starships. Informed that Vader wants an update on the search, Captain Needa replies, “I shall assume full responsibility for losing them, and apologize to Lord Vader.” Vader, using the Force, strangles him. “Apology accepted, Captain Needa.”