Center of Concern | Wed, Nov 12, 2008
They Can't Help It!
The day the U.S. government agreed to increase AIG's (American International Group, Inc.) bailout package to $150 billion, we yet again hear of an AIG luxury meeting, this time at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort in Phoenix. Since becoming the recipient of tax payers' money, AIG executives have enjoyed a weeklong retreat at the posh St. Regis Resort in California to the tune of $440,000 and a hunting trip in England for $86,000.
AIG has promised it would stop "all nonessential conferences, meetings and activities that do not clearly maximize value and service given the current conditions." However, that promise is full of loopholes, for each time a meeting is held, a spokesperson for the company explains why the meeting is essential, such as the Phoenix meeting. According to chief executive, Edward Liddy, "It is essential for AIG to conduct seminars of this kind to keep independent financial planners abreast of investment products and services including those offered by AIG."
Okay, let's give them the benefit of the doubt and grant that the meetings were essential.
But do they have to be held in expensive resort settings and offer such amenities as spas, golf courses and high class restaurants. What about moderate hotels, or conference centers or even retreat centers, either religious or secular, which offer affordable packages, comfortable settings, and adequate amenities to carry on a meeting of this size?
Well, according to another AIG spokesman, "It's the way we do business. We have to hold these events. You have to hold them somewhere."
What we are witnessing here is a sense of entitlement way beyond what is necessary or even deserved, especially in the light of the company's recent contribution to our current financial mess. Usually when we hear the word "entitlement" we think about all those citizens out there who think they are entitled to support by the government, such as senior citizens, Medicare and Medicaid recipients, children who need health care coverage, families in poverty and all those "undeserving" folks who depend upon government programs to help them get through the day.
The sense of entitlement we are witnessing among the elite is something very different. It does not arise from need but from an overweening habit of conspicuous consumption. They can't help it. They are addicted. But like all addicts, intervention is needed. In this case it is strong regulatory action by the government so that tax payer money is not wasted and real needs can be addressed.