Want To Make Use Of $47 Billion To Spare? Help Haiti You know the $47 billion in bonuses that Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley have been sitting on? How about passing some of it along to people who might need it a little more — say, the people devastated by the earthquake in Haiti?
NPR logo Want To Make Use Of $47 Billion To Spare? Help Haiti

Want To Make Use Of $47 Billion To Spare? Help Haiti

Juan Cole is president of the Global Americana Institute. He is a regular contributor to NPR.

There are two big stories in the news, one about disaster and extreme privation, and one about excess. It may seem obvious once pointed out, but there is a way to bring them together that benefits everyone. The Haiti earthquake has affected 3 million of the country's 9 million people. At the same time, there is growing anger among many Americans, on left and right, about the obscene bonuses being given out by the big financial firms on Wall Street. The Tea Party activists are as exercised about them as President Obama.

The Haitian economy was a sad story even before the earthquake. Obviously, the country will need a lot of aid to come back from this disaster.

I have an idea. One of the problems with this year's Wall Street bonuses is that they are particularly undeserved. Remember that public TARP money that we loaned to the major Wall Street finance firms? They didn't actually use it to make small business loans as we had intended.

Consultant Stephen Hall told NPR that "even though firms didn't use TARP funds to make bonuses, Wall Street banks benefited from borrowing funds from the government for almost nothing and then got a favorable return on their investment." Hall says, "It wasn't necessarily innovation or smart individuals that enabled banks to be profitable in 2009." In some cases, he says, "it was 'simple arbitrage' by investing in Treasury bills after obtaining funds at low interest rates."

Juan Cole is President of the Global Americana Institute. hide caption

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So the supposed geniuses at Goldman Sachs, who helped get us into our current economic mess in the first place, just picked our pockets for no interest and bought Treasury bills? That's why they deserve bonuses?

And what bonuses: The above article reports that Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase combined have set aside $47 billion for bonuses.

$47 billion in bonuses.

Haiti's annual gross domestic product in nominal terms is about $7 billion a year.

So here is a modest proposal: Since public monies clearly were the basis for a lot of the "profits" the banks and finance houses made in 2009, why don't the executives show at least a little common decency and donate 10 percent of these bonuses to Haiti reconstruction and development? That would be $4.7 billion, and it would go a very long way in Haiti.

It might help change the public perception of them.