Jonah, this is a problem that has been unfolding for years and is not peculiar to the economic crisis. We are a nation of laws which has lost sight of the fact that law is not an end in itself but a means to functioning, self-determining republic. It’s a means to regular politics, not a weapon of the political class to thwart accountability and whip the scape goats.
I’m mindful of the excellent analysis Stephen offered yesterday and of the fact that even seemingly outrageous developments are often the consequence of rational plans and intentions gone awry. But that said, the bonuses certainly appear to be bad deals which government, eyes open, got us into — just like a bad treaty or any other bad law. In our system, the remedy for that is to hold the policy making officials accountable at the ballot box — not to have the policy making officials abuse the enormous power with which they’ve been entrusted to try to expunge their fingerprints from the choices they’ve made, or turn the beneficiaries of their bad policies, ex post facto, into crooks. The rule of law recognizes its limitations. In our system, policy errors that affect everyone are the stuff of politics, not lawsuits and law tricks.