Excerpt from Justice by Michael J. Sandel, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Justice

What's the Right Thing to Do?

by Michael J. Sandel

Justice
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2009, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2010, 320 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Micah Gell-Redman

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


No one claimed that the banks and investment houses deserved the money. Their reckless bets (enabled by inadequate government regulation) had created the crisis. But here was a case where the welfare of the economy as a whole seemed to outweigh considerations of fairness. Congress reluctantly appropriated the bailout funds. Then came the bonuses. Shortly after the bailout money began to flow, news accounts revealed that some of the companies now on the public dole were awarding millions of dollars in bonuses to their executives. The most egregious case involved the American International Group (A.I.G.), an insurance giant brought to ruin by the risky investments of its financial products unit. Despite having been rescued with massive infusions of government funds (totaling $173 billion), the company paid $165 million in bonuses to executives in the very division that had precipitated the crisis. Seventy-three employees received bonuses of $1 million or more.

News of the bonuses set off a firestorm of public protest. This time, the outrage was not about ten-dollar bags of ice or overpriced motel rooms. It was about lavish rewards subsidized with taxpayer funds to members of the division that had helped bring the global financial system to near meltdown. Something was wrong with this picture. Although the U.S. government now owned 80 percent of the company, the treasury secretary pleaded in vain with A.I.G.’s government- appointed CEO to rescind the bonuses. “We cannot attract and retain the best and the brightest talent,” the CEO replied, “if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury.” He claimed the employees’ talents were needed to unload the toxic assets for the benefit of the taxpayers, who, after all, owned most of the company.

The public reacted with fury. A full-page headline in the tabloid New York Post captured the sentiments of many: “Not So Fast You Greedy Bastards.” The U.S. House of Representatives sought to claw back the payments by approving a bill that would impose a 90 percent tax on bonuses paid to employees of companies that received substantial bailout funds. Under pressure from New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo, fifteen of the top twenty A.I.G. bonus recipients agreed to return the payments, and some $50 million was recouped in all. This gesture assuaged public anger to some degree, and support for the punitive tax mea sure faded in the Senate. But the episode left the public reluctant to spend more to clean up the mess the financial industry had created.

At the heart of the bailout outrage was a sense of injustice. Even before the bonus issue erupted, public support for the bailout was hesitant and conflicted. Americans were torn between the need to prevent an economic meltdown that would hurt everyone and their belief that funneling massive sums to failed banks and investment companies was deeply unfair. To avoid economic disaster, Congress and the public acceded. But morally speaking, it had felt all along like a kind of extortion. Underlying the bailout outrage was a belief about moral desert: The executives receiving the bonuses (and the companies receiving the bailouts) didn’t deserve them. But why didn’t they? The reason may be less obvious than it seems. Consider two possible answers—one is about greed, the other about failure.

One source of outrage was that the bonuses seemed to reward greed, as the tabloid headline indelicately suggested. The public found this morally unpalatable. Not only the bonuses but the bailout as a whole seemed, perversely, to reward greedy behavior rather than punish it. The derivatives traders had landed their company, and the country, in dire financial peril—by making reckless investments in pursuit of ever-greater profits. Having pocketed the profits when times were good, they saw nothing wrong with million-dollar bonuses even after their investments had come to ruin.

Excerpted from Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do by Michael J. Sandel. Published in September 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2009 by Michael J. Sandel. All rights reserved.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Romanovs
    The Romanovs
    by Simon Sebag Montefiore
    The Romanovs chronicles the reigns of the 20 individuals who were considered members of that dynasty...
  • Book Jacket: Barkskins
    Barkskins
    by Annie Proulx
    Barkskins, by Annie Proulx, is not a book to read quickly. After a month of slow reading, I ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Marriage of Opposites
    by Alice Hoffman
    Alice Hoffman's latest work, The Marriage of Opposites, is a historical fiction novel focusing on ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Falling
    by Jane Green

    "Readers who enjoy a love story with heart will adore this tale of homecoming and transformation." - LJ

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Miss Jane
    by Brad Watson

    "Starred Review. Sensitive, beautifully precise prose. Highly recommended." - PW

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Fair Fight
by Anna Freeman

A page-turning novel set in the world of 18th century female pugilists.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Summer Stunner
Summer Giveaway

Win 5 books, each week in July!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

W M T N, W C F All

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

BookBrowse Summer Giveaway

We're giving away
5 books every
week in July!