Timid regulators, out-of-touch politicians and greedy bosses at the likes of Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, AIG and Lehman Brothers gave us the mortgage-backed bubble that now has cost hundreds of billions in government bailouts and hundreds of thousands of jobs.
We're angry at the Wall Streeters who passed out executive bonuses just before they pulled their own golden parachutes.
We're angry about new corporate jets that are on order and that many of the perpetrators are playing golf at Pebble Beach and not Club Fed.
The president is fuming about wretched excesses at a time when many blameless Americans are hurting.
The outcry is merited.
But we ought to focus our umbrage on the bad guys and not on 1,000 high-performing, customer contact employees of Wells Fargo & Co. who had their reward trip to Las Vegas canceled this month.
They are not the seven-figure-salary perpetrators who cooked up a global-size toxic soup of subprime mortgages, collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps that has poisoned the financial system.
After denying a misleading story on Tuesday that Wells Fargo was using some of the $25 billion it got last fall from the U.S. Treasury as part of the government's bid to add capital to financial firms, the bank reversed itself and canceled its long-standing reward trip for high-performing mortgage company employees.
Through a spokeswoman, Wells Fargo said that the event was not a "junket" but a four-day outing and business meetings for employees who helped produce $230 billion in mortgage loans last year. Three groups of mortgage employees were to be treated to four-day stays, including training.
The company does the same for about 1,000 high-performing retail-bank employees in the spring.
Wells Fargo canceled the trips this week, although it said that the move would not make for any "meaningful savings," because it was too late for refunds.
No outings planned this year
And it doesn't plan any further recognition events this year.
Last month, U.S. Bancorp went ahead with a planned trip to the Caribbean island of Aruba for about 100 of its top-performing mortgage originators.
The bank budgeted for the trip in 2007, a spokesman said, and had paid for it before receiving $6.6 billion from the federal government's Troubled Asset Relief Program.
Spokesman Steve Dale said that the bank "might have looked at this trip differently" had it not already been paid for.
"The environment has changed," he said. "We are not going to do anything in any way that would look like we're doing something that we shouldn't be."
The public has a right to be outraged over reports of bonuses paid to the brass at failing Merrill Lynch, which was taken over by ailing Bank of America, which also has received billions from the government. The big shots at American International Group spent a half-million bucks at a spa shortly after the government last fall shored up the ailing insurer with an $85 billion capital infusion.
This stuff rightly drives the working-stiff taxpayers nuts. Tipsters have called or e-mailed Star Tribune reporters this week with information about employee trips at TCF Financial, Ameriprise Financial and U.S. Bancorp.
But let's be clear about this: U.S. Bancorp holding a two-day training session in Reno, Nev., for about 500 of its branch managers later this month is not the same thing as a boardroom-and-brass retreat to Monte Carlo.
Let's not paint everybody with the same brush.
"I don't think it's a black-and-white issue," said David Rodbourne, a vice president at the Center for Ethical Business Cultures at the University of St. Thomas. "Organizations have to think about incentives to reward high performance. But it must be kept in proportion. And the public and political system have a new tolerance for what may be appropriate. What was acceptable three or five years ago may not be today. A lot of people are angry and worried about their jobs."
Wells Fargo executives have managed to avoid the excesses of the past few years that have doomed other competitors.
Its management made a prudent political decision to stop the rewards trips.
But it was a raw deal for the employees who deserved to go.
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • firstname.lastname@example.org