I know people have been over it, just –-
The President: Well, look, here’s what happened. You’ve got a company, AIG, which used to be just a regular, old insurance company. Then they insured a whole bunch of stuff and they were very profitable and it was a good, solid company.
Then they decided –- some smart person decided, let’s put a hedge fund on top of the insurance company and let’s sell these derivative products to banks all around the world –- which are basically guarantees or insurance policies on all these sub-prime mortgages.
And this smart person said, you know, none of these things are going to go bust; this sub-prime thing, it’s a great deal, you can make a lot of profit. So they sold a whole bunch of them –- billions and billions of dollars. And what happened is, is that when people started going bust on sub-prime mortgages you had $30 worth of debt on every dollar worth of mortgage –- and the whole house of cards just started falling down.
So the problem with AIG was that it owed so much and was tangled up with so many banks and institutions that if you had allowed it to just liquidate, to go into bankruptcy, it could have brought the whole financial system down. So it was the right thing to do to intervene in AIG.
Now, the question is, who in their right mind, when your company is going bust, decides we’re going to be paying a whole bunch of bonuses to people? And that, I think, speaks to a broader culture that existed on Wall Street, where I think people just had this general attitude of entitlement, where, we must be the best and the brightest, we deserve $10 million or $50 million or $100 million dollar payouts –-
The President: And, you know, the immediate bonuses that went to AIG are a problem. But the larger problem is we’ve got to get back to an attitude where people know enough is enough, and people have a sense of responsibility and they understand that their actions are going to have an impact on everybody. And if we can get back to those values that built America, then I think we’re going to be okay. (Applause.)
Leno: Well, you know, it’s interesting, when you said -– it’s, like, I had to laugh the other day when the CEO of AIG said, okay, I’ve asked them to give half the bonuses back. Now, if you rob a bank and you go into court –- (laughter) –- and you go, Your Honor, I’m going to give you half the money back. (Laughter.) And they seem stunned that we’re not jumping at this wonderful offer.
The President: Well, you know, the only place I think that might work is in Hollywood. (Laughter.)
Leno: Let me ask you this. Now, I heard them say, well, one of the problems is it’s contractual and if we don’t pay these bonuses, well, they can sue us. All