A.I.G., the backbone that runs one inch beneath the surface of the global economy, has gotten itself millions of dollars worth of free PR today by just considering joining a lawsuit against the U.S. government. To sue, or not to sue? To be ungrateful bastards, or to potentially miss a payday? It's not a complicated question, really.
The background, as far as it goes, is that A.I.G. was woven ever so tightly into the fabric of the financial system that when it all came crashing down in 2008, the U.S. government chose to bail the company out to the tune of $182 billion, rather than to let it go bankrupt, pulling down many, many of the little people with it. A classic case of Too Big to Fail. A.I.G. subsequently paid back the bailout, with interest. Now, Hank Greenberg—A.I.G.'s flinty, sour-faced former chairman who's still the company's largest shareholder, and who almost certainly sits at home all day stroking his evil cat and counting golden doubloons—is suing the government for $25 billion, claiming that the government's terms were too stringent. A.I.G. itself is reportedly contemplating whether or not to join this lawsuit, and possibly reap some of those billions.
The terms of these deals are complex, and there are fairly high-level financial and legal claims at play. But for A.I.G., the entire decision really comes down to this: Will the money potentially won in the lawsuit outweigh the damage in good will the company will inflict on itself by joining the lawsuit? Because A.I.G. is, of course, fresh off becoming one of the most infamous symbols of greed and outrageously insular corporate conduct (some good background on the company's various PR outrages during the financial crisis can be found here). Is the possibility of bringing in several billion dollars enough to make up for saying, in effect, "Fuck you" to A) the government legislators and regulators who crafted the company's bailout package and B) the general public, which suffered without a bailout of any sort while A.I.G. executives reaped bonuses?
The moral answer is "no, of course not." The practical answer is "maybe, depending on how likely you think the revolution really is." (Unlikely, considering the fact that even at the height of the financial collapse, no A.I.G. executives were lynched by angry mobs.) How likely are Americans to even organize a boycott against such an amorphous and massively connected company? Is such a thing even possible? A few hundred million in PR spending and several million more in lobbying fees could make everyone forget, anyhow. Americans have short memories.
It's NFL playoff time.