American International Group Inc. Chairman Steve Miller, who joined the bailed-out insurer’s board in 2009, said Occupy Wall Street protesters have a “simplistic view” of the economy and government rescues of financial firms.
“The understanding of the Occupy Wall Street crowd of what makes our country work is probably fairly limited,” Miller told Betty Liu today on Bloomberg Television’s “In the Loop.” “It’s a very simplistic view of things. No one will ever know what would have happened to our country and our whole global financial system if AIG had been allowed just to go down.”
New York City police swept into Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan yesterday to remove demonstrators who had been camping there for more than eight weeks to protest income inequality. The group inspired similar actions in cities including Oakland, California; Portland, Oregon; London and Melbourne.
AIG, whose main executive office is about five blocks from Zuccotti Park, was first rescued in September 2008 after bets tied to the housing market soured. The New York-based insurer’s bailout was revised at least four times, swelling to $182.3 billion. The U.S. Treasury Department owns a majority of the company’s shares.
Protesters don’t recognize that the bailout was structured to protect taxpayers’ interests, and that the government may recoup its investment at a profit, Miller said.
“It’s lost on them,” he said. “They think, ‘Why are you bailing out Wall Street and not Main Street?’ You have to have a view as to what would have happened if Wall Street had been allowed to just implode. I think it would have been devastating for our whole economy and that would have been far worse for Main Street than what did happen.”
Occupy Wall Street isn’t arguing that the government should have let the financial system fail, Mark Bray, a spokesman for the group, said in a telephone interview. Protesters would like to see more resources devoted to the 99 percent of Americans who are suffering, he said.
“The fact that we have one in six children in the U.S. in poverty, high foreclosure rates and problems in accessing education and health care, those aren’t simple problems to the people who have them,” Bray said.
AIG has drawn criticism since its rescue. Bonuses paid to executives at its Financial Products unit, which made wrong-way bets that led to the bailout, prompted death threats for some executives, then-Chief Executive Officer Edward Liddy said at a congressional hearing in 2009.
Miller published an autobiography called “The Turnaround Kid: What I Learned Rescuing America’s Most Troubled Companies” in 2008 that described his work at Delphi Corp., Chrysler Corp. and other companies. He said today that he gets a small amount of mail that’s “highly critical,” without specifying whether it was from Occupy Wall Street.
“It’s nothing like I’ve seen in my past,” he said.
The Treasury reduced its AIG stake to 77 percent from 92 percent after selling 200 million shares for $29 apiece in a public offering in May. The government needs to average about $28.72 a share on its sales to break even on its investment.
AIG fell 2.9 percent to $22.45 in New York today, extending a more than 50 percent slide this year. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has slipped 1.7 percent in that period.