Big bonuses and bigger deficits are driving new waves of populist anger


As reports about record payouts for Wall Street and record deficits trade off on the front page, millions of Americans are wondering what's going on with their economy and their political system. Many of the nearly 200 reader comments made in response to my recent piece, Middle class squeeze: The deep roots of an economic and social transformation, expressed disgust and anger with both Big Finance and Big Government.

At least some of this populist dissatisfaction can be traced back to the 2008 government bailout of big banks, the TARP program. Email and phone calls to congressional offices ran about 300-to-1 against TARP, but Congress approved the massive bailout with very few strings attached. Add in the bailouts extended to other crippled financial institutions such as AIG and Fannie Mae and the government's plans to rework the U.S. health care insurance system, and the sense that the government and the nation's financial elites are failing the citizenry has reached new highs.