New column: Clawback to the future

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My latest column is online and in the issue of TIME with half a Star of David and some barbed wire on the cover. It begins.

We are in the midst of a cleanup of toxic financial waste that will cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars, at the very least. The primary manufacturers of these hazardous products pocketed multimillion-dollar paychecks for their efforts. So why aren’t we making them pay for the mop-up?

This is, after all, what Congress decreed in 1980 for producers of actual toxic waste. Under the Superfund law enacted that year, polluters pay for the messes they make. Environmental lawyer E. Michael Thomas sees no reason lawmakers couldn’t demand the same of financial polluters and force them to ante up some of the bank-bailout money. “This is a directly parallel policy judgment,” he says. “It’s beautiful in its simplicity, and it’s also beautiful in its justice.”

The word for it is clawback, and it’s not forthcoming, at least not anytime soon. “I’m just a plain old country lawyer, and I haven’t heard from anybody who counts,” says Thomas, a veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency and a couple of big law firms who is now a solo practitioner in suburban Boston–and whose letters to Capitol Hill have so far gone unanswered. Also, clawing back money from individual employees, as Thomas proposes, is a far more fraught and complex endeavor than hitting up corporations, as Superfund does. Read more.

Here’s a piece by E. Michael Thomas outlining his plan for clawbacks.