Americans are not taking to the streets. Our outrage mostly consists of media figures and Washington politicians hyperventilating about bailouts and bonuses. Our targets tend to be bureaucrats, not billionaires. As many people are mad at the United Auto Workers union as at the high-flying auto industry CEOs.

You want outrage over the economy?


In France, workers at a 3M plant held their boss hostage in his office for two days, demanding a better severance package for 110 laid-off workers. Such incidents are becoming regular events in countries where workers don't accept pink slips with sheepish resignation.


In Scotland, vandals took out their outrage on the house and car of the former CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which had to be bailed out by the British government. Fred Goodwin, the ex-RBS exec, takes home a pension worth more than $1 million a year.


"We are angry that rich people, like him, are paying themselves a huge amount of money and living in luxury while ordinary people are made unemployed, destitute and homeless," wrote the author of an e-mail claiming responsibility for the vandalism.


In what passes for outrage on this side of the Atlantic, a few dozen activists last weekend took a bus tour of a Connecticut neighborhood where some of the beneficiaries of AIG's notorious bonuses live - and the conservative media tut-tutted about the affrontery of the protest.


Meanwhile, 3 million people took to the streets in France to protest their government's acceptance of rising unemployment and the fraying of its economic safety net.


Americans are not taking to the streets. Our outrage mostly consists of media figures and Washington politicians hyperventilating about bailouts and bonuses. Our targets tend to be bureaucrats, not billionaires. As many people are mad at the United Auto Workers union as at the high-flying auto industry CEOs.


Not that there isn't grumbling, and there's plenty to grumble about: Grandstanding Congress members. A cast of Wall Street wizards starting to look a lot like Bernie Madoff. An administration making it up as it goes along, spending trillions in the process. A connected legislator landing a cushy $175,000 job in the state bureaucracy. Pension padders and recalcitrant public employee union heads. Falling property values and rising property taxes. And rising gas taxes. And rising tolls.


With much anxiety-fueled outrage and so many possible targets, it's not surprising that some outrageous behavior seems to slip by with little notice.


Consider the use of TARP money paid to bailed-out banks and investment houses. We're outraged to see our tax dollars used to buy spa treatments for top brokers and cover bonuses for AIG executives. But there's been little notice given to news that some of those TARP recipients are still making campaign contributions to Congress members hyperventilating about the misuse of TARP funds.


Newsweek reports that the political action committees of five big bailout recipients gave more than $85,000 to members of Congress during the first two months of the year, most of it going to members of the committees that supervise the TARP program.


House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer got $1,500 from Bank of America. Republican House Whip Eric Cantor received $12,500 from Citigroup and UBS, a "counterparty" in the AIG bailout. Not every member is taking the cash. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the financial services committee have refused contributions from TARP recipients. But if anyone has any outrage to spare, spend some on the pols who denounce these irresponsible companies while quietly cashing their taxpayer-subsidized checks.


People have trouble grasping big numbers and they see things in human terms, which is why the theft of a child's piggy bank will grab more headlines than someone caught embezzling millions from an impersonal corporation. Maybe that's why Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's failure to pay $35,000 in taxes still sparks outrage.


But we've heard barely a peep of outrage over news that 13 of the TARP recipients are tax scofflaws of a higher order. According to a study of tax records by Rep. John Lewis, they owe more than $220 million in federal taxes.


Lewis didn't identify the recipients, but said two of the firms owe more than $100 million each. Taxpayers are shoveling a trillion dollars into companies that don't even pay their taxes.


There is outrage in America, but most of it is whipped up by the outrage industry: Radio talk show provocateurs, cable TV talking heads, bloggers of all stripes, agenda-driven special interest groups and politicians in search of attention and votes. They are all trying to take that outrage and turn it on their favorite targets. Republicans try to focus the outrage on Obama, Frank and other Democrats. Democrats want us to be outraged at the Bush gang.


Unlike Europeans, Americans are slow to turn their outrage on the wealthy. We all hope to be wealthy too, and we don't want people to be mad at us when our ships come in. We'd rather blame our least favorite politicians for whatever is going wrong on a given day.


But we ought to look hard at the outrageous actions that are escaping public outrage. Better yet, we should be skeptical of outrage that seems manufactured for political gain. Venting may be fun, but it doesn't solve problems.


Rick Holmes, opinion editor of the MetroWest Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. (http://blogs.townonline.com/holmesandco). He can be reached at rholmes@cnc.com.