Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bonus busters

Anybody still braying with populist fervor over the retention bonuses at AIG should have a look at this letter of resignation from Jack DeSantis, recipient of one of the million dollar contracts that created all the stir. It certainly resolves the questions I was left with last week when I advanced my "sneaky secretary" hypothesis (which turns out to be invalid, by the way.) A few interesting points, widely overlooked:

  • In the case of DeSantis, at least, the retention bonus was to be his entire compensation for the year. Like Liddy, his salary for the year was one dollar.
  • A relatively small number of employees of AIG's Financial Division were involved in the credit default swap mess, and almost all of those are gone from AIG.
  • Confronted by frothy-mouthed Congressmen, Liddy just quaked and quivered, failing to explain the justification for offering the bonuses -- justification that actually makes some sense if you're not choking on your own bile.
By the way, this is not to say that I think anybody is worth more than a million dollars a year. If you can't manage to have a really nice life on one million plus benefits, you're not smart enough to be earning that much. Even DeSantis says, "Some might argue that members of my profession have been overpaid, and I wouldn’t disagree."

(I'm also one of those who believes that the highest paid employee of a company should not be earning more than twenty times what the lowest paid employee earns. If the CEO is paid a million, the clerk doing data entry should be paid fifty grand -- but since this entry is not entitled "utopian schemes," I'll say no more about that idea.)

Anyway, if a Congressional Committee ever manages an opportunity to question, say, Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, I hope it can manage to be a lot more focused and thoughtful than Financial Services was when it grilled Ed Liddy. Anybody who needs bloviation and outrage can listen to Rush Limbaugh. From our elected representatives, I think we deserve something more.

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