Re "Doing the math on AIG bonuses," March 22
Some say AIG is too big to fail. Wrong. As evidenced most recently by the bonus fiasco, AIG has demonstrated that it is too greedy, too arrogant and too stupid not to fail. The same holds true for Citibank, Bank of America, GM, Chrysler and the other corporate basket cases.
The government rescue plan has focused on bailing out these failed organizations and sending the bill to taxpayers (and their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren). It should surprise no one that many of the architects of this plan came from the same companies that caused this mess. They are now the "squeegee men" at the on-ramp to the public trough.
A sad irony: If you fouled up big time and helped drive this economy to its knees, you get a bailout with a blank check. If, however, you have lost your job because of the bad economy, you just get a blank stare.
Too big to fail, but never too small to get the shaft. No wonder people are outraged.
It's easy to jump on the undeserved bonuses for AIG execs. But righteous anger at less than 0.1% of the problem, only to miss the biggest spending spree in history, is a convenient distraction.
In sports, the idea is to keep your eye on the ball. In magic, the objective is to "watch the other hand." The subprime loans are the ball to watch, and massive spending is the hand to keep in sight. And we'd better look close at the man behind the curtain.
With apologies to Frank Capra: Every time an AIG employee is paid a bonus, another congressman gets his wings. Track and baseball and cycling thought they had steroid problems. Forget it. Congressional self-righteousness -- now that's something on steroids.
There is something the rest of us should be getting self-righteous about, though. It's having the tax code used as a weapon. My share of the AIG bonus recovery is about 50 cents. I'll give it up to protect the Constitution.
There is a flawed logic in thinking that higher pay means higher performance. A person needs only so much money to live comfortably and to be happy. Anything beyond that is greed and implies that the person does not really value the work they do enough to stay with it.
Research scientists, Silicon Valley engineers and environmental professionals value their work, earning middle-class but comfortable salaries. Their reward is enjoyment in working on cool research and innovations and contributing to society. Artists will labor for even less.
If exorbitant monetary rewards are all that are keeping AIG types in their job, then perhaps the industry needs to rethink the real value of its work.