A story in this morning's paper (whoa, it's 2009--I meant "screen") reported that 15 of the top 20 AIG bonus recipients are returning their bonuses in full. "They are being responsive to the American people" trumpeted NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. I would say so, in the same way that one would respond to, say, a mob with torches and pitchforks. But good is good, and motive is less important than action.
I did have a good laugh, though, when the piece restated CEO Edward Liddy's (the poor man who caused none of the problem but is taking a $1 a year salary to oversee the forest fire that is AIG) concern that "the company may not be able to attract and retain talented employees if they believe their compensation is subject to adjustment by the Treasury."
Listen--may I call you "Ed"?--listen Ed. Open your office window and look down. Use binoculars if you must. On the street below, you'll see lots of people walking to and fro, many of them doing so because they have nowhere to go. You can't see the trough of anxiety in their brow from that height. The guy across the street dressed like a haddock and waving at cars in front of the seafood restaurant--he's a talented guy. PhD. Jesuit school. Wife and kids. Dumped gracelessly in mid-December from his job running a small, profitable manufacturing business in Brooklyn. Think he might be willing to swallow the insult of, say, $250,000 a year and Treasury oversight for a chance at productive, challenging work? The woman down the block is liquidating the inventory of her bright, cheery store, the focus of her hopes and dreams, which has gone upside down from the bad bets that hedge funds, banks, and other high-flying institutions made in the name of 35% return annually. Think she'd work for the pittance that warrants $165 million in merit pay for a business that collapsed like the Hindenburg? Take your time with the answer.
Other people--lots of them, I'll bet--are the very same "talented employees" of which you speak. I'll take a wide swing here and say that if you weed-whacked about 75 percent of the folks who created the brilliant "financial products" that got AIG and the rest of us into this mess, you could simply drop a ream of applications from your window and re-fill the house with untainted talented people before the others' chairs grew cold. So let's not fret about Wall Street or banking compensation. Good people work. Corrupt people should be fitted for fish suits.
And please Mr. Cuomo, take the lead in putting an end to the easy label of "the American people." We're not a box of puppies who need a home. We're citizens--your employers--who want to work and be productive and show our talents. We're a teeming, pulsing collective of individual ingenuity, energy, and drive. We can fill the desks of Mr. Liddy's firm. We're ready. When you are.