Sunday, March 22, 2009

How to Think About the AIG Bonuses

As a member of the financial services industry, I just want to make a few disclaimers:

I have never received any bonus from my employer. I own no stock in any particular financial firm outside of shares included in general mutual funds. I know few specific details beyond what you can read in a newspaper.

Having said that, I think that the bill that passed the House is absolutely hurrendous. If this doesn't fall under Bill of Attainder, I don't know what does. From the outside looking in, many activities within a company or industry can seem idiotic, immoral, etc... Sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren't.

Bonuses are paid as compensation so that managment level employees care about the future of the company. If not for this kind of mechanism, an employee will often view the employer as merely a means to a paycheck. If the company fails they only face the nuisance of finding another job. Without paying some kind of retention bonus, employees would be leaving by the droves. This would leave the mess to a skeleton crew comprised of individuals who are less attractive to other potential employers. Banning retention bonuses would not have fixed anything, only made them worse. Many financial firms will fail without some of this high priced talent.

Why do they get paid so much? I don't know. I've never understood why they were paid so much. But, I also don't understand why someone would buy a $1,000 Louis Vuitton purse. Clearly someone thinks it's worth a lot or they wouldn't pay for it. Their pay may be excessive, but the general concept is a sound one that is not often understood outside of the financial services sector.

The precendent that this sort of legislation creates is an awful one. No company is safe that has any deals with the federal government. Any company can face confiscation of property based merely on political theater and not the tradition of the rule of law.

As an illustration to my brother, I used his particular industry. He works as a manager of a fast food restaurant in Oklahoma. From the outside looking in, there are certain routine acts that could be manufactured into an outrage.

I can see the headline now: "Burger company throws out thousands of pounds of food every week!" This food could go to feed the homeless, or to charge the customer less. What a bunch of wasteful and lazy people who work there!

At the company everyone is perplexed. Of course we have to throw food away. Sometimes it goes bad. Sometimes French fries get stale and burgers get burned. No one would eat them. Someone returns a burger because we missed that they requested no onions. Who wants a burger that's been rifled through by another customer. We have to throw it away. We work tirelessly to keep costs down by not throwing out food.

Our politicians and media personalities refuse to dig deeper than superficially to consider the consequences of their over-reactions. Facts don't matter, only rage in the New America. Once we cower to the mob once, the mob expects blood everymore. Let us not devolve into Jacobins.

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