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If you read my journal, you may have heard me complain before about the annoying double-standards the middle class projects onto capitalism as a whole. I heard lots of my coworkers complain about how overpaid CEOs are, but let's face it, my coworkers aren't exactly making minimum wage either. The conversations usually go like this:

I think it's criminal how much that guy makes. Downright immoral. He's pulling in millions! He makes 40 times what I do!

You make forty times what some farmer in Africa makes.

Yeah but that's different. They have a totally different standard of living there.

That's what our CEO says about you!

Oh okay so you're saying I'm just supposed to give everything away to poor people even though I worked for it? I'm so tired of you socialists.

But you thought our CEO should make less... where's the "criminally wealthy" line?"

And so on... but the gist is that the line is fascinatingly close to whatever salary the person I'm talking to is making. It's okay to make 40 or 70K a year, but not 200! No one ever thinks he's too rich, we're all middle class, right?

So my question of the day when hearing people complain about AIG... would you take the bonus? Seriously. Let's say your company isn't doing so well, some people are being let go. But your 2008 contract says you get a bonus. And you need it... your son just got laid off, your retirement fund sucks, you're worried about whether your savings account is big enough should the great depression hit.

And keep in mind a lot of these "execs" are not millionaires, they might be hitting six figures... or might not be. But regardless it's still an important question... at what salary would you be able to say, "You know? I've got enough." What if you made 50K a year, is that enough? What if you made 30K?

I like to think that if I were in that position, I'd be tough enough to admit that I don't need the money. Or I'd take it, and donate it, if it was going to be a paperwork nightmare to turn it back into the company (it might be, if you're the one person in 1000 who wants to turn your bonus back in). But honestly I'm not exactly a philanthropist worth looking up to even now. I'm scared like everyone, and sort of lazy... what makes me think that if I had a little more money, I'd suddenly do the most noble thing possible with it?

It's very easy for people to say, "Well I know one thing, I wouldn't use taxpayer money to pay a bunch of jerks who screwed up our economy!" I'm not asking you about paying other people, or how you want to judge others. Because let's face it... it takes one bad guy to decide to give out the bonuses, but once he does, hundreds of people enable him by pretending they're powerless or pretending they need it. Statistically speaking, you're more likely to be an enabler than the one handing out the money, so my question is much more important. Change and recovery doesn't happen because we point fingers at each other, it happens when we as individuals start saying "We're better than this" and making decisions that improve the world. If you're angry about what AIG did, you could change it with your own life.

I'm asking whether you'd take the money.

Comments

( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
britgeekgrrl
Mar. 16th, 2009 10:43 pm (UTC)
Honestly?

You bet I'd take the damn money. And laugh, maniacally, all the way to the bank - in between worrying about the feds finding out what I *really* did with the last round of investment from the stockholders, etc...
wildelion
Mar. 16th, 2009 11:01 pm (UTC)
Considering that I just attended a Policy Meeting where (breaking this down in the easiest to follow terms, eliminating all real details) I pointed out that the contract they had us sign demanded that they keep us on for one more year and they all agreed; however, upon discovering that by keeping us all on they were delivering a very hard blow to the entire department that would gravely impact its ability to function I agreed to be let go early. Not quite sure how we're going to survive on one income with five kids but I'm not out to destroy the very institution I received my degree from.
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wildelion
Mar. 17th, 2009 06:24 pm (UTC)
I appreciate the well-wishes ;)
And hopefully respect (and my sense of self and dignity) will see me through the long winter. My decision was probably easier simply because my contract was coming to an end and my husband is currently the main breadwinner. Not everyone can afford to make decisions like this one. I must admit I don't quite see how AIG's execs couldn't do without their bonuses; or at the very least, how they couldn't do with partial bonuses, but hell what do I know? I'm just a broke momma in Kansas whose husband's Christmas bonus was a ham. Kinda funny when you think about it.
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wildirishrose80
Mar. 16th, 2009 11:17 pm (UTC)
I like to think I would decide I didn't need the money...but if I'm going to pretend I'm an AIG exec, I'm probably going to have to pretend that I've gotten used to a huge house and paying someone to clean it and buying better food because I can afford it.

Maybe I'd take it, but donate most of it.
ruudboy
Mar. 16th, 2009 11:53 pm (UTC)
I suspect I'd take the money. The person to blame is clearly the person who gave the AIG execs contracts which award them a bonus for running the company so badly. They should be fired. Which is probably the AIG execs themselves.
schmelf
Mar. 17th, 2009 12:28 am (UTC)
Hell yes I'd take it! It's a broken system, but my turning down a bonus wouldn't fix it. And my complaint with the system is not that the execs make so much, but that the African farmer makes so little. And I happen to think that some significant progress could be made without a significant tax increase if we quit writing our military a blank check and started encouraging investment in Africa (if I had any money to invest, I'd look into investing a portion of it in enterprises in the more stable African democracies).
velshtein
Mar. 17th, 2009 12:38 am (UTC)
http://www.kiva.org/

It's a great place to lend money, even if you only can lend a little. :)
schmelf
Mar. 17th, 2009 11:52 pm (UTC)
Exactly the sort of thing I had in mind. Thank you for the link.
litlebanana
Mar. 17th, 2009 12:52 am (UTC)
Meh, I'd probably take it. But I'd be really embarrassed.

Maybe there's something I don't get, but how come after you totally fuck your company up, you get a BONUS? I mean, isn't a bonus like a reward? If you screw up, you shouldn't get one, right?

But I've never worked in a place where bonuses are given.
cpugrud
Mar. 17th, 2009 02:28 am (UTC)
Take it? Does my employment contract stipulate that I earned said bonus? Well, yes.

The moral credibility is lost when the .gov refuses to force/allow these companies to go bankrupt and restructure. Bankruptcy would reset these contracts and eliminate/adjust the bonuses.

That and I would make sure to move the money offshore while looking for another job.
dizietsma
Mar. 17th, 2009 04:06 pm (UTC)
A lot of these people deliberately choose lifestyles that spend them to zero each month. I read a boo-hoo article recently about how Obama's 500k/yr limit just isn't enough to live in New York any more, what with the car, the chauffeur, the domestic, the party frocks for Mrs, the holiday home, the house, the private schooling for the kids, and so on and so on and so on. They're always going to take the money, because they think they NEED it. In truth, they really really don't, but they would have to change their lifestyle to not need it any more, and taking the money and taking a bit of flack in the news is easier.
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kart
Mar. 17th, 2009 09:52 pm (UTC)
Seems like there's only 3 types of people living in Manhattan: (1) the fabulously rich, (2) the criminally rich, and (3) "poor" people barely scraping by.

It seems so crazy, because if group 3 ever left the city, they'd be able to make ends meet so much easier, and group 1 would be left without a source of labor.
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spacefem
Mar. 17th, 2009 10:13 pm (UTC)
What I'm saying in my post is that almost ALL of us choose a lifestyle where we spend all our money every month, and that's why we're in the mess we're in. Individuals have no right to be mad at the AIG execs if we're all spending exactly what we earn, would take more, could live on less but don't care to.
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kart
Mar. 17th, 2009 09:56 pm (UTC)
If these people are really so darned incompetent, how did they get to be rich in the first place?

I think it's more of a case of "well everybody else was doing it, we didn't realize the scope of the harm." The regular AIG employees may not have all seen it coming.

Then again, it's your own responsibility to ensure that your employer is not a complete schmuck. Or if you're going to be evil, at least make sure you can get away with it.
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kart
Mar. 17th, 2009 10:16 pm (UTC)
Not to invoke Godwin's Law, but perhaps we can draw an analogy from Europe in the aftermath of World War 2. After the war was over, Germany was full of, well, Germans. Many of them were Nazis, but they weren't all war criminals.

The western allies had a major "denazification" program to basically weed out the incorrigible ones, while rehabilitating the regular people: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denazification

Maybe America could use some de-asshole-ification of a similar nature. It would be kinder than what the Soviets did to the Nazis they caught!
(Deleted comment)
spacefem
Mar. 17th, 2009 10:18 pm (UTC)
I think greed can cancel out some competence. Show someone a huge pile of money, or just 30% earnings on a bank account, and they forget some of the things they learned at Yale.
(Deleted comment)
jume
Mar. 18th, 2009 05:44 am (UTC)
I was actually thinking today that I hope when I get a job with an awesome engineer's salary that I would donate money, although I think that thought was spurred by thinking about how donation lines change between secular and religious people.

Anyways, I don't think I would, at least not right now, but I'm afraid to comment on my future self! I don't know her xD
mrtee
Mar. 18th, 2009 11:27 pm (UTC)
Is it a gift or is it part of the package?
I think part of the issue is the "psychology" of the word Bonus. I was pissed at this notion of a "Bonus" while the businesses are circling the drain, but it seems (to me) more and more that this notion of a bonus is simply an assumed part of a business salary.

I'm coming from the perspective that you are either a wage laborer or salaried. The notion of something called a bonus sounds like a gift/reward but I guess its common to negotiate bonuses into one's hiring package--in the financial world? Why not just roll that into your normal salary????

If the agreement was I get paid X,Y and Z then yeah I'd take it.

If it were conditional (if/then) statement... If business is good -->then bonus. Then no I wouldn't take it.

I got a turkey as a bonus for Christmas once, but it was a gift type bonus, I didn't negotiate for the turkey when hired!

Being completely naive on business, I'm honestly not sure how this Bonus system works.
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )

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