March 16th, 2009

planet

if you were an AIG exec, would you take a bonus now?

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.