Monday, March 23, 2009

What Should be Done About AIG Bonuses?

Absolutely nothing should be done about the bonuses paid to AIG employees, at least not legislatively. To understand why, please take out a calculator now and do this simple division. Enter 165, to represent the $165 million in bonus compensation. Divide that by 170,000 to represent the $170 billion in bailout money that AIG has received. Look at the result. Adjust your calculator's display to show 5 digits to the right of the decimal point if your calculator doesn't already show them. The number you'll see is 0.00097. What does this mean? It means that the bonus money is less than one one-thousandth of the bailout money going to AIG.

This money, on a percentage basis, is less then the rounding error in many calculations. While $165 million is a huge amount of money to most of us, it's just not meaningful in the scope of AIG's problems or it's bailout, or the problems in the banking system, the government or the economy.

So I watch with sadness and amuzement while the House rants and then passes a bill that is reckless on several levels. It's reckless on constitutional grounds. If the Senate and President pass and sign anything like it, it may get struck down on those grounds in the courts. It's reckless on business grounds because of the perceptions of recklessness, fickleness and inconsistancy it will create for businesspeople. Who'd want Congress as a business partner? And it's reckless on political grounds, if there is a backlash against things going further wrong due to this bill.

This week we seem to be moving past the AIG furor, and focusing on the Geithner plan. That's great. We should forget about the AIG bonus issue and hope the legislation lapses into irrelevancy.

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