Wednesday, March 25, 2009

AIG and the Eye of a Needle

Again I tell you,
it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25

That is one of those rare verses that appears in all three synoptic Gospels. And it is exactly the same each time. Which means we can be reasonably certain that Jesus said it. And probably more than once. But we have a hard time assimilating the information.

It’s interesting to think about Jesus’ words in relation to the bonuses paid to executives at AIG. For the record, I think that the demonization of those who received bonuses is little more than political posturing. Not the finest hour for Congress or the White House. Congress had an opportunity to do something about it before entering into the deal with AIG, and the White House could have done something before the bonuses were paid out.

In the New York Times this morning, Jake DeSantis, Executive Vice President of the Financial Products Division of AIG, published his letter of resignation as an Op-Ed column. It is an interesting piece, not the least in that it reminds us that news events involve real human beings. Mr. DeSantis is one of the people being paid out of the $165 million in bonuses funded by the government bail out. He has worked hard, and he feels a deep sense of betrayal. He writes:

After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself.

I take this action after 11 years of dedicated, honorable service to A.I.G. I can no longer effectively perform my duties in this dysfunctional environment, nor am I being paid to do so. Like you, I was asked to work for an annual salary of $1, and I agreed out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid. Having now been let down by both, I can no longer justify spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day away from my family for the benefit of those who have let me down.

He tells Mr. Liddy that he grew up in modest circumstances and went to MIT on scholarship. He worked very hard to get where he is. He has led his division skillfully and they have made hundreds of millions of dollars for the company.

Eventually he gets around to saying that his payment came to $742,006.40 after taxes.

$742,006.40 after taxes.

I’m not sure what it means to say that you are working for $1 a year when you expect to get a bonus payment of $742,006.40. That seems like more than a $1 a year to me.

Mr. DeSantis is probably a reasonably good person. For all I know, he may be a person of excellent character. Perhaps by some measures he was betrayed and badly used. But there is a strange disconnect.

The median household income in the United States is around $51,000. And a fraction of that is wealthy by global standards. By any measure, he is rich. It’s hard for me to see him as a victim. He worked in a system that made him rich. Unbelievably rich by world standards.

To “enter the Kingdom of God” is to live as if the God’s will were already a reality on earth, as if the Kingdom were already here. It is hard, almost impossible, for the rich to do that. The problem is not that God’s judgment keeps them from entering, they simply can’t do it.

1 comment:

  1. >>> "I’m not sure what it means to say that you are working for $1 a year when you expect to get a bonus payment of $742,006.40. That seems like more than a $1 a year to me."

    So if he were to tithe, would he give 10 cents or $74,206?