THE BLOG
03/08/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Pay Caps Relevant Beyond Wall Street

For the great majority of American families who dream of income exceeding six figures, the idea of capping executive compensation at $500,000 for those whose employers are receiving Federal assistance is wildly popular.

It remains to be seen whether this is the opening shot in the class warfare campaign that the political fringes have been nattering about for the past few years, but it could provoke some interesting career changes.

The financial masters of the universe could transform themselves into entertainers, sports star or television hosts, careers where many rake in more than $1 million annually. Many of the skills involved may prove fungible.

A more provocative question is whether they'll flow into two areas where there's chronic concern about growing cost and high salaries are the norm -- higher education and medicine.

There are more than a few university presidents in America paid more than $500,000 annually. Pay packages for presidents at some schools exceed $1 million annually despite the fact that they don't even coach. This group includes those running public schools -- or even community colleges. When the president of Penn wins applause for making a $100,000 donation to her school, that's a hint that her salary's stratospheric.

All of these institutions rely on Federal aid and regularly plead for more in an effort to offset costs that regularly rise faster than inflation.

In medicine, of course, there are even more high earners. The average neurosurgeon in the U.S. is making nearly $600,000. The average orthopedic surgeon makes more than $500,000. A lot of radiologists do, too.

And, the administrators of the hospitals where they practice make big bucks also despite the fact that many of these institutions are organized as non-profits.

A political question of the moment is whether taxpayers concerned about subsidizing bloated salaries on Wall Street will feel an equal discomfort about playing a similar role in medicine and higher education, areas where the public feels squeezed by chronic prices that seem to be pushing the services offered into the unaffordable range for a growing segment of the population.

In the meantime, it's a safe bet that some entrepreneur will soon start a web-based service designed to transform investment bankers into college and hospital executives.