Re-interpreting a New York Daily News headline from 1975, the following is in response to a resignation letter written by Jack DeSantis, former executive vice-president, A.I.G. financial products unit to Edward M. Liddy, chief executive of A.I.G., appearing in the New York Times on Wednesday, March 25th.
Dear Mr. DeSantis,
It's difficult to read that you feel "betrayed by A.I.G." after they "reassured [you] many times that [you] would be rewarded," when so many others have lost their jobs, and in some cases, homes under the current financial crisis.
It's hard to grasp your frustration and anger at agreeing "to work for an annual salary of $1... out of a sense of duty" only to be asked by the chief executive to return the bonus you were promised, when so many thousands, including vice-presidents, at Lehmann Brothers literally lost their jobs overnight without much of a paycheck much less a bonus.
It's interesting to note, Mr. DeSantis, that you use words like "ethical and financially astute," in describing Mr. Liddy's "initial decision to honor the [bonus] contracts," when in reality, A.I.G. has done little in the eyes of many to live up to the best examples of those words.
If certain individuals at A.I.G. had acted in an ethical manner, the federal government would not now be involved. If many of those executives had been less reckless and more "financially astute," in spite of warnings from many including former Chairman and CEO Hank Greenberg, A.I.G. would not have to receive billions in taxpayer funds to insure the company's survival.
While it is important to point out, as you do, "that most of the employees of [A.I.G's] financial products unit had nothing to do with the large losses," and undoubtedly worked long and hard doing the right things, the sad reality, Mr. DeSantis, is that individuals within A.I.G. acted in a reckless and unethical manner, and destroyed the good work done by many others. And it is unfair to paint these individuals with the same brush of greed and excess.
However, they and you, Mr. DeSantis, have been able to work due to the direct assistance of taxpayers, while thousands in your business have not.
In the real world of the working-class, individuals receive a bonus when they have done exemplary work and the company has the necessary additional funds to recognize such work.
I agree that while massive, public anger has a tendency to create a knee-jerk reaction from politicians, some of their actions, such as a proposed 90% tax on all bonuses and the release of names by Attorneys General Cuomo and Blumenthal goes too far.
However, most of your anger, Mr. DeSantis, should be directed at the A.I.G. leadership responsible for the current position the company finds itself in. To fall back on the legality of a contract in the midst of billions paid by taxpayers after admitting that "...members of my profession have been overpaid, and I wouldn't disagree." This after, you yourself have made millions over the last 11 years. To then tell those same taxpayers, by way of the New York Times, that "[you] have decided to donate 100 percent of the... after-tax proceeds... directly to organizations that are helping people who are suffering..." is dishonest.
That is not your money, Mr. DeSantis, it is the taxpayers. You have no ethical right to use that money to give to any charity, no matter how well-intended. And if you cannot recognize this simple truth, then you are acting in the same disingenuous, self-aggrandizing manner as those you condemn at A.I.G.
Jim Lichtman has been writing and speaking on ethics since 1995. His commentaries can be found at www.ethicsStupid.com