Dear Mr. President: We are writing in reference to your recent comments about AIG, and in particular about bonuses being paid to AIG employees and executives. As members of AIG's board of directors, we were troubled by your remarks -- especially your use of the word "outrage" to describe those bonuses -- and we write to urge you to reconsider your current stance.
AIG is a company with great pride in its reputation for honesty and integrity in all its dealings with clients large and small. While we appreciate the assistance the government has provided us in recent months, we don't believe that providing that assistance gives you license to question the character of thousands of dedicated AIG employees.
We respectfully suggest that the overheated rhetoric you and members of your administration have been using lately does nothing to help our company regain its footing after its recent stumbles, and indeed, may make our recovery all the more difficult.
Let us suggest, Mr. President, that one man's "outrage" is another man's vacation home. And what some call "greed," others recognize as the lubricant that turns the wheels of commerce.
As to the logic behind AIG's bonuses, it's really quite simple. If the company -- or a particular division of the company -- is doing well, we pay bonuses to recognize that excellent performance. If the company or a particular division is meeting, but not exceeding, expectations, we pay bonuses to demonstrate our continued confidence in those employees, and to spur even better performance going forward.
And if the company or a particular division is imploding, we pay bonuses to ensure that the people who best understand the mess we're in don't leave us for more lucrative offers elsewhere at the very moment we most need them to stay on to get us out of the mess they created.
To summarize, then, we pay these bonuses under only three circumstances: when we're doing well, when we're doing badly, and when we're somewhere in the middle.
And rather than boasting about their good fortune, the recipients of these bonuses rightly prefer to enjoy their extra millions in private, which is why we've declined to release their names. America is not about envy, Mr. President. We are better than that.
As for your stated intention to take whatever steps are necessary to somehow block these bonuses, we can assure you that you'd be wasting your time. We've had our lawyers go over the contracts with a microscope, and they're done deals, no matter what the suits over at Treasury may be telling you.
Something else you ought to know, if you're thinking of conditioning future assistance to AIG on our people "voluntarily" declining the bonuses: Ain't gonna happen. AIG didn't get to where it is today by turning down free money, and we're not about to start.
You can try to squeeze us, you and your pretty-boy accountants with their government salaries, but we face more pressure before breakfast every morning than you guys can even dream of bringing. We'll chew you up, and we'll spit you out.
And one more thing: If we go down, we're taking everyone down with us. That's right -- we'll take it all down. We're so deep into so many things, you knock us over, you'll start a landslide. There won't be a single brick standing anywhere in this country. The truth is, we're too big to fail, and you're too soft to change us.
So give it your best shot, OK? Go ahead -- you'll see who's really running things.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at email@example.com.
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