As the United States moved from the miseries of the Depression to the exigencies of World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt called upon a corporate version of his ''brain trust.''
They were business executives who would help to mesh the functions of government and the functions of industry into a mighty war machine.
And they were paid... a dollar a year. Their income became their identity: "Dollar-a-Year Men.''
It's still a symbolic gesture made by men of means who become men of service. One of the things most Angelenos consistently remember about the tenure of mayor Richard Riordan is that the multi-millionaire took a symbolic salary of only a dollar a year.
Now we have, in the nation's time of crisis, men (and possibly women), captains of industry, who have already made many multiple millions in a freewheeling market -- and who may be positioning themselves to rake in even more, on the public's nickel.
That any of the billions in the federal rescue package might go to enlarge these fat cats brought the attention, and to some extent the scorn, of the Senate Banking Committee, which is neither tone-deaf nor stupid when it comes to the political dissonance of taxpayers losing jobs and homes but still footing the bill for the bailout.
The bailout moolah rules declare that the monster golden parachutes of bull markets past are now things of the past, but since it's our money, theoretically we can further dictate what happens to it -- and we definitely should.
Committee chairman Chris Dodd warned that Congress could limit pay and benefits. He called for ''restraint and modesty'' in executive compensation, surely knowing that those concepts seem to have fled the corporate world. Who can forget Dennis Kozlowski's $6,000 floral shower curtain and $2,200 gilded wastebasket?
Sayeth Dodd, "The acceptance of public funding carries with it a public obligation. [The taxpayers] are entitled to expect that those who benefit from their sacrifices will act with appropriate restraint and purpose."
Why so restraiined? I'm sure the threat had these CEOs crying themselves to sleep on their Porthault sheets.
If Dodd and his colleagues are indeed going to follow through on this, I have a suggestion for a ''restrained and modest'' salary for these business titans. A buck a year, paid quarterly, in quarters.