Life was easier when financial Masters of the Universe were a shadowy silent overclass hermetically insulated from mortals. Now they're sending self-righteous resignation letters to the New York Times and we have to read them.
Jake DeSantis, an executive vice president in AIG's Financial Products Division, is doing a very good thing: He's donating his $742,000 bonus—that's after taxes, so the real number is well north of $1 million—to charity. He's also quitting AIG in a huff because he's upset that his boss, Edward Liddy, didn't do enough to defend the catastrophic failure of the company's hard-working and preposterously wealthy employees.
We sympathize with DeSantis. He says he didn't engage in any credit default swaps nonsense. He says his business unit was "consistently profitable" for the company, that he was working for a $1 annual salary, and that he's been spending "10, 12, 14 hours a day" trying to save the company. He even lost "a significant portion" of his life savings and "personally suffered from [AIG's] controversial activity—directly and indirectly with the rest of the taxpayers." He was repeatedly promised a gargantuan bonus in exchange for these hardships, and now his employer has abandoned him and attorneys general are demagoguing him. So he's washing his hands of the whole thing.
What he doesn't understand is that the blood-boiling rage that's been aimed at him and his colleagues isn't just about the money and the failure—it's about the vast and bottomless sense of entitlement that well-heeled Wall Streeters can't seem to shake. When he describes the AIG retention contracts as "ethical and useful," and when he compares himself to a "plumber" being "cheated" of his payment because an electrician burned down the house, he seems to be discovering for the first time that life is not fair. Also, he fails to understand that in this case, the humble plumber works for the electrician who burned down our house.
Most people who earn less than $700,000 a year have understood for some time that life is not fair. It's a hard lesson to learn, and it's generally a good idea to speak out in the face injustices large and small. But when the economy is cratering because of the company you work for, and unemployment is heading to double digits and everyone is scared out of their wits, to complain about how hard you work and make a show of being wealthy enough to turn away $742,000 is not the note you want to hit. You are not a plumber, Mr. DeSantis. You are a fabulously wealthy and fortunate man, and you ought to appreciate that and give your money away, if that's what you want to do, without aggrandizing yourself in the process.
Anonymity is also a virtue in its own right, as Sir Fred Goodwin, the former chief of the Royal Bank of Scotland who refused to give up his post-bailout pension, learned today when vandals smashed his windows and damaged his car. Things are still pretty dicey, Jake! Good thing you gave up the bonus, but you'd still be wise to keep your head down and stay off the op-ed pages until this whole thing settles down.