A more politically foolish use of 0.1 percent of available cash can scarcely be imagined.
AIG chairman Edward G. Liddy's defense of these bonuses may be even more outlandish:
We cannot attract and retain the best and the brightest talent to lead and staff the A.I.G. businesses — which are now being operated principally on behalf of American taxpayers — if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury.Raw intelligence is vastly overrated; elite educational credentials, even more so. But eclipsing these exercises in overpaying is the longstanding assumption that the very best talent in our society responds, in strictly Pavlovian fashion, to overwhelming sums of cash.
And even if you disagree with everything I've written so far, surely you would endorse this recommendation: It is time to retire the phrase, the best and the brightest, in all senses except the ironic, even sarcastic, sense in which that phrase was originally intended.
The Best and the Brightest was the title of a 1972 exposé by David Halberstam of foreign policy miscalculations by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. For much of the next two decades, American geopolitics, crafted by none less than "the best and the brightest," wreaked havoc throughout Indochina:
It will take years, decades, perhaps lifetimes to shake American business culture of the fallacy that outrageous salaries are what valuable talent truly demands and deserves. In the meanwhile, I'll settle for a split second of humility regarding the true origins of the best and the brightest.