Yet making an assumption that every AIG bonus earner is, by default, a numskull, a bad actor or undeserving is also wrongheaded. Don't we want AIG to succeed and get off the government dole? What sort of employee would work for an entity that doesn't honor its contractual obligations? How many valuable employees would walk away from such a company?
Imagine if George W. Bush had dictated unilaterally to General Motors, after it took billions of bailout cash, to cut the salaries of union workers retroactively because their leadership had negotiated sweetheart deals earlier. A line worker makes a pittance compared with an executive, but the principle does not change.
I get the anger. It's real. It's deserved. The public pressure on AIG is wholly understandable. And with the kind of bailout and stimulus money we're throwing around, you can bet this won't be the last time you're upset.
Being upset is one thing. Permitting government to tear up legal contracts and tax away people's entire incomes, though they haven't broken any laws, are precedents we will regret in the end. Maybe even more than the bailouts themselves.