William F. Buckley
What enrages defenders of capitalism so grievously is the callousness of the Richard Grasso episode. Here is a talented trading expert who began at $82.50 per week and was now being offered almost $190 million, covering 20 years' deferred benefits. He had the grace to return $48 million, though that gesture was absent of much meaning. If he was saying to his confederates at the New York Stock Exchange that that final $48 million was really more than he was worth, he'd have brought up the question, Was he worth the remaining $142 million?

If the return was intended as a penitential rite, it would seem insubstantial. A Catholic priest can get away with assigning a penance of three Hail Marys to a confessed murderer, but Mr. Grasso was dealing not in symbols, but in hard cash.

Now attention of course focuses on: How did it happen? The job of chairman and chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange is important and should be well rewarded. But as was somewhere remarked, the NYSE is on the order of the Fulton Fish Market. People go there to sell and to buy. The person presiding over the transactions hasn't all that much to do that couldn't be done by a computer. To the extent that it is an honorary job, then it should be paid an honorary stipend, something on the order of what the poet in residence at the Library of Congress is paid.

Who authorized this gargantuan compensation? That becomes truly interesting, because the people who did so, all of them men (and women) experienced in handling money, claim to have been unaware of the size of the loot. Most extraordinary here was Carl McCall, chairman of the Big Board's compensation committee, who was state comptroller and ran for governor of New York against George Pataki. He says he was not aware of the total being paid to Grasso. He remembers only little clumps of money. He never stopped to add those clumps up to get the grand total. This is the gentleman who will serve as interim chairman of the NYSE until someone else is named, whose salary will be known not only to the former comptroller, but to the American people at large.

How does that money get generated? Well, by the members of the New York Stock Exchange. They exclusively finance the administration of the exchange, and it can therefore be held that the privations incurred by paying $190 million are theirs alone, so what do we have to complain about?

There are two comments here, one of them practical, the other symbolic.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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