Wall Street took the latest government report on its pay practices in stride Friday, saying it would review U.S. pay czar Kenneth R. Feinberg's suggestions about compensation while privately expressing relief that the report wasn't tougher on them.I can give Mr. Feinberg some qualified agreement here. In a sane world, it's none of the government's business what some moneylending organization pays its employees. But then, in that mythical sane world, there's no such thing as a federal "pay czar" (sorry, Mr. Feinberg, find some honest way to make a living); and, in that sane world, there's no such thing as a federal bailout for an insolvent bunch of moneylenders. They just go down.
Mr. Feinberg's four-page public discussion of banks' pay practices concluded that 17 banks had handed out $1.6 billion in "ill-advised" executive compensation before he was assigned in 2009 to oversee banks that accepted government money during the financial crisis. Mr. Feinberg's report didn't disclose the level of ill-advised pay at the 17 firms, which included Goldman Sachs Group Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., and Morgan Stanley.
Mr. Feinberg said the payments "were ill advised, they were troublesome. But I do not believe it is fair to declare … that the payments were 'contrary to the public interest.' " In fact, Mr. Feinberg said he undertook the compensation review, which was required by the 2009 stimulus law, with "some reluctance."
"This is arm-chair quarterbacking," he said.
"Fair," indeed. Ha!