(The Treasury Department recently told certain bailed-out companies that their executives should not be paid more than $500,000 a year. The companies argued that they need to pay high-level employees more than that to keep them from leaving, arguing that their departure would be disastrous. Special Master for TARP Executive Compensation — “Pay Czar” — Kenneth Feinberg agreed to exempt twelve executives from the salary cap. To help you understand the reason for the exemptions, here is an excerpt from a secretly recorded closed-door meeting between the Pay Czar and an unnamed CEO.)
PAY CZAR: … And so, no employee of your company will be able to earn more than $500,000 annually, as that salary has been deemed to be …
CEO: Whoa! Gary’s not going to like that.
PAY CZAR: And who is Gary?
CEO: Gary’s the best! And if we can’t pay him at least three million dollars a year, he will leave our company and find work someplace else.
PAY CZAR: So what if he leaves? That would create another job, wouldn’t it?
CEO: You don’t seem to understand. Gary is what makes this company work. If we lose him, we lose everything.
PAY CZAR: What is Gary’s job, exactly?
CEO: He is Executive Vice President of Other Vice Presidents–crucial!
PAY CZAR: I see. And what would happen if Gary leaves?
CEO: The company would grind to halt for a week or more, as we scramble to find a replacement. And if we can pay the replacement no more than $500,000, then we’re going to be scraping the bottom of the barrel. We would probably have to put an ad on Craig’s List or Monster.com or even Pennysavers. Whoever we do get will probably be looking only for seasonal work to help pay for textbooks and Spring Break.
PAY CZAR: Perhaps the new hire will be a fast learner.
CEO: If the replacement cannot handle Gary’s former responsibilities within minutes, it will spell disaster. And since the replacement will no doubt waste the first day by asking us questions such as “Where’s the lunch room?” and “What are finances?”, our company won’t stand a chance. Which means that you and your salary cap may well turn out be responsible for the destruction of mankind. I’m just saying.
PAY CZAR: How so?
CEO: If we go bankrupt, it will start a domino effect. Other financial institutions will surely fail. And no amount of bailout money will help.
PAY CZAR: (Audible gasp)
CEO: I know, right? But you asked. So anyway, with no financial institutions left, the world economy will topple in a matter of days.
PAY CZAR: But … then it will get better. It always does.
CEO: You wish. Not this time–not when it comes to Gary. Soon there will be no money left and the rioting will begin. Gangs of middle-aged, drug-crazed bikers will overthrow the government. Food will be more precious than platinum. Humans will barter for sustenance with fur pelts, firewood, and sexual favors.
PAY CZAR: No!
CEO: Then, quite possibly ordered by a wrathful Gary himself, the rains will come–rains that will last for nine years. Rains that will cease only when the volcanoes erupt and burn away the clouds. The fortunate will die.
PAY CZAR: (whimpers)
CEO: The Earth will quake into pieces. The survivors will try unsuccessfully to band together and keep humanity alive. But then the Hawks will come.
PAY CZAR: The Hawks?
CEO: Yes — the Fire Hawks. They are made of fire and shadow, verily. They will descend onto this world from realms unknown, and eat away at the very fabric of time and space. Gary has a drawing of them in his office if you’d like to see it.
PAY CZAR: And then what — there would be no Earth?
CEO: No Earth. No galaxy. No universe. It would be gone, consumed even to the last molecule by the Fire Hawks.
PAY CZAR: Where would the Hawks go then?
CEO: They would turn upon and consume each other, of course. Everything will be erased, except for one last Fire Hawk. That hawk will then go and create a new world from its plumage. It would be no dejeuner sur l’herbe, I can tell you, but a world of even greater suffering. It’s a downward cycle of sorts.
PAY CZAR: But if Gary stays …
CEO: Then life will go on as normal. No riots. No gangs, no volcanoes. And no Fire Hawks.
PAY CZAR: Hmm… I’ll need to consult with my team members. And do you have Gary’s employee evaluation? We’ll need to see that before we go ahead and exempt him from the salary cap.
CEO: No problem. I’ll have Tina fax it over. Thank you for saving the world and quieting our stockholders, Mr. Pay Czar.
Dan Bergstein is a freelance writer and wears a size 11 shoe but a a 10 1/2 sneaker.