Can you spell c-h-u-t-z-p-a-h?

By James Gibney

No one has ever said that former American International Group chief executive Maurice "Hank" Greenberg lacked nerve. Consider his latest maneuver: a lawsuit against AIG for misrepresenting the value of shares that he purchased as part of his deferred compensation plan. Greenberg told CNBC that he lost $2 billion as a result. He has also argued that AIG's implosion would never have happened under his watch, and that internal controls were weakened after his departure.

Let's set aside his firing in 2005, following an investigation by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer into financial chicanery at AIG (Greenberg has refused to cooperate with his firm's own investigation, and still faces civil charges). As a devastating three-part series in the Washington Post makes clear--the kind of story that should make every citizen kiss a reporter in gratitude--Greenberg was hip-deep in the nurturing and oversight of the financial products unit of AIG that triggered its meltdown, the largest losses in U.S. corporate history, and a bailout that's at $180 billion and counting.


I'm gratified he's actually feeling some financial pain. What's more, I have a modest proposal for how American taxpayers can enjoy more than just schadenfreude. How about substituting their names for Mr. Greenberg's on his various charitable monuments? After all, we paid for them twice over, first through his tax deductions, and then through this bailout. So gifts like the Maurice R. Greenberg Yale-China Initiative ($50 million) and the Maurice R. and Corinne Greenberg Center at Cornell's Weill Medical College ($25 million) would instead memorialize the generosity of John and Jane Q. Public.

Too radical? OK, I'd settle for an asterisk chipped in next to Greenberg's name, with a note below that reads, "Hope you all like it, because you paid for it."

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2009/03/can-you-spell-c-h-u-t-z-p-a-h/1219/