Executive hypercompensation: this time it's personal

So it appears that Stanley O'Neal will leave Merrill Lynch with > $160 million in stock options and other retirement benefits, after being paid nearly $50 million last year and immediately after the company reported a gigantic loss, based largely on sub-prime mortgage risks O'Neal had decided it should take on.

I know that markets are markets, that financiers go into finance because they like the dough, that compared with 99.9% of people on earth I myself am rich, and so on. But every now and then one of these sticks in the craw. For me, it's this one -- and probably because of the years-long struggle I have waged to get my retirement-style savings out of ML, where I put some of them 15 years ago and where the meter immediately started running on high and not very well disclosed fees.* You would think that a brokerage itself would not be too comfortable with so flagrant a reminder of how hefty its fees must be, if it can afford this kind of payout.

I also wasn't crazy about the news, during the 2004 election, that O'Neal had ginned up nearly $300,000 in donations to the Bush-Cheney campaign from Merrill Lynch employees -- you know, the people whose future and careers he controlled. I probably also would have objected if he had been pressuring his own people to give to Kerry-Edwards. In either case, the idea of my (steep) account fees supporting this kind political activity didn't sit well.

Enjoy the money, Mr. O'Neal. That's what it's all about.

* Where are they now? It would not be very hard to guess: a well-known low-fee, not-for-profit investment organization. Why is the fight still going on? Because ML tied some of the money up in annuities that I still must spend several years waiting out -- while the fee meter keeps turning over.