In the 1980s, those partners retired and were replaced by hired hands who were now agents and not principals. They'd become the managers of other people's money -- initially diverse shareholders and now at the troubled firms, the nation's taxpayers. Not only were their mutton chops, long lunches at Delmonico's, and afternoon strolls to the counting house before tea -- all long gone -- but so are the days of I-bankers risking their own money -- until this new Obama plan.

Ignoring this structural change, some bankers still long for the lush good old days. The pay plan's critics rush to tortured ideological claims of government intrusion into private enterprise - despite the logic that this moral and intellectual claim was buried once these firms threw their fate into the government's arms. Employers at a firm like AIG ( AIG) -- with 80% government ownership -- surely must privately admit that they are virtually civil servants now and drop past illusions of princely lifestyles. The fair yardstick then must be the salaries then of top public officials.

With President Obama earning only $400,000 annually, Vice President Joe Biden earning $221,000, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts earning a mere $217,000 with U.S. Senator s and federal judges earning far less -- the $500,000 for financiers whose companies are on the public dole looks pretty good. The deal looks even better when you add in the stock incentives' upside potential of enormous wealth for good performance.

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