Rich Man, Preposterously Rich Man

This commentary was written by's Dick Meyer.
At about 3:15 a.m. this past Sunday, a nurse, Robin, quietly came into a room in Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway, Maine, and barely waking the patient up, gently changed the packing inside her badly infected and very painful foot wound. The patient, a person Robin had never met before, happened to be my 13-year-old daughter.

Watching this scene of competence and compassion, and being odd, the first person I thought of was Stephen S. Crawford.

Earlier in the week, Crawford, 41, was dismissed as a co-president of Morgan Stanley, the investment bank. He held that job for four just months but was awarded a goodbye package of $32 million.

According, to the National Compensation Survey the government published last year, registered nurses who work full-time earn about $52,000 a year.

Tuesday evening, the president nominated a man named John G. Roberts to be the next associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Being odd, the first person I thought of was Phillip J. Purcell.

Roberts will be paid about $199,000 a year to be on the Supreme Court. That's a raise of about $30,000 from his current salary as a federal appeals court judge, but it's still a pay cut from what his salary was at the Washington law firm of Hogan & Hartson, $1,044,399.

Purcell, who was fired as the CEO of Morgan Stanley, will get a severance package of $113 million. Justice Roberts will have to sit on the court for about 568 years if wants to earn what Mr. Purcell got just for being axed.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to scrub up and go into the operating room with Dr. Frederick Finelli, a surgeon who is also president of the Medical staff at the Washington Hospital Center. I watched him perform a gastric bypass operation on a morbidly obese patient. Finelli also took me to observe procedures by two renowned Washington surgeons: Paul Corso, who was doing a heart bypass, and Paul Sugarbaker, who was in the middle of a 14-hour marathon to remove abdominal tumors from the gut of a middle-aged man.

Meeting these men, who are routinely entrusted with the lives of the nation's most rich and powerful, as well as the penniless, and being odd, I immediately thought of Edward Lambert.

Lambert is the first hedge fund manager to crack the $1 billion a year mark, according to Institutional Investor's Alpha Magazine. The top 25 hedge fund managers earned an average of $250 million in 2004, according to Alpha.

According to the government's survey, the average doctor made about $118,000 in 2003. Top Washington surgeons do better than that, but they don't earn hedge fund or investment banking money just for saving lives in ways that demand years of training and where mistakes have kind of a high cost.