Hard times on half a million by Stanley Bing @FortuneMagazine February 6, 2009, 5:20 PM EDT E-mail Tweet Facebook Google Plus Linkedin Share icons Oh, the whining over fine dining that’s been heard in the all-but empty bistros of Manhattan as the last expense account executives cut into their exquisitely tender veal and complain about the Obama salary cap! Sure, a limit on comp will change the make-up of the individuals who surface for the top slots in banking and industry. And that’s a bad thing why? If a company needs a bailout — hey, let’s call it what it is: a handout — shouldn’t it come with certain strings attached? Son, if you want this money for college, you’re not going to be spending it on a car. Right? Only a wayward teen would expect otherwise. Is $500,000 base, with a bonus to be decided upon performance, an unrealistic sum? It seems so to people accustomed to the good life that was promised to them in business school and the lucre they accumulated during the boom. But where does it fall in the vast scheme of things? A little review of the factsyields some perspective. The numbers seem kind of unbelievable to me, but then I live in a variety of charming urban areas where a dinner for two that comes in under $100 is considered an eyepopping steal. Median base salaries: Elementary School Teacher: $49,979 Physician: $147,480 Manager: $128,540 Attorney: $88,944 (who are these guys?) Architect: $56,637 Registered Nurse: $61, 603 Now granted, these are median salaries. The 75th percentile of these jobs, which are arguably every bit as important in our social scheme as that of Banker, are about 20% higher than the median in each case. And of course there are those at the top of their professions that make a lot more. But this gives you some notion of what a base of $500,000 means to just about everybody but a Banker. I have an idea. How about we open the top slots at failing fiduciary institutions to Teachers, Architects and Registered Nurses? Let’s leave attorneys out of it. They’re already in there somewhere making hay while the the sun don’t shine, I bet.