The giant insurance firm AIG has been paying bonuses to its top management team after those same people engineered huge losses that required more than one federal bailout.

To what can this be compared? Bonuses to the Washington Nationals for their stellar 2008 season when they lost 102 games? Bonus money for quarterbacks for each interception they throw? Why are we rewarding failure with the tax dollars of the successful?

Congress gets automatic pay increases for bad performance on just about everything. And Congress helped get us into this financial mess. They are currently spending more money we don't have, claiming it will get us out. Right. And the way to solve our problem with too many ethical failures in government is to elect and appoint more of the ethically challenged.

At least Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner managed to persuade AIG to cut in half the $9.6 million slated for the top 50 executives and tie the rest to performance.

Imagine that: To be paid for performance and not incompetence, malfeasance and misfeasance. If such a standard were applied, not only to AIG, but to, say, Congress and politicians generally, we might not be in the mess we are in.

The line I like best is that if these guys don't get their bonuses, AIG and other companies that play this game with our money might not be able to retain their top talent. Well, excuse me, if this is top talent, I vote for trying bottom talent for a while.

Some people want merit pay for teachers. If that's a good idea, why not merit pay for corporate heads and politicians? If they don't perform, they don't get paid. If I were that incompetent, I wouldn't get a bailout and bonuses to boot. I'd get shown the door.

Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated op-ed columnist. He joined Fox News Channel in 1997 as a political contributor. His latest book is "What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America" is available in bookstores now. Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribune.com.