Are Wall Street Regulators Overpaid Losers?

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This man will not rest until Richard Cordray is driving a used Hyundai. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/Corbis

Ask Randy Neugebauer, a House Republican from Texas, what the problem with our financial sector is, and he'll tell you the truth. Excessive CEO pay? Errant high-frequency trading algorithms? Rampant interest-rate-rigging?

Nope. It's that regulators — the people in charge of safeguarding the financial system, exposing hidden bank fees, rooting out insider traders, and the like — are living like a bunch of goddamned rock stars.

In today's WSJ op-ed section, Representative Neugebauer argues that roughly 60 percent of the regulators in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau make more than $100,000 a year and that Richard Cordray, the agency's director, is paid more than $165,000, for doing essentially nothing.

I look at hardworking Americans — who make a median annual salary of $50,054 — and I wonder: Why is it necessary for a government agency, let alone one that was created to assist and protect consumers, to pay the majority of its employees six-figure salaries?

Preach it, Rep. Neugebauer! Why would we want people with the piddling, unimportant task of protecting consumers from fraud and abuse at the hands of their banks to be earning more than an average auto worker? Why can't we pull people off the street, pay them minimum wage, give them a sheriff's star and a slide rule, and set them loose on Bank of America and Citigroup?

Rep. Neugebauer also has beef with how regulators are spending their massive, richer-than-Croesus budgets on frivolous things. Things like office renovations. (Who needs an office? Put 'em in a yurt!) Things like "[providing] consumer information in 187 languages." (Because only English-speakers deserve to know what their credit card's interest rates are!) Things like taking the MegaBus to meetings in New York. (Have you felt how soft those seats are?)

Now, some people might say, "Hold on, Rep. Neugebauer. $100,000 is actually not a lot to pay a highly trained consumer protection specialist who probably went to grad school, got lucrative offers to work on Wall Street, and turned them down to pursue a career in government watchdogging." They might even make a fuss about the fact that the CFPB's budget of $550 million is less than 1 percent of the size of the market it polices — that it's even small compared to the budgets of agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ($1.7 billion in 2012).

But those people are wrong, because Rep. Neugebauer is onto something here. In fact, it's possible he didn't go far enough.

Why pay the CFPB's enforcers at all? Why not give them Starbucks gift cards every two weeks? Or FarmVille credits? Why not just replace all regulators in Washington with software programs that call Wall Street executives and play them prerecorded messages that say, "Do the right thing today!"

At the very least, we should stop funding these agencies with taxpayer dollars and get some multimillionaire with an interest in public service to foot the bill. Now, where would we find one of those?