Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Attitudes of CEOs

I put together a few excepts from some recent articles I just read, and they pretty much sum up the whole story (of course, it's suggested that you read through all the links to get the bigger picture.)

Paul Krugman refers to our "Masters of the Universe" as "sociopaths" while defending their privileged lives --- the CEO of Blackstone was outraged at the notion that he might be required to pay taxes just like the little people --- and the CEO of AIG was entitled to public bailouts; and that its executives shouldn’t be expected to make any sacrifices in return. 

New York Times: Plutocrats Feeling Persecuted

Sometimes the wealthy talk as if they were characters in “Atlas Shrugged,” demanding nothing more from society than that the moochers leave them alone. But these men were speaking for, not against, redistribution — redistribution from the 99 percent to people like them. This isn’t libertarianism; it’s a demand for special treatment. It’s not Ayn Rand; it’s "ancien rĂ©gime" (an monarchic, aristocratic, social and political system).

Members of the 0.01 percent are explicit about their sense of entitlement...The billionaire vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, declared that we should “thank God” for the bailout of Wall Street, but that ordinary Americans in financial distress should just “suck it in and cope.” ...And he declared that the retirement age should go up to 70 or even 80.

The thing is, by and large, the wealthy have gotten their wish. Wall Street was bailed out, while workers and homeowners weren’t. Our so-called recovery has done nothing much for ordinary workers, but incomes at the top have soared. So why the anger? Why the whining? Well, I have a theory.

When you have that much money, what is it you’re trying to buy by making even more? You already have the multiple big houses, the servants, the private jet. What you really want now is adulation; you want the world to bow before your success. And so the thought that people in the media, in Congress and even in the White House are saying critical things about people like you drives you wild.

It is, of course, incredibly petty. But money brings power, and thanks to surging inequality, these petty people have a lot of money. So their whining, their anger that they don’t receive universal deference, can have real political consequences.

New York Times: Exposing the Pay Gap

Of all the provisions in the vast and complex Dodd-Frank financial reform law, one of the most far-reaching is also the most direct and easily understood. It requires public companies to compute and disclose the ratio of a chief executive’s pay to that of a typical employee. 

The information is vital. It would allow investors to more accurately judge the effect of pay structures on company performance. It would inform investors’ votes on executive pay, because it would be a benchmark for determining whether executive pay is excessive.

It would also help regulators and policy makers detect bubbles and impending crashes, because those often correlate to widening pay gaps. And it would help alert consumers and taxpayers to companies where work forces are underpaid, even as executive pay soars, a circumstance that often requires taxpayer dollars be spent on assistance to low-wage workers (such as food stamps).

In recent decades, changing corporate norms have allowed C.E.O. compensation over all to balloon to nearly 300 times what typical employees make. Company-specific data on pay gaps will force chief executives and their boards to justify just how out of kilter pay scales have become.

The Wall Street Journal: Oracle and Larry Ellison's Excessive Pay

Investors have been growing more dissatisfied with Oracle Corp.'s years of high pay for Chief Executive Larry Ellison. Some shareholders complain that Mr. Ellison, who founded the software giant and beneficially owns a quarter of the company's shares, continues to receive tens of millions of dollars of stock options every year, even when Oracle's performance has been mixed.

Mr. Ellison received compensation valued at $76.9 million in the fiscal year that ended in May. Even with Mr. Ellison's large stake in the company, Oracle only narrowly won investor support for its executive-pay practices in 2011 and suffered a defeat in 2012. Opponents included Vanguard Group Inc. and BlackRock Inc., Oracle's largest and third-largest institutional shareholders. BlackRock also voted against the reelection of five Oracle directors, including those serving on the pay panel.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Bruce R. Chizen, chairman of the Oracle board's compensation committee, CtW Investment Group said it would vote against the company's compensation practices and possibly seek to unseat directors on the compensation committee if Oracle doesn't put limits on its options awards and bring in a new, independent director to help oversee pay. CtW is a frequent critic of what it sees as excessive CEO pay. Among other things, CtW wants Oracle to index its options awards to an industry-specific benchmark and tie them to a metric like return on equity.

The investor disquiet is evident in the results of Oracle's annual say-on-pay votes, a nonbinding referendum mandated by the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul. Shareholders rejected the company's pay practices at the last annual meeting.

Paul Krugman: Rage of the Privileged

Mark Thoma has an excellent column at the Fiscal Times linking the fight over the debt ceiling to the larger issue of extreme inequality.

Rising inequality and differential exposure to economic risk has caused one group to see themselves as the “makers” in society who provide for the rest and pay most of the bills, and the other group as “takers” who get all the benefits. The upper strata wonders, “Why should we pay for social insurance when we get little or none of the benefits?” and this leads to an attack on these programs.

One could add that the very inequality that distances the rich from ordinary concerns gives them increased power, and so makes their anti-welfare-state views far more influential...Many of the rich are selective in their opposition to government helping the unlucky. They’re against stuff like food stamps and unemployment benefits; but bailing out Wall Street? Yay!

BusinessWeek: Ayn Rand is Ruining the Economy

Forbes contributor Harry Binswanger (who is a disciple of the writer Ayn Rand) argued this week that people who make $1+ million a year are so valuable to society that they shouldn't pay any taxes. Far from these million-dollar earners paying more taxes, Binswanger argued, the rest of America should "give back" to the 1% by thanking them for their service to the country and rewarding them by exempting them from taxation.

Conversable Economist: Further Notes on the Declining U.S. Labor Share

The labor share of total income has declined in recent years, both in the U.S. economy and around the world. New Study: The Decline of the U.S. Labor Share  - The decline in labor share is not the same as the rise in inequality of incomes...the decline in the labor share conceals, rather than exposes, most of the large increases in inequality that have emerged in recent decades. "Our analysis identifies offshoring of the labor-intensive part of the U.S supply chain as a leading potential explanation for the decline in the labor share."

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