Thursday, October 2, 2008

Disgusted by Plutocrats

Writing in today's NYT, Nicholas Kristof addresses the 'executive compensation', better known as big CEO salaries. Based on his experience in Japan in the early 1990's as a foreign correspondent, he saw a resentment of huge executive salaries and perks lead to a generally economic downturn that hasn't really ended. He proposes this remedy:

A starting point would be to remove tax subsidies on executive pay and allow courts to restructure mortgages as they do other kinds of debt. The Institute for Policy Studies in Washington estimates that U.S. taxpayers every year provide more than $20 billion in tax subsidies for executive pay.

Among the strongest critics of inflated executive pay have been Warren Buffett and the late management guru, Peter Drucker, who argued that C.E.O. salaries should peak at no more than 20 or 25 times those of the average worker. (Last year, C.E.O.’s got an average of 344 times the wages of the typical worker.)

The truth is that with the complicity of boards of directors, C.E.O.’s hijack shareholder wealth in ways that are unconscionable. As The Wall Street Journal reported in June, if Eugene Isenberg, the 78-year-old C.E.O. of Nabors Industries, were to drop dead one of these days, his estate would be entitled to a “severance payment” of at least $263 million — more than the firm’s first-quarter net earnings.

With such greed oozing out of the corporate suite, and with financial companies enjoying the confidence of only 10 percent of Americans today (down from 36 percent in 2000), it’s no wonder that voters are repulsed by the idea of helping banks. Wall Street urgently needs to undertake its own housecleaning, for the public revulsion toward it undermines its own long-term interests.

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