Posts Tagged ‘CEOs’

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As it turns out, crows are even smarter than we thought possible.

And CEOs at large U.S. companies have collectively captured more in compensation than we thought possible.

According to Reuters [ht: ja], 300 CEOs who served throughout the 2009-2013 period at S&P 500 companies together realized about $22 billion in compensation—that’s $6 billion more in compensation than initially estimated in annual disclosures—in the form of pay, bonuses and share and option grants, or an average of $73 million each.

To put those numbers in perspective, the AFL-CIO estimates that, in 2013, the CEO-to-worker pay ratio was 331:1.* That ratio was 46:1 in 1983, 195:1 in 1993, 301: 1 in 2003.

Like any ratio, the result depends on both the denominator and the numerator. The CEO-to-worker pay ratio has grown because, during the 2009-2013 recovery, workers’ wages have remained roughly unchanged while CEO compensation has soared. Thus, the combination of falling unemployment, growing productivity, and higher corporate profits and stock prices we’ve seen in recent years hasn’t helped workers but only the owners and executives of the corporations where they work.

“The numbers can be obscene, particularly when you look at the general challenges we face as an economy and society,” said Matthew Benkendorf, a portfolio manager at Vontobel Asset Management, which oversees about $50 billion.

We’ve long known that crows are pretty clever. Remember Aesop’s famous fable “The Crow and the Pitcher”? The thirsty crow drops pebbles into a pitcher with water near the bottom, thus raising the fluid level high enough to permit the bird to drink.

Do we really need to be any more clever to figure out that—as CEO compensation continues to grow, leaving workers and everyone else further and further behind—existing economic institutions have failed us and need to be replaced?

*The CEO-to-minimum-wage-worker pay ratio in 2013 was, of course, much higher—774:1

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Americans have no idea how unequal the distribution of income is. At the same time, they want a distribution of income that is much more equal than it currently is.

According to a new study by Sorapop Kiatpongsan and Michael I. Norton [pdf], where they looked at the estimated and ideal pay ratios of CEOs and unskilled workers, American respondents estimated the ratio of estimated incomes of CEOs to unskilled workers to be 29.6, whereas the actual ratio was about 354 (based on the fact that the average yearly compensation for CEOs of S&P 500 companies in 2012 was $12.3 million while the average worker received about $35,000). Their ideal pay ratio was only 7.

In other words, Americans think that CEOs should receive about 7 times what the average worker brings home, imagine that the actual ratio is much higher (by a factor of about four), while the actual ratio is far higher than either what they think it is (by a factor of twelve) and what the ideal would be (by a factor of over fifty).

As it turns out, Americans are not alone.

Using survey data from 40 countries (N = 55,238), we compare respondents’ estimates of the wages of people in different occupations – chief executive officers, cabinet ministers, and unskilled workers – to their ideals for what those wages should be. We show that ideal pay gaps between skilled and unskilled workers are significantly smaller than estimated pay gaps, and that there is consensus across countries, socioeconomic status, and political beliefs for ideal pay ratios. Moreover, data from 16 countries reveals that people dramatically underestimate actual pay inequality.

The task, of course, is to figure out how to close the enormous gap between the actual level of inequality and what people think the amount of inequality should be. We can start by giving workers more say in running the enterprises where they are employed.

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According to the Economic Policy Institute [pdf],

For all but the highest earners, hourly wages have either stagnated or declined since 1979 (with the exception of a period of strong across-the-board wage growth in the late 1990s). Median hourly wages rose just 6.1 percent (or 0.2 percent annually) between 1979 and 2013, compared with a decline of 5.3 percent (or -0.2 percent annually) for the 10th percentile worker (i.e., the worker who earns more than only 10 percent of workers). Over the same period, the 95th percentile worker saw growth of 40.6 percent, for an annual gain of 1.0 percent.

During that same period, productivity in the U.S. economy grew 64.9 percent.

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Only the “wages” of the top 1 percent (when measured in terms of real annual wages) surpassed the growth of productivity. The cumulative change in the wages of all other groups was less.

In other words, most of the growing amount of value produced by American workers wasn’t paid back to them in the form of wages but, instead, was either retained by their employers or distributed to a tiny group of CEOs and managers at the top.