Posts Tagged ‘CEOs’

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Yes, American workers are angry. But not just for one reason—for many reasons.

It took a long time for U.S. political and economic elites (and their friends in economics) to understand that the American working-class has been squeezed far beyond what it can take. Even now, it’s not clear they understand, although the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have given clear indications that the establishment is out of touch.

Even then, the anxieties and frustrations of U.S. workers can’t be put down to one thing.

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Sure, as Mark Muro and Siddharth Kulkarni explain, the American working-class is angry about the loss of manufacturing jobs.

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But let’s also remember that the share of manufacturing jobs in the United States has been on a steady decline since its peak of 39 percent in 1943.

Still, the drop in the number of U.S. manufacturing jobs accelerated in the new millennium, coinciding with a rise in the offshoring of jobs to and the rise of imports from Mexico, China, and other countries in the process of capitalist development. That’s certainly one key factor.*

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But American workers are angry for other reasons—such as the fact that, as Jared Bernstein explains, their wages, which had doubled from the 1940s to the 1970s, have flat-lined since.

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Even more: only wages at the top—above the 90th and 95th percentiles (which, as I have explained before, aren’t really like other wages but, instead, represent cuts of the surplus)—have seen any appreciable increase since the start of the Second Great Depression.

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Meanwhile, even with slow growth, corporate profits (both financial and nonfinancial) continue to rise to record levels.

Thus, workers are falling further and further behind, while the tiny group at the top continues to pull away from everyone else.

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What this means is that every indicator we have—such as average incomes and the share of income captured by the top 1 percent—shows grotesque and growing levels of inequality within the United States.

So, yes, American workers are angry—at the loss of jobs, their stagnant wages, their employers’ record profits, and the obscene and still-increasing levels of inequality they witness every day.

 

*Daron Acemoglu et al. (pdf) estimate that, considering both the direct and indirect effects, import growth from China between 1999 and 2011 led to an employment reduction of 2.4 million workers—and thus about 40 percent of the decline in manufacturing employment during that period.

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We have, by all accounts, a capitalist economic system.* But who are the capitalists?

It’s one of the questions I ask my students. And they always get the answer wrong. So, in my experience, do most other people.

But it’s a key issue. If we’re going to figure out how capitalism works—and, perhaps even more important, how to change it—we need to know who the capitalists are.

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Well, for starters, they’re not the “top 1 percent” or the “billionaire class”—although many capitalists are in fact members. Those groups, which have become part of our lexicon after Occupy Wall Street and the Bernie Sanders campaign, are defined by how large their incomes are. They’re clearly at the top of the pile in terms of the size of their incomes (and, even more, wealth) but they’re able to capture (and, via low tax rates, to keep) that money not by virtue of being capitalists, but by other means. They own stocks, bonds, and property (and receive dividends, capital gains, interest, and rent) and they are often chief executives of large corporations (and receive more equity share in addition to very high salaries). They benefit from capitalism but they’re not necessarily capitalists.

To put it differently, those who belong to the “top 1 percent” or the “billionaire class” receive large shares of the surplus created within capitalism but they don’t necessarily appropriate the surplus. They don’t “share in the booty” as capitalists; instead, a portion of the surplus is distributed to them by the group of people who are the real capitalists.

So, stockholders are not capitalists. They buy (or receive as compensation) shares in capitalist enterprises, and receive a part of the surplus in the form of dividends and capital gains. Nor are CEOs (and, for that matter, CIOs, CFOs, and other top executives). They’re hired to run the corporations on a daily basis, and often receive a cut of the surplus in the form of exorbitant salaries, benefits, stocks, and golden parachutes.

My students think that shareholders or chief executives are the capitalists but they’re wrong.

So, who are the capitalists?

As we often do with students, I answer that question with another question: who today occupies the position that is constituted—economically, politically, legally, and culturally—as the representative of “capital”?

And the answer is: the corporate boards of directors. The members of the boards of directors of corporations (say, of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies) are the ones who sit at the top and are ultimately responsible for the enterprises. They are the people who, during occasional meetings of the boards (for which they receive a small fee), decide the general direction of the corporation, hire and oversee top executives, and fend off crises. In other words, they occupy the position of capital and appropriate the surplus created by the workers within those entperprises.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean the capitalists get to keep the surplus they appropriate. Some of it is retained within the enterprise to hire more workers and to invest in new software and equipment (or, increasingly these days, to be kept as cash). Another portion of it is distributed to the management, to make sure the surplus continues to be produced by the workers, and as dividends to shareholders. And still another portion is distributed outside the firm—in the form of interest payments to banks, taxes to the government, and so on.

Within contemporary capitalism, then, capitalists are members of corporate boards of directors. And it’s a tiny group. Given that boards are made up of 10-15 members, we’re talking about (for the leading, S&P 500 companies) only 6250 individuals. Even less (closer to 4500), if we subtract interlocking directorates, that is, individuals who sit on more than one board.

For all kinds of reasons, capitalists are also members of the top 1 percent, the billionaire  class, stock owners, and chief executives. But, as capitalists, as appropriators of the surplus and the personification of capital, they’re a much smaller group.

The answer therefore is: in the United States today, the capitalists are members of the tiny group of people who form the boards of directors of the nation’s largest corporations.

 

*Well, to be accurate, the economic system in the United States is not entirely or exclusively capitalist. There are all kinds of forms of noncapitalism that form the economic iceberg hidden from view below the water line. I’m thinking of things like cooperatives and worker-owned enterprises, gift exchanges and volunteering, modern forms of slavery, feudal indentured servitude, and so on. None of those can very well be described as capitalist

CEOs

The typical American has no idea how much corporate CEOs make—but they still believe CEOs are making much too much.

That’s according to a new study from researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (pdf):

Public frustration with CEO pay exists despite a public perception that CEOs earn only a fraction of their published compensation amounts. Disclosed CEO pay at Fortune 500 companies is 10 times what the average American believes those CEOs earn. The typical American believes a CEO earns $1 million in pay (average of $9.3 million), whereas median reported compensation for the CEOs of these companies is approximately $10.3 million (average of $12.2 million). . .

The vast majority (74 percent) of Americans believe that CEOs are not paid the correct amount relative to the average worker. Only 16 percent believe they are paid an appropriate amount.

Even more:

Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of Americans believe that there is a maximum amount CEOs should be paid relative to the average worker, regardless of the company and its performance. . .

Those who believe in capping CEO pay relative to the average worker would do so at a very low multiple. The typical American would limit CEO pay to no more than 6 times (17.6 times, based on average numbers) that of the average worker. These figures are significantly below current pay multiples, which are approximately 210 times based on recent compensation figures.

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Posted: 5 February 2016 in Uncategorized
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Yesterday, I wrote about the cult of CEOs.

I wonder if Hamid Bouchikhi and John R. Kimberly would also celebrate Martin Shkreli, former chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who is currently facing federal securities fraud charges.

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The United States suffers from an obscene cult of CEOs. Whether we’re talking about “Neutron Jack” Welch (who was celebrated for raising GE’s market value while laying off tens of thousands of workers) or Bill Gates (who made Microsoft competitive by engaging in anticompetitive practices) or Lloyd Blankfein (head of the “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”)—they’re routinely feted as being ruthless, “transgressive” leaders who make change happen in the corporate world.

I suppose it comes as no surprise, then, that two business professors—Hamid Bouchikhi and John R. Kimberly [ht: kc]—would extend that celebration to CEOs in the academy, by studying the decision by Dean of Arts and Letters Mark Roche to divide the Department of Economics at the University of Notre Dame.*

Transgressive leaders are those who are expected by members to abide by sacred organizational norms but who deliberately violate them for the sake of what they believe to be the greater good of the organization. . .The model of transgressive leadership we propose emerged in the wake of field work at the University of Notre Dame, where a new Dean of the College of Arts and Letters forced a paradigmatic, organizational, and managerial reorientation of economics after a long period of repeated and failed attempts by others to redirect the department.

What’s bizarre about this study is that the authors make clear that Roche did, in fact, violate many of the “sacred organizational norms” of the academy—and then they go on to celebrate him as a transgressive leader who managed to create a new, exclusively neoclassical department of economics.

What did Roche do to get to the point of forcing a split within the department? According to the authors, he “committed a series of lower intensity transgressive acts,” including expressing his own view of the paradigmatic orientation of the department, producing and publicly sharing numbers about members’ research productivity, and violating “the sacred norm of academic self-governance and democratic decision making in a research university” by appointing an advisory board, vetoing hiring proposals, and recruiting a new outside chair against the formal opposition of the existing departmental faculty. Those, of course, were all in the way—once the department itself didn’t cave to his demands—of preparing for, in 2003, the splitting of the department into two separate and unequal departments.

The department voted (15-6) against the split. So did the College Council (by a tally of 25 to 14). And the decision was challenged by several prominent mainstream economists, including Robert Solow (in a letter to the president of the university):

You should know that I am a mainstream economist, in fact a mainstream mainstream economist. But I am not an uptight mainstream economist. Economics, like any discipline, ought to welcome unorthodox ideas, and deal with them intellectually as best it can. It does pretty well, in fact. To conduct a purge, as you are doing, sounds like a confession of incapacity. I grant that you are not shooting the Trotskyites in the back of the head, but merely sending them to Siberia, That is not much of an improvement.

And Deirdre McCloskey (in an article in the Eastern Economics Journal):

What’s the problem nowadays at Notre Dame? … The Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, one Mark Roche, together with his agent in Economics, Richard Jensen, and with the backing of the Provost, Nathan Hatch, and the apparent entrepreneurship of the Dean of the Graduate School, Jeffrey Kantor, has decided that Notre Dame’s Econ Dept is broke . . . and should become mainstream…The Department has resisted. It’s being punished with appointments imposed on it; its promotions have been turned back. It may be abolished entirely, its distinctive graduate program scrapped, and a new one started that will be drearily Samuelsonian.

But the dean, with the protection of the university administration, ultimately got what he wanted. And, according to the authors, Roche’s transgressions ultimately served the good of his college because he sought to appease the faculty (by opening new communications channels and rewarding faculty members whose work met his criteria), thus leading to a celebratory self-evaluation (in his own private notes):

When I stepped down there was a truly joyful reception, as much like a wedding reception as a retirement party. It may be self-deception, but my sense was that there was more gratitude for what had been accomplished than for my leaving office.

Ultimately, Bouchikhi and Kimberly celebrate the cult of CEOs—who “have a clear vision of what needs to change and accept the collateral human cost, for others and for themselves, if they perceive causing hardship to others as a requirement.” It is a model that is well established in the corporate world and is increasingly becoming the norm in the new corporate university.

 

*Disclaimer: as regular readers of this blog know, I was a member of the Department of Economics when, in 2003, Roche, with the support of the university administration, decided to divide the department into two (one of which, the Department of Economics and Policy Studies, of which I was also a member, was dissolved by Roche’s successor, in 2010). I didn’t know about this research when it was being conducted but I am cited numerous times in the paper.

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