CEO PAY: THE RACE TO THE TOP FOR THOSE AT THE TOP

ABSTRACT: CEO pay has increased over 50% in the last 4 years while pay for workers has barely increased. The typical CEO’s pay in 2013 was $10.5 million. The industry with the fastest growth in pay was the banking industry where CEO pay grew 22% in 2013 – on top of 22% growth the year before. While the economy remains weak and unemployment is high, the executives in the banking sector – that we as taxpayers bailed out after they crashed our economy – are making money hand over fist.

CEO pay has increased dramatically over not only the last 4 years but over the last 35 years for a variety of reasons. There also are a variety of reasons that the average workers’ pay has barely increased over the last 4 years and over the last 35 years as well. (See below for more detail.)

As income and wealth inequality have grown dramatically in the US over both the last 4 years and the last 35 years, the wealthy have re-invested part of their windfall in buying influence in our political system through campaign spending and lobbying. They have succeeded in tilting government policies to favor them and their large, typically multi-national, corporations.

Our elected representatives can and should change government policies and actions so that the growing inequality in the US is reduced. We, as the voters in a democratic political system, need to – and can – make them do so.

FULL POST: CEO pay has increased over 50% in the last 4 years while pay for workers has barely increased. CEO pay is now 257 times that of the average worker, up sharply from 181 times workers’ pay in 2009. The typical CEO’s pay in 2013 was $10.5 million – topping the $10 million mark for the first time. The highest paid CEO got over $68 million and the top 10 were all over $31 million. [1] CEO pay was up 8.8% last year while the average workers’ pay rose only 1.3%. [2] And CEO’s wealth is increasing dramatically too, in part because over 40% of their pay is in stock, where gains are taxed at a lower rate than regular cash income.

The industry with the fastest growth in pay was the banking industry where CEO pay grew 22% in 2013 – on top of 22% growth the year before. While the economy remains weak and unemployment is high, the executives in the banking sector – that we as taxpayers bailed out after they crashed our economyare making money hand over fist.

CEO pay has increased dramatically over not only the last 4 years but over the last 35 years for a variety of reasons. One reason is that CEO pay is set by corporate Boards of Directors that include many current and former CEOs of other corporations and often include members hand-picked by the CEO him or herself. When friends and peers set your pay level, is it any surprise you get big increases? Furthermore, every corporation and board want to tout their CEO as the best and the brightest – and, of course, therefore, the highest paid. Hence, it becomes a race to the top for those at the top. [3] If shareholder approval were required for CEO pay, perhaps things would be different.

There also are a variety of reasons that the average workers’ pay has barely increased over the last 4 years and over the last 35 years as well. Over the last 4 years, high unemployment has meant that workers have little leverage to ask for pay raises and corporations don’t need to reward workers because there is little opportunity for workers to quit and find another job. Workers’ negotiating power has also been eroded over the last 35 years by the decline of union membership and power. In 1983, over 20% of workers were members of unions compared to 11% in 2013. Globalization and technology have played a role by reducing the number of middle class jobs in the US, which tends to increase unemployment and reduce workers’ bargaining power and wages. However, their effects could have been ameliorated through rules governing trade that better protect workers both at home and abroad, as well as by policies and programs for job retraining and retention. [4]

As income and wealth inequality have grown dramatically in the US over both the last 4 years and the last 35 years, the wealthy have re-invested part of their windfall in buying influence in our political system through campaign spending and lobbying. They have succeeded in tilting government policies to favor them and their large, typically multi-national, corporations. These policies include:

  • Tax laws that a) have dramatically reduced the income tax rate on high incomes, b) have even lower rates for unearned income (i.e., income from investments), and c) favor corporations;
  • Government spending priorities, that include bailouts for financial and banking corporations but not for homeowners and workers who were devastated by the recession caused by the financial and banking industry; and
  • Labor and other laws that weaken workers’ bargaining power and fail to increase the minimum wage to keep up with inflation.

Our elected representatives can and should change government policies and actions so that the growing inequality in the US is reduced. We, as the voters in a democratic political system, need to – and can – make them do so.

[1]       Sweet, K., 5/28/14, “Median pay for CEOs rises sharply to $10.5m,” The Boston Globe from the Associated Press

[2]       Boak, J., 5/28/14, “Why executives get lavish compensation as rank-and-file wages lag,” The Boston Globe from the Associated Press

[3]       Boak, J., 5/28/14, see above

[4]       Boak, J., 5/28/14, see above

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