FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Tracking CEO Compensation

by SAM PIZZIGATI

Under current U.S. law, all our publicly traded corporations must annually disclose exactly what they pay their top executives. So why do all those CEO pay scorecards we see every spring show such different results?

USA Today found an 8 percent hike in 2012 CEO pay while The New York Times detected an 18.7 percent increase. Towers Watson, a corporate consulting firm, announced that CEO pay growth “slowed considerably,” rising at just a 1.2 percent rate last year.

What explains all these wildly divergent results? Let’s start with how corporations pay their top execs. This can get tricky.

Most executive pay today comes as stock-related compensation. Stock “options” give executives the right, down the road, to buy shares of their company stock at today’s share price. If that share price jumps, the execs can buy low and sell high. Instant windfall.

“Restricted” stock awards, on the other hand, give executives actual shares of stock, not just an option to buy them. Execs do have to wait a few years before they can actually claim these shares. No big deal. The shares will still have value in future years even if a company’s stock takes a hit.

But how should we value all this share-related compensation right now? Should CEO pay scorekeepers estimate how much stock awards granted this year will be worth in years to come? Or should scorekeepers only tally stock-related awards when execs actually profit personally from them?

Different executive pay scorekeepers give different answers. Scorekeepers also keep score on different sets of corporations. USA Today‘s new scorecard for 2012 tallies pay at 170 firms, the New York Times at just 100.

Given all this, do we have any single stat that tells us what we need to know? We do. That stat: the divide between worker and top executive pay.

America’s big-time CEOs, labor researchers at the AFL-CIO report, are now making 354 times the pay of average U.S. workers, the “largest pay gap in the world.”

Three decades ago, in 1982, American CEOs averaged just 42 times more than average U.S. workers. Two decades ago, in 1992, the gap stood at 201 times. A decade ago: 281 times.

The overall trend line, in other words, couldn’t be clearer. How can we reverse it? Identifying the specific pay gap between individual CEOs and their own workers would be a good first step.

Corporations have had to publish, for decades now, how much they pay their top execs. They haven’t had to reveal publicly how much — or how little — they pay their workers. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act enacted in 2010 changes this dynamic, at least on paper.

Dodd-Frank requires corporations to annually disclose the gap between what they pay their CEOs and their most typical workers. But a corporate lobbying blitz has kept the Securities and Exchange Commission from writing the regulations needed to enforce this disclosure mandate.

Why do our biggest corporations so fervently oppose disclosing their CEO-worker pay ratios? Disclosure by itself, after all, won’t shove down CEO pay levels. But disclosure could open the door to other steps that could curb CEO pay excess.

Lawmakers could, for instance, choose to deny government contracts or tax breaks to corporations that pay their top executives over 25 or even 50 times what their own workers are making.

Far-fetched? Current law already denies government contracts to companies that discriminate by race or gender in their employment practices. As a society, we’ve concluded that our tax dollars must not go to corporations that widen racial or gender inequality.

So why should we let our tax dollars enrich corporations that widen our economic divide?

Sam Pizzigati is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC, editor of the journal Too Much and author of The Rich Don’t Always Win, Seven Stories Press, New York.

This column is distributed by OtherWords.

Sam Pizzigati writes on inequality for the Institute for Policy Studies. His latest book is The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970 (Seven Stories Press). 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail