FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Marx Ratio: Not Clear Karl Would be Happy

Neil Irwin had an interesting Upshot piece in the New York Times that takes advantage of new data on the median worker’s pay at major corporations. The piece calculates the “Marx ratio” which is the ratio of profits per worker to the median worker’s pay. It shows this number for each of the companies who have released data on their ratio of CEO pay to median worker’s pay, as required by a provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform act.

It’s not clear exactly what this ratio is giving us. Suppose that a major manufacturer has subsidiaries in China and other low-wage countries that do most of its work. In this case, the median worker could be someone in one of these countries, giving it a low, median wage. However, it also has lots of workers (it’s likely they employ more workers per unit of output in low wage Bangladesh than in the United States) so it may have low profits per worker.

Now suppose the company contracts out its manufacturing work in low-wage countries so that the people who work in these countries are no longer on the companies payroll. This will raise the median wage by getting rid of many of the company’s lowest-paid workers. It will also raise per worker profits since it has fewer workers, but its profits will be pretty much unchanged.

There is a similar problem domestically. A company that contracts out its custodial staff, cafeteria workers, and other lower-paid workers will have higher median pay than an otherwise identical company that has many of these workers on the company’s payroll. A better measure of the profits the company makes on its workers would not be sensitive to this sort of maneuver.

Of course, the main point of the new requirement was to call attention to how high CEO pay is relative to the pay of ordinary workers. This is arguably justified if the CEO is extremely innovative and able to produce large returns to shareholders. However, there is good evidence that CEO pay bears little relationship to their value to shareholders.

In that case, the tens of millions earned by CEOs is not reflecting their contribution to the company or the economy, but rather their insider contacts that allow them to secure and hold positions. This has a corrupting impact on incomes throughout the economy since it raises the pay for both the second- and third-tier executives, as well as setting a higher benchmark for pay in the non-profit sector and government.

And, as economists and fans of arithmetic everywhere know, more money for those at the top means less money for everyone else.

This column originally appeared in Beat the Press.

More articles by:

Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. 

Weekend Edition
March 22, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
The Ghost of Fascism in the Post-Truth Era
Gabriel Rockhill
Spectacular Violence as a Weapon of War Against the Yellow Vests
H. Bruce Franklin
Trump vs. McCain: an American Horror Story
Paul Street
A Pox on the Houses of Trump and McCain, Huxleyan Media, and the Myth of “The Vietnam War”
Andrew Levine
Why Not Impeach?
Bruce E. Levine
Right-Wing Psychiatry, Love-Me Liberals and the Anti-Authoritarian Left
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Darn That (American) Dream
Charles Pierson
Rick Perry, the Saudis and a Dangerous Nuclear Deal
Moshe Adler
American Workers Should Want to Transfer Technology to China
David Rosen
Trafficking or Commercial Sex? What Recent Exposés Reveal
Nick Pemberton
The Real Parallels Between Donald Trump and George Orwell
Binoy Kampmark
Reading Manifestos: Restricting Brenton Tarrant’s The Great Replacement
Brian Cloughley
NATO’s Expensive Anniversaries
Ron Jacobs
Donald Cox: Tale of a Panther
Joseph Grosso
New York’s Hudson Yards: The Revanchist City Lives On
REZA FIYOUZAT
Is It Really So Shocking?
Bob Lord
There’s Plenty of Wealth to Go Around, But It Doesn’t
John W. Whitehead
The Growing Epidemic of Cops Shooting Family Dogs
Jeff Cohen
Let’s Not Restore or Mythologize Obama 
Christy Rodgers
Achieving Escape Velocity
Monika Zgustova
The Masculinity of the Future
Jessicah Pierre
The Real College Admissions Scandal
Peter Mayo
US Higher Education Influence Takes a Different Turn
Martha Rosenberg
New Study Confirms That Eggs are a Stroke in a Shell
Ted Rall
The Greatest Projects I Never Mad
George Wuerthner
Saving the Big Wild: Why Aren’t More Conservationists Supporting NREPA?
Norman Solomon
Reinventing Beto: How a GOP Accessory Became a Top Democratic Contender for President
Ralph Nader
Greedy Boeing’s Avoidable Design and Software Time Bombs
Tracey L. Rogers
White Supremacy is a Global Threat
Nyla Ali Khan
Intersectionalities of Gender and Politics in Indian-Administered Kashmir
Karen J. Greenberg
Citizenship in the Age of Trump: Death by a Thousand Cuts
Jill Richardson
Getting It Right on What Stuff Costs
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Puddle Jumping in New Britain
Matt Johnson
The Rich Are No Smarter Than You
Julian Vigo
College Scams and the Ills of Capitalist-Driven Education
Brian Wakamo
It’s March Madness, Unionize the NCAA!
Beth Porter
Paper Receipts Could be the Next Plastic Straws
Christopher Brauchli
Eric the Heartbroken
Louis Proyect
Rebuilding a Revolutionary Left in the USA
Sarah Piepenburg
Small Businesses Like Mine Need Paid Family and Medical Leave
Robert Koehler
Putting Our Better Angels to Work
Peter A. Coclanis
The Gray Lady is Increasingly Tone-Deaf
David Yearsley
Bach-A-Doodle-Doo
Elliot Sperber
Aunt Anna’s Antenna
March 21, 2019
Daniel Warner
And Now Algeria
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail