FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Taxpayers are Footing the Bill for Sky-High CEO Pay

Photo Source Luciano Castillo | CC BY 2.0

Politicians often gab about the “private sector” and the “public sector,” as if these two categories of economic activity operated as two completely separate worlds.

In reality, these two sectors have always been deeply intertwined.

How deeply? Every year, the federal government spends about half a trillion dollars buying goods and services from the private sector. State and local government contracts with private-sector enterprises add hundreds of billions more.

And private-sector companies don’t just receive contracts from our governmental entities. They receive all sorts of subsidies — billions upon billions of dollars in “corporate welfare.”

Where do all these dollars come from? They come from us, America’s taxpayers. Without the tax dollars we provide, almost every major corporation in the United States would flounder. Some would simply cease to exist. The defense contractor Lockheed Martin, for instance, takes in almost all its revenue from government contracts.

This private sector reliance on public tax dollars gives us, as citizens, some leverage over the behavior of our largest and most powerful corporations. We could, if we so chose, deny those dollars to corporations that engage in behaviors that undermine the values we hold dear.

On other fronts, we already do this denying. For over a generation now, we’ve leveraged the power of the public purse against companies with employment practices that discriminate on the basis of race and gender. Companies that discriminate can’t get government contracts because we’ve come to a consensus, as a society, that we don’t want our tax dollars subsidizing racial and gender inequality.

Unfortunately, our tax dollars are still subsidizing — in a big way — economic inequality, as a new Institute for Policy Studies report on CEO pay details quite vividly. Billions of our tax dollars are annually going to corporations that pay their top executives more in a week, or even a day, than their typical employees can make over an entire year.

The late Peter Drucker, the founder of modern management science, believed that no corporate enterprise that pays its CEO over 25 times what its workers are earning could operate efficiently and effectively over the long haul. In 2017, every single one of the federal government’s 50 largest private contractors paid its chief executive over 25 times more than its most typical workers.

In fact, most paid their top execs well over 100 times more.

And at one, DXC Technology, the CEO pulled down over $32 million in 2017 pay — over 800 times the compensation of the firm’s typical employees.

Let’s add a little context here. The president of the United States earns $400,000 a year. The CEOs of the 50 private companies with the largest federal contracts last year averaged over $13.5 million. The CEOs of the 50 largest recipients of federal subsidies last year averaged over $12 million.

Our tax dollars, in other words, are helping a lucky few become fabulously rich.

We do live, as our politicians like to point out, in a “free country.” Corporations can pay their top execs whatever they want. But we taxpayers have freedom, too. We can freely deny our tax dollars to enterprises that are making our society ever more unequal.

Some lawmakers are starting to step in that direction. Five states have begun considering legislation that would make it harder for companies with wide CEO-worker pay gaps to get government contracts and tax breaks. And one city — Portland, Oregon — has already enacted legislation that taxes corporations with wide CEO-worker pay gaps at a higher rate than corporations with more modest gaps.

We need more Portlands.

More articles by:

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). 

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Justin Anderson
Don’t Count the Left Out Just Yet
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
September 20, 2018
Michael Hudson
Wasting the Lehman Crisis: What Was Not Saved Was the Economy
John Pilger
Hold the Front Page, the Reporters are Missing
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail