Archive for the 'Executive pay' Category

Feb 04 2009

Another insightful economic discsussion on the Daily Show: how to make fiscal stimulus work

I love this discussion between John Stewart and former director of the National Economics Council Lawrence Lindsey. Stewart pitches his own version of a fiscal stimulus package to the economist, and is surprised when Lindsey agrees with the plan.

I find Lindsey’s suggestion that a stimulus package should include subsidized mortgage rates to home owners fascinating. According to Lindsey, a homeowner with a $200,000 mortgage paying 6% interest on his loan would save $4,000 per year on interest payments if the government accommodated a refinanced rate of 4%. Millions of Americans currently struggling to meet all of their monthly debt obligations while continuing to put food on the table and participate in the consumer economy would benefit from such a scheme. In its current form, Obama’s stimulus package with its $150 billion or so in tax cuts will only put approximately $500 per year for two years into taxpayers’ pockets.

As a homeowner paying a 6% mortgage myself, I can personally say I’d prefer $4,000 in savings on my annual interest payments for the next 23 years (the time remaining on my mortgage) than I would $1000 in cash over the next two years. The mortgage relief plan would result in nearly $100,000 less in interest payments, freeing that income up to be spent on goods and services and contributing to real job creation.

And check out last night’s “moment of Zen”. While Obama’s stimulus package is not quite $1 trillion, it is darn close. Senator Mitch McConnell puts the vast size of the spending bill into perspective for us:

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Oct 02 2008

Will limiting exectutive pay send American business leaders packing for Europe? Probably not…

This post is in response to my colleague and fellow WW blogger Steve Latter’s recent post titled “Private market compesation: AIG CEO vs. Kobe Bryant”. It’s always enlightening to read Steve’s excellent posts, which really put things in perspective. With regards to CEO pay, it is a bit ironic that while Americans are all worked up about the high pay of its top executives, no one’s up in arms about the exorbitant salaries received by America’s professional athletes!

However, I wonder if Steve’s claim that limiting professional athletes’ pay would send the country’s top basketball players packing for leagues in other countries is true. A while back I blogged an article that asked the question of whether Lebron James would be offered a contract from a European club. James claimed that in order for him to even consider playing in Europe, he would require an offer of at least $50 million per year, more than double what he makes playing for Cleveland. – Source: LeBron would consider European offer of $50M a year or more

…the Cleveland Cavaliers’ strongest competition for LeBron James’ long-term services could be the deep-pocketed new kid on the block — Europe.

A person close to James said Tuesday that the Cavaliers’ superstar would strongly consider playing overseas if he was offered a salary of “around $50 million a year.”

James’ current contract expires after the 2010-2011 season, but he can opt out after the 2009-2010 season, and while several NBA teams are working to create salary cap space for his impending free agency, none could offer a contract beginning at even $20 million a year.

So, would Kobe be on the next plane to Lithuania if the US government (or the NBA) limited his pay to $5 million? I doubt it. That brings us to the more urgent question: Would America’s top business executives begin shipping their families and all their belongings off to Jakarta or Dhaka, Delhi or Singapore, London or Paris, if the US government attempted to limit the compensation packages of its executives? Maybe, but there are many reasons to work and live in the United States beyond the salaries offered by firms for their top executives. And upon a little research, it turns out that European executives’ pay packages have in fact been under regulation by governments for quite some time, and as a result, the incentive for American executives to jump ship for European firms should US executive compensation come under regulation may not be as strong as Steve implies.

Executive pay in Europe | Pay attention | The Economist

How excessive is bosses’ pay in Europe? It has certainly risen sharply in the past ten years, as European firms have had to compete globally for talent.  Foreign bosses now run seven of the firms in France’s CAC 40 index and five of Germany’s DAX 30. American-style bonuses and long-term incentive plans are now the norm.

European firms now benchmark pay against international peer groups in their own industries, rather than against domestic rivals, according to Piia Pilv, a pay expert at Mercer, a consultancy. But they still pay a fraction of the sums trousered each year by American executives. According to Hay Group, a management consultancy, the median European executive earns just 40% as much as his equivalent in America (see chart).

Most importantly, European companies appear to be more determined than American ones to link pay to performance. “Firms in Europe have tended to put more stringent conditions on long-term incentive awards than in America,” says Richard Bednarek, global director of executive remuneration for Hay Group. In America grants of shares are often not tied to performance, whereas European firms generally attach performance criteria to any grant of shares, typically depending on a comparison with a peer group. Such schemes often do not pay out at all, says Mr Bednarek. Dan Vasella, boss of Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical giant, and a favourite target of pay activists, earned SFr17m ($14m) in 2007, down 33% from 2006, because he missed his targets.

Clearly, the incentive to head to Europe as a result of increased scrutiny of executive compensation in the US is not as great as it would be if there did not already exist a threefold gap between US and European executive pay.

The liberal in me wonders if there is such a thing as “unfair” CEO compensation. The free market advocate in me points to other markets governments have attempted to control prices in, and the clear inefficiency that such regulation creates. Governments limiting executive pay, in theory, should have a similar effects to rent controls, or price ceilings in other markets. The quality and quantity of apartments available under rent controls declines, and price ceilings on other goods often result in shortages, meaning there’s not enough to go around among consumers… the quantity demanded exceeds the quantity supplied.

In the case of CEO pay in America, limiting compensation should, in theory, result in a shortage of highly qualified executives willing to head up American firms. But let’s be honest, even if the government placed highly stringent limits on the compensation of the country’s executives, the average executive in America would still likely be earning more than his counterpart in Europe. And since the average American CEO earns something on the order of 250 times what the average worker in his firm gets paid, increased regulation of CEO pay only help narrow this enormous gap slightly, but the incentive to make it to the top will still be strong among American workers.

Conclusions? It’s a tough issue. I want to have faith in the free market, in the price mechanism, in the efficacy of laissez faire economics. But the moral hazard of “golden parachutes” is a real concern. Should an American CEO be rewarded if he fails in his job? Steve makes the case that this “insurance” policy is necessary to attract the best and brightest to the firms willing to pay them most. Then again, something about the way the free market has created such a huge gap between executive pay and the pay of the average worker, and the threefold gap between America’s CEOs and Europes makes me think, “forget the free market, we need to get this insanity under control.”

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