There’s nothing more pathetic than watching a right-winger apologize for bloated CEO pay. In the latest example of this hackneyed genre, one Howard Owens oozes forth on Blogcritics:
“But of course there’s a reason CEOs make millions and baggers make mere thousands — CEOs contribute more to the bottom line than baggers do. Good CEOs are harder to find than good baggers. CEOs need more training and more experience. CEOs deal with greater pressures. And if they do their job well, the $88 million they earn in stock options are a mere pittance compared to what they earn for the entire pool of investors.”
Well, anyone who’s ever pulled crushed eggs and flattened bread out of his grocery bags at home can attest that good baggers are indeed a rare breed. But more importantly, Mr. Owens has apparently been sleeping the last few years: Enron, Tyco, Arthur Anderson, ad nauseam, all demonstrate the breathtaking criminality and incompetence of the CEO class. Nor are these names exceptions: just in the past 2 weeks alone, Wall Street has been gripped by a wave of scandals over market timing and after-hours trading (i.e., “cheating”). As Alexander Cockburn has remarked, the business schools in this country have bred criminality on a scale that dwarfs the inner city ghettos.
Why do CEOs make so much money? They do so for the same reason Fidel Castro has attained so much power: They can. Business executives sit on each other’s boards and belong to each other’s country clubs: when it comes to compensation, they are just rewarding their own.
Nor do executives hold themselves to the rigorous performance standards they demand of others. When stock prices fall, options are conveniently “reset” so they don’t lose their value. CEOs dismissed for “failure” reap abundant compensation packages. As one who toils in corporate America, I can confirm that most companies succeed despite, not because of, their CEOs.
Mr. Owens also weighs in with the view that CEO pay is not that excessive because, stretched out over a company’s many thousands of employees, it wouldn’t amount to much. This is irrelevant. What is sickening about executive pay is the stomach turning hypocrisy it embodies: CEOs who face no real penalty for failure lecture everyone else about “pay for performance.” Executives who have never struggled with a healthcare deductible for their children, or watched a chintzy 401(a) decline in value, destroy the livelihoods of the deli clerks and store managers who do the actual work.
Like so many other institutions in American life, such as the Catholic Church and the Congress and the White House, the American corporate class is rife with cronyism and self-dealing. A reckoning is way overdue.
I say hail the striking grocery workers in California and their noble struggle. Like most movements of the dispossessed, they are most likely doomed. But even the chance they might succeed is an inspiring thought.