Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Government Imposing Executive Pay Caps, Cabinet Nominees Don't Like To Pay Taxes

President Obama plans to announce a pay cap of $500,000 on the compensation of top executives at companies that receive significant federal assistance in the future.  Any additional compensation will be restricted stock that won't vest until taxpayers have been paid back.  I find this measure to be entirely appropriate and am surprised that it only applies to companies that take "exceptional" amounts of bailout money in the future.  

Ordinarily, I don't think that government should have a hand in determining executive compensation, but in cases where taxpayers are stuck guaranteeing toxic assets and investing in failed companies that threaten to derail our economy, it's entirely appropriate that executive compensation is curbed.  Particularly since the current system for determining compensation within many US companies is corrupt and rife with conflicts.  I've always been amazed that shareholders allow corrupt and inbred boards to determine executive compensation, which is often egregious for many mediocre and poor performers.  When I read about severance packages that run in the hundreds of millions of dollars for CEOs that have been given the boot, I cringe and wonder why there isn't more of a furor from shareholders.  Why on earth do the boards allow ridiculous severance packages to be negotiated?  Executive pay consultants always offer some lame explanation claiming that CEOs bear significant risks and need to be adequately compensated.  I don't actually understand what risks they are talking about.  What exactly is so risky about accepting a job that pays millions of dollars, offers a private jet for transportation, pays insurance in case you screw up and need to go to court to defend yourself, often pays your taxes, and frequently distributes a huge lump sum if the company decides it doesn't need your services?  Furthermore, CEOs never have to give the money back even if they drive the company into the ground.  The model is: if you succeed, you are paid very well, if you fail, you are paid very well and shareholders are left holding the bag.  Our failed Wall Street institutions are fine examples of this absurdity.  The former CEOs of Merrill, Citi, Lehman, and Bear were all paid extraordinary sums of money during the boom.  Guess who was left holding the bag when the boom turned to bust?  So who exactly bore the risk?  I'll give you a hint: it wasn't the CEO.  So can we dispense with all of the highly paid compensation consultants once and for all who keep pushing for more and more egregious compensation packages because they earn a commission?  Surely a board is capable of negotiating without these clowns.

As for Obama's cabinet picks who have some issues with back taxes, I have only one question: Is it really that hard to find lawmakers who actually pay their taxes?

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