Getting it entirely wrong on fatcat CEO pay


An interesting little piece of research over at the Harvard Business Review. What do people think the difference between worker and CEO pay is and what do they think it should be? The research is interesting it's just that the conclusions people are likely to draw from it are entirely mistaken. The result won't surprise many:

We’re currently far past the late Peter Drucker’s warning that any CEO-to-worker ratio larger than 20:1 would “increase employee resentment and decrease morale.” Twenty years ago it had already hit 40 to 1, and it was around 400 to 1 at the time of his death in 2005. But this new research makes clear that, one, it’s mindbogglingly difficult for ordinary people to even guess at the actual differences between the top and the bottom; and, two, most are in agreement on what that difference should be.

“The lack of awareness of the gap in CEO to unskilled worker pay — which in the U.S. people estimate to be 30 to 1 but is in fact 350 to 1 — likely reduces citizens’ desire to take action to decrease that gap,” says Norton.

It really shouldn't surprise that an awful lot of people are remarkably ignorant about the world that they inhabit.

The error though is in what is then assumed should be done about it. For of course you can already hear the screams (from people like the High Pay Commission) insisting that as the average voter doesn't want there to be this income disparity therefore there should not be this income disparity. The error being that what the CEO of a large company gets paid is none of the damn business of the average voter.

It's the business of those doing the paying: and if the shareholders in a company wish to pay the person managing their business handsomely then that's entirely up to them. Nothing to do with the jealousy of the mob at all.

There is a small coda: some argue that it's the same old interlocking boards that keep raising the CEO's pay, knowing that their own will get raised in turn. The theory that the managerial class is ripping off the owners, the shareholders. It's true that this could happen, principal/agent theory is true. However, if this were true then private equity would be paying their managers considerably less than public companies do as they would not be subject to this rip off. Given that in reality, out here in the world, private equity pays very much better than public companies do then this isn't true either.