Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Obama Wants to Set Your Pay

But not just yet. For starters, we're going after C EOs and corporate executives, but with an ineffectual measure that will allow Dear Leader to call for more severe regulation later. But if you're a Doctor, it's probably sooner rather than later.

Is “Executive Pay” a systemic problem? Maybe, maybe not. There's always a few cases that raise the eyebrows. For most investors, if you don't like the CEO's pay structure, and think that it's harming the long term interests of the company, sell out and buy into another company. That's why there's a stock market.

One thing that we're likely to see out of this mess is that pay packages will take on a different structure.”Bonuses” and variable pay will become a thing of the past, and fixed pay will increase, as well as more hidden terms of compensation. Alternatively, corporations will flee offshore to locations where they can provide competitive pay packages.

Just as SOX drove companies to Hong Kong and London, restricting pay packages on executives will move those jobs to places where they are appreciated.

As a side note, Brad Pitt probably makes more than almost all CEOs. Should the shareholders have voting rights over his compensation for a film? What if the film bombs? Should there be a “clawback” provision? What if CC Sabathia tanks for the Yankees? Various Governments have coughed up billions in subsides for the new Yankee Stadium. Why is he getting this kind of dough? Once you play this card against evil businessmen, there's no telling who will wind up on the gallows next.

As an additional side note, there's a non-trivial percentage of this problem that has it's roots in the Death Tax. Given the government's predation of the estates of businessmen, families are often forced to sell out the family business, rather than keeping at it for generations. Owners tend to take a longer term interest, and are less likely to plunder the company for short term gain. Increasing multi generational ownership of companies would do a lot toward mitigating the agency problem.

It's not a perfect solution, because it's not a perfect world.