Lose Money Get Raise

by Chris Sturr | April 27, 2009

The New York Times has a nice chart showing how CEOs from public companies are making out like bandits with massive pay raises even while their bottom lines plummet.

Some tidbits: ArcherDanielsMidland CEO Patricia A. Woertz saw her compensation jump 397% to $15 million from 2007 to 2008 while profits fell 17%.

Data giant EMC’s CEO Joseph M. Tucci a 148% raise in 2008 to $11.7 million while the company lost money.

On a similar note, Paul Krugman laments that compensation for investment bankers is zooming back up to levels from pre-meltdown days. As he notes:

there’s no longer any reason to believe that the wizards of Wall Street actually contribute anything positive to society, let alone enough to justify those humongous paychecks.

One can argue that it’s necessary to rescue Wall Street to protect the economy as a whole – and in fact I agree. But given all that taxpayer money on the line, financial firms should be acting like public utilities, not returning to the practices and paychecks of 2007.

Furthermore, paying vast sums to wheeler-dealers isn’t just outrageous; it’s dangerous. Why, after all, did bankers take such huge risks? Because success – or even the temporary appearance of success – offered such gigantic rewards: even executives who blew up their companies could and did walk away with hundreds of millions. Now we’re seeing similar rewards offered to people who can play their risky games with federal backing.

So what’s going on here? Why are paychecks heading for the stratosphere again? Claims that firms have to pay these salaries to retain their best people aren’t plausible: with employment in the financial sector plunging, where are those people going to go?

No, the real reason financial firms are paying big again is simply because they can. They’re making money again (although not as much as they claim), and why not? After all, they can borrow cheaply, thanks to all those federal guarantees, and lend at much higher rates. So it’s eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may be regulated.

–d.f.

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