During the 2008 presidential campaign when candidate Barack Obama told "Joe the Plumber" that he wanted to "spread the wealth around," it sounded to a lot of conservatives like socialism: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," in the words of Karl Marx.
There is a kind of wealth spreading, however, that ought to meet the political litmus test of conservative Republicans, liberal Democrats and radical Independents. At a time of high unemployment, too many layoffs and too few new jobs in the private sector (230,000 jobs were created last month, according to the Labor Department, but unemployment continues to officially hover at just under 9 percent and Gallup calculates it, without seasonal adjustment, at 10.0 percent), it is disheartening to see so many CEOs having recovered enough from their personal recession to pay themselves salaries and benefits that would have shamed the super-rich in America's Gilded Age.
USA Today reported last week in a story on CEO compensation that "three-quarters of CEOs got raises -- and, in many cases, the increases were substantial." Employee pay, on the other hand, effectively stalled. Median CEO pay, reported the newspaper, increased 27 percent last year, meaning the average CEO received $9 million in 2010. Even in a struggling economy, I wager most people could get by on $9 million a year. In a strange twist, General Electric, whose chairman Jeffrey Immelt now advises President Obama on job creation, paid no taxes last year, despite earning $14 billion. But that's another column.
Unlike my liberal friends, I don't obsess about how much money other people make. Whatever compensation someone can negotiate is fine with me. Whether a person is "worth" their pay is a subjective matter and open to debate.
The moral issue in executive pay is whether management deserves these high salaries while employees are laid off, or denied pay increases.
Last April the Baltimore Sun reported that Stanley-Black and Decker in Towson, Md., announced plans to lay off 4,000 of its 38,000 employees. Yet, according to USA Today, Stanley-Black & Decker CEO John Lundgren made more than $32 million in 2010, up 253.1 percent from the previous year.
U.S. Bancorp Chairman Richard Davis was paid $16.1 million in 2010, a 143.0 percent compensation boost. In January, U.S. Bancorp announced that 64 workers in its Milwaukee office would be cut.
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