CEO Self-Interest

As previously presented the recent gains in corporate profit have come largely as a result of a big squeeze on labor.   Moreover we learned the labor squeeze is well out of proportion to the economic hit corporations were taking.  But this is not the end of the story; it continues to unfold.

The 17th annual executive compensation survey recently released by the Institute for Policy Studies reports that “corporate executives, in reality, are not suffering at all…CEO pay in 2009 more than doubled the CEO pay average for the decade of the 1990s more than quadrupled the CEO pay average for the 1980s and ran approximately eight times the CEO average for all the decades of the mid-20th century.”  This is happening in an economy where underemployment and the rate of unemployment are making it very difficult for so many to just survive.


Although disconcerting, this should not be all that surprising.  Given that our economy rests upon each individual striving to maximize his/her material self-interest— improving his/her lot—then who among us is in a better position to do so than a CEO of a corporation?

More surprising though is that fact that “in 2009, the CEOs who slashed their payrolls the deepest took home 42 percent more compensation than the year’s chief executive pay average for S&P 500 companies.”  This is not just rugged individualism it is ruthless individualism.

But we mustn’t blame the greedy for doing exactly what the system expects them to do.  If anything we must turn attention squarely on our self. You see you cannot support or advocate for material self-interest being the engine of economic activity and at the same time be appalled when those in positions of authority exercise their power in a materially self-interested fashion. What’s in it for me means what ever I do is for Me, not for We.

Perhaps each of us should question whether it is in our collective—that’s the We– best interest to sustain such a system by continuing to support and cooperate with it or take action to change it.

6 thoughts on “CEO Self-Interest

  1. Yesterday I heard a bit of an interview on “Talk of the Nation” with Kwame Anthony Appiah about his new book, “The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen”. Honor is tied up with social expectations, status, power and avoiding shame amongst one’s peers. Shame come from failing to act on the “honor” code of one’s peer group. For these CEOs honor derives from these financial rewards.

    We must convert our response to this “ruthless individualism” from glorifying and wishing to emulate their success, into responding to it as a shameful behavior. I suppose this starts with explaining why it is shameful.

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