Friday, August 05, 2005

Avarice is a Sin. Corporate CEOs are Sinners.

The disparity between the paychecks of top corporate leaders and the rest of us continues to widen. And this trend will not lead anywhere good, according to Arnaud de Borchgrave, writing for The Washington Times. De Borchgrave points out:

Over the last three decades, the share of national income going to the top 1 percent of households has almost doubled -- from 7.7 percent to 14.7 percent. It reached 20 percent in 1928, the year before Wall Street's grim reaper brought on the Great Depression. Sliced another way, between 1979 and 2000, real income of the poorest fifth rose 6.4 percent while the top fifth shot up 70 percent.

This is greed, pure and simple. There is no market justification for these astronomical salaries. Do CEOs really provide such unparalleled skill and knowledge that they deserve to make in one year what the average worker might make in an entire lifetime? I have no problem with compensating business executives more than average workers, but that compensation should not vastly exceed the value these executives bring their company.

To me, this just seems like the rich keeping their fellow upper class friends rich. It’s offensive. And it’s shocking how unconcerned most Americans are about all of this. This is a country where countless citizens use a few obscure Bible quotes to condemn homosexuals and deny them rights. But why aren’t they upset about the unbridled greed exhibited by these top executives? Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality. But he warned us over and over of the dangers and deep sinfulness of greed.

We can’t regulate CEO salaries. We have to preserve the rights of corporations and the flexibility of the marketplace to set salaries. But we can condemn these men and women who so comfortably take a far larger share of our nation’s profits than they deserve. And I believe we can also demand to know the full compensation packages being handed out at the top. If companies won’t provide these figures willingly, I don’t think it’s a violation to pass a law demanding transparency.

These are people who, when fired, receive millions and millions in severance. I do not think it’s asking too much for them to reveal exactly how much they are receiving—and then publish those numbers where all can see. Doing so could very well spur the average American into getting angry enough to shame these upper class executives into significantly decreasing their salaries and willingly sharing their company’s profits more equitably.

Avarice is a sin. A big one. There is no shame in reminding these CEOs that they are sinners. That’s what I call a value issue.


At 10:48 AM, Blogger Tom Strong said...

I agree that the key to this one really has more to do with the market and less to do with regulation. A number of prominent companies (Costco and Whole Foods are two) have gained some attention for their progressive pay scales. That's a competitive advantage for those companies, in more ways than one.

Their employees are more inspired (and in many cases, more skilled). The lower rates of CEO pay mean that they have more money available for other things - not a lot more, but every inch matters. And they get good press, which matters a lot.

At 1:04 PM, Blogger Jonathan C said...

I agree with Tom, and I think it should be pointed out that despite (or perhaps because of) all the progressive business policies that Wall Street loves to ding Costco for, Costco is a company that is great for consumers and shareholders in addition to its employees.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger amba said...

Amen, brother(s)!

It's so good to hear that Costco is doing well by doing good. That's the kind of model that will be influential. The notion always is that you have to be penitential and pinched economically to do good. Yes, it can involve some sacrifice (like the sacrifice of a few million out of $20 million compensation?! Gimme a break). But if the reward is not only the financial and moral(e) health of your company (hey, cool, moral and morale are closely related!), but a clear conscience, doesn't that beat that few more million (or inches) more than your competitor? (Some of what drives greed is comparison and competitiveness.)

Vanity is also a sin, so forgive me for quoting myself:

Bring up the notion of any restraints on sex, and liberals simply evade the issue, change the subject. Bring up Jesus' radical teachings on wealth, poverty, and violence, and conservatives change the subject. That's why we can't have a conversation, much less a dialogue, on "values."

To get Biblical about it, when it comes to deadly sins, the Left gives a free pass to Lust; the Right gives a free pass to Greed. Liberals need to confront the necessity for a sexual morality, not of straights vs. gays, but of commitment vs. exploitation, meaning vs. addiction, creation vs. consumption. Conservatives need to confront Jesus' warnings about the dicey relationship between wealth and heaven and our crucial responsibility for "the least of you."

Then we can talk.


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