"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 9 June 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Loaded with Options


[Gears. Gears make the machine run.  Man is a machine. These men run the machine.]

It's getting to be more popular

than Bruce Willis, frisbee golf,

and ethics violations: Pin the

tail on the CEO. Lacking for

popular public outrage, it's

always possible to rile the

natives by pointing out how much

dough American executives make.

It may not exactly be a call to

arms, but it certainly fuels the

water-cooler cabal.


[Door with money.  Behind the doors in corporate America, you have payola.  Lots and lots of money.]

Our friends at the AFL-CIO are

doing their best to guarantee

that the revolution will be

publicized. They launched a

useful Web site called Executive

Paywatch, which tracks the

absurd salaries and bonuses of

100 of the country's most

important chief executives. Most

conniving of all is Paywatch's

compensation calculator, a

wicked little CGI script that

happily compares your salary to

the corporate godhead of your

choice - and translates the

difference into working years.

For example, if you're an honest

laborer (or a lazy shyster, for

that matter) making median

American income, you'll discover

that in roughly 5,000 years

you'll have made what Michael

Eisner pulls down in one. Now if

that's not gratuitous

rabble-rousing, we don't know

shipping receipts from shoe



[This man makes an obscene amount of money.  His name is Jim Barksdale.  He works for a corporate giant.]

Ironically, James Barksdale

announced that he'll be banking

just US$1 in salary this year as

head of Netscape. But before

everybody and their accountant

swoons under the influence of

this incredible act of

selflessness and loyalty, it may

be relevant to point out that

the man sold most of his stock

options last year to the tune of

$100 million. The poster boy for

corporate beatitude happened to

cash out at a time when

Netscape's Wall Street profile

was still looking more like

Schwarzenegger than Horseshack,

and while his business card may

say "Sweathog," there can be

little doubt that his personal

checking account says



Barksdale's explanation for the

paltry salary is precisely the

same strain of noxious reasoning

that's gotten us into this fine,

wage-polarized pickle: That his

pay should reflect the financial

performance of his company,

rather than the actual work he

does. Ever since '80s

deregulation made "antitrust" a

word with about as much sting as

"ca-ca," corporate boards have

leashed CEO compensation

directly to stock performance.

This, of course, has made the

upper crust of corporate America

more beholden to their

shareholders than to their

employees or customers. The only

people we know of with a more

twisted, convoluted approach to

their jobs are health insurers

and pimps.


[The UAW needs more money and more breaks.  Give 'em a break.]

The real paradox is that these

people are supposed to be so

darn facile with money. If

that's the case, we have a hard

time understanding why they

can't find a way to leverage $5

an hour into something really

special. Indeed, what can

Lawrence Coss' $102 million

paycheck buy that $50 million

can't - besides the Lincoln

Bedroom? If there's an honest

answer to that question, you've

got to wonder what he's doing

heading one of the world's

larger financial institutions

rather than one of its smaller



A study published in the

Financial Times reports the

earth-shattering news that

excessive executive compensation

tends to undermine the morale of

a company's rank-and-file.

That's about as hard to believe

as the incredible claim that the

tobacco industry has secretly

known all along that smoking may

be addictive. Indeed, as John

Cassidy points out in The New

Yorker, "nailing the myth of the

overpaid CEO," it's hard to

understand where America's

blue-collar rage is coming from,

when our corporate leaders make

scarcely more than 200 times

what the rest of us make, and

when their compensation

increases at just 18 times the

rate of the cost of living,

while the rest of us have stayed

ahead of it by a whopping 1



[It's a clock.  The universal symbol of time.  Well maybe not universal, but at least in America.  In Canada?  Nope.  Probably not.]

Citing a kind of psycho-corporate

corollary to the Iron Law of

Oligarchy, Holman Jenkins writes

in The Wall Street Journal that

American CEO's are a pretty

unstable lot, by and large:

"There is a place for manic

depressives. We call these

people 'management,' and harness

their search for equilibrium to

the general good with stock

options." Perhaps the big

leather chair in the corner

office is the best place for

many of these downwardly

immobile bipolars, whose lives

revolve around cellphones,

profit margins, value-adds,

conference calls, pinstripes,

four-star hotels, and a whole

species of executive



It's hard to argue with the

incentive of such hefty

executive wages; really, who can

resist the kind of solvency that

only Ivy League endowments,

state lotteries, and upstart

pharmaceuticals can dream of

these days? But between the

sterile antilifestyle, the

rising tide of popular

resentment, and a bull market

that's baiting an angry bear,

there are times when this

particular slice of the American

Dream looks like a cup of weak

soup and half a shit sandwich.

Still, all we can say is pass

the breath mints: Most Americans

would jump at the chance to swap

their denim coveralls for a

velvet bib.


While Marx and Engels would

undoubtedly blanch at the

slightly higher than subsistence

wages we pay our corporate

figureheads, all you have to do

is take the pulse of modern

communism to realize the only

career that's more lively with

sustainable scandal and excess

is American politics. The poor

may inherit the earth, but by

that time the rich will be

shopping somewhere else.

courtesy of E.L. Skinner

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