Sunday, October 9, 2011

More on Executive Compensation

I do not agree with the amount of vitriol in the linked post, but Joshua Brown has a very strong set of feeling on the decision to pay two low level executives at Bank of America an $11 million dollar severance package:

You pay fired executives more in severance than the average American worker will earn in a lifetime. For most people on the outside looking in, this seems like it's from outer space, another world entirely. These numbers just do not exist to regular human beings, they cannot be fathomed.

He also points out the bad timing:

It's not that this isn't your prerogative as a private company - it is. But seriously, numbers like these at a time when you're instituting added fees on customer accounts just sound farcical, almost like you're making these payments to get a reaction out people.

I have been interested in this dynamic for a while. Mostly because I am beginning to see executive compensation as an intriguing form of market failure. After all, let us consider the example of these two executives. What are they being compensated for?

Do executives at banks really add so much value that $5.5 million dollar severance packages are just a way of saying thank you? Is there really no competitive pressure on salaries? Is the supply of potential bankers really this low? Supply side issues seem to be dubious. Are these skills really so rare (and, if they are, how do banks really select for them because the rest of us want to know).

Or is it due to the risk of taking a corporate job instead of being a school teacher? Well, these two executives are not really taking any real risk. Even if this is the last job either one ever holds. they are already well above the typical lifetime earnings curve based on this severance package alone. Debts required to reach this position (like School debt) are simply dwarfed by the size of the payout.

It is a very interesting problem.

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