The CEO of a corporation is supposed to act as the rudder of the ship; a leader; someone that sets an example for the rest of the corporation’s employees. But, increasingly, CEOs set an example of greed and unethical, even criminal, behavior.
According to a recent study by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), in 2012 the CEOs of large corporations were paid approximately 354 times as much as the average American worker. Worse, about 40 percent of the CEOs were fired for cause, paid fines or settlements for fraud, or resorted to asking the government to bail out their companies.
The IPS study also found that about 30 percent of corporations led by the highest-paid CEOs were subsidized with taxpayer money. By taking advantage of a variety of tax deductions and loopholes, CEOs have been able to increase corporate profits while reducing or eliminating corporate taxes. And since most of these corporations are multinational, many have created P.O. Box “headquarters” in offshore tax havens to shelter corporate profits. By “gaming” the tax codes, the CEOs are able to pocket the savings for themselves.
Moreover, most CEO compensation is based on share price. That may seem like a good idea that encourages CEOs to work for the benefit of stakeholders. But the real reason for such compensation plans is self-interest. It’s easy for a CEO to make decisions that will increase sales and share prices over the short term, yet mortgage the company’s future. Unfortunately, many CEOs simply don’t care about the future because they don’t plan to be with the company more than 2-3 years. That’s all the time they need to be set for life.
But many want even more.
Unwilling to settle for multi-million dollar salaries, stock options, perks and a long list of benefits, some corporate CEOs create what amount to elaborate Ponzi schemes and a variety of high stakes gambling schemes using investors’ money. When their schemes fail, they seldom face charges and, even when they’re indicted, they’re seldom subjected to jail time. On those rare occasions when they are, “jail” often looks more like a country club and their sentences are often reduced or commuted.
Worse, when unscrupulous CEOs are fired, resign or are forced out, they almost always receive “golden parachutes” consisting of full retirement benefits and large lump sum payments allowing them to walk away with tens of millions in ill-gotten gains subsidized by investors and middle class taxpayers. Meanwhile a high school dropout from the inner city who steals $50 can serve years of hard time.
It makes one wonder whatever happened to the nation that once proudly proclaimed “all men are created equal.”