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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Why Supersized CEO Pay Is the Worst - in Three Charts

August 29, 2013 ·

This originally appeared in The American Prospect.

seadigs/FlickrAt the Institute for Policy Studies, we’ve tallied the top 25 highest-paid CEOs for each of the past 20 years.

That’s a total of 500 richly rewarded executives—each one of whom made more in a week than average workers could make in a year. We’re told CEOs deserve these massive rewards because they add exceptional “value” to their businesses. They’re getting “paid for performance.”

Really? Hmm. Let’s consult the numbers.

Let’s start with the firms that led our nation into financial crisis. Of the 500 places on our annual top-paid lists, 112 are filled by Wall Street CEOs who drove their companies to bankruptcy or bailout in 2008. Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers made the top 25 highest-paid list for eight consecutive years until his firm’s bankruptcy precipitated the financial crisis.

And how about CEOs who end up getting fired? No one could possibly consider them “high performers.” Yet fired CEOs make up another 39 names on the highest-paid CEO lists of the past 20 years. Compaq Computer CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer, named one of Business Insider’s “15 Worst CEOs in History,” got the boot in 1999, but made off with a golden parachute valued at $410 million.

And how about CEOs who cook the books? Another 38 of our pay leaders have led companies that have had to pay massive fines or settlements for serious fraud. Two served prison time for their crimes (Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco and Joseph Nacchio of Qwest), a third died before sentencing (Kenneth Lay of Enron), and a fourth (Bruce Karatz of KB Home) is on probation.

Altogether, the bailed-out, the booted, and the busted made up nearly 40 percent of the companies shelling out top dollar for their CEOs on our list.

These numbers don’t tell the full story. Left out, for example, are all the CEOs who’ve boosted their compensation by manipulating marketplace monopolies, freezing their workers’ paychecks, or cutting corners on environmental protections.

Even by the narrowest of definitions, the percentage of highly paid CEOs who performed poorly is shockingly high.

The Taxpayer Trough Club

Financial bailouts are just one example of how a significant number of CEO pay leaders owe much of their good fortune to taxpayers. Government contracts are another. CEOs of firms on the federal government’s top 100 contractors list occupied 62 of the 500 slots on the annual highest-paid CEO lists of the last 20 years. In the same years that their CEOs pocketed some of corporate America’s fattest paychecks, these firms received $255 billion in taxpayer-funded federal contracts.

Even if a corporation is not receiving government funds directly, taxpayers are subsidizing all highly paid CEOs through a giant loophole in the federal tax code. Under current rules corporations can deduct unlimited amounts off their income taxes for the expense of executive stock options and other so-called “performance-based” pay. The more corporations pay their CEOs, the less they pay in taxes.

The Boy’s Club

It will come as no surprise that most of the CEOs in this uppermost echelon of Corporate America are men. Of the 500 places on the top 25 highest-paid CEO lists over the past 20 years, only five (1 percent) are held by women. One—Andrea Jung of Avon—made the list twice. The others who made it into America’s loftiest CEO circles: Carol Bartz of Yahoo, Irene Rosenfeld of Mondelez International (formerly part of Kraft), and Marion Sandler of Golden West Financial.

This doesn’t mean we can solve the CEO pay problem by simply getting more women into corner offices. American corporate culture offers incentives for CEOs—whether male or female—to behave in ways that undermine workers, taxpayers, and shareholders. Our tax and government contracting policies reinforce this perverse reward system.

Until all this changes, the gender of our top corporate leaders won’t make much of a difference.

This Week in OtherWords: August 28, 2013

August 28, 2013 ·

This week in OtherWords, Sam Pizzigati and Emily Swift unpack the shocking findings from the 20th yearly edition of the Executive Excess report on runaway CEO pay from the Institute for Policy Studies. I also encourage you to read the full report, which my IPS colleagues are releasing today.

Do you want to make sure you don’t miss the latest from OtherWords? Then subscribe to our free weekly newsletter. Do you value our sharp analysis and bold ideas? Please make a tax-deductible donation to keep this valuable service running.

  1. The Men’s Club / Emily Swift
    Just 1 percent of America’s top-paid CEOs are women.
  2. Where Are the Women? / Amy Kroin
    Even with Jill Abramson at the editorial helm, men still dominate The New York Times.
  3. America the Wild and Beautiful / Dan Ritzman
    We must protect our wilderness areas for future generations.
  4. Mexican Food for Thought / Chris Schillig
    Our nation has a long way to fall before we reach Mexico’s level of impoverishment, but some of our lawmakers appear willing to get there faster.
  5. Nelson Mandela’s Distinction / Donald Kaul
    In forgiving his enemies, he achieved true greatness.
  6. Paying for Poor Performance / Sam Pizzigati
    Over the past two decades, the myth of CEOs earning their runaway pay packages has grown into the ultimate scam.
  7. Back to School Lunch / Jill Richardson
    Hungry and poorly nourished kids don’t learn very well.
  8. Razing the Garden of Eden / Jim Hightower
    A Texas police operation resorted to paramilitary force in its fruitless search for pot plants.
  9. Don’t Embarrass Authority / William A. Collins
    Revealing the wrongdoing of the powerful is a core task in sustaining a functioning democracy.
  10. Heads They Win, Tails We Lose / Khalil Bendib cartoon 

    Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

     Heads They Win, Tails We Lose, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib
This Week in OtherWords: August 21, 2013

August 21, 2013 ·

This week in OtherWords, Fredric Rolando describes how letter carriers often serve their customers across the country in unexpected ways and Sam Pizzigati discusses how Utah's distinction as one of the most economically equal states is fading.

Do you want to make sure you don't miss the latest from OtherWords? Then subscribe to our free weekly newsletter. Do you value our sharp analysis and bold ideas? Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today to keep this valuable service running.

  1. The False Choice between Security and Liberty / Aimee Thomson
    How much of our privacy and how many of our constitutional rights are we willing to give up to protect this country from violent attack?
  2. When Postal Workers Double as First Responders / Fredric Rolando
    They're often the only watchful eyes in a neighborhood when most residents are at work or school.
  3. The Un-American Way / Wenonah Hauter
    The Trans-Pacific Partnership deal threatens food safety and public health.
  4. Et Tu, Buddhist? / Donald Kaul
    In every war, both sides claim that God's on their side.
  5. In America’s West, Equality Takes a Hit / Sam Pizzigati
    Utah may be losing its egalitarian advantage.
  6. The Fake Thing / Jill Richardson
    With a newfound exercise obsession, Coca-Cola and other companies are trying to shift the blame for what they're doing to our health.
  7. Wall Street’s Fix for Homelessness / Jim Hightower
    A former hedge fund manager believes that charity causes poverty.
  8. The Medical-Industrial Complex / William A. Collins
    Our health industry's big players focus on making as much money as possible.
  9. Patients vs Profits / Khalil Bendib

    Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org 
Patients vs Profits, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib
Talking Outside the Bounds: "Strumpets," History, and White Privilege

August 21, 2013 ·

Tess Taylor Split This RockThe email called me “whorish” and the “strumpet of a carpetbagger.” It called my recent editorial about my grandfather “revolting.”

Hot damn. Really? I had just published a New York Times editorial about a painful incident during the Civil Rights movement in Danville, Virginia. My grandfather wrote a letter of protest to a judge who had doled out stiff sentences to Civil Rights protestors. Arrested for writing the letter, my grandfather served a bench warrant and was ridiculed and publicly humiliated in his small mill town. 

In my article, I retraced the events. I meditated on some of what had been at stake for my grandfather, a white man, to speak out against the brutal violence and stark injustices faced by black protesters (and black people). I meditated about how my grandfather’s action both was and was not adequate protest to the era's injustice. And I’d interviewed the minister who organized the protests, Lawrence Campbell, to see how he looked back on that time now.

My piece mostly got a warm reception. What surprised me was that this virulently sour note, in my inbox, had the power to make me feel—at least briefly— ill, angry, defensive, hurt, small. I felt singled out, threatened. Eventually I called some friends and laughed off the hurt. After all: The man was accusing me of tying Danville to this violent and unsavory history—yet he was the one calling me a carpbetbagger. Oh please. Dear sir, I regret to inform: It’s hard to escape history if you go around calling people strumpets.

As I thought about it more, however, it seemed to me that this reprimand – its unpleasantness, its rotten smell – was one of the mechanisms by which racism is maintained and one of the reasons white people stay quiet about racism. If we talk outside the bounds, we might get dinged.

Read the full post on Split This Rock's blog.


Tess Taylor currently reviews poetry for NPR’s All Things Considered and teaches writing at the University of California, Berkeley. Her first book of poems, The Forage House, was released this month by Red Hen Press. She lives in El Cerrito, California. Tess will be reading from The Forage House at Sunday Kind of Love, Split This Rock's series in collaboration with Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC, January 19, 2014.

This Week in OtherWords: August 14, 2013

August 14, 2013 ·

This week in OtherWords, Ryan Alexander weighs in on the price we’re paying for our do-nothing Congress and Jill Richardson notes that good food must come with at least a pinch of humility.

Do you want to make sure you don’t miss the latest from OtherWords? Then subscribe to our free weekly newsletter. Do you value our sharp analysis and bold ideas? Please make a tax-deductible donation todayto keep this valuable service running.

  1. Dud Congress Breaks with a Thud / Ryan Alexander
    Our nation needs — and deserves — a legislature that works.
  2. How to Move Millions into the Middle Class / Richard Kirsch
    President Obama should issue an executive order to guarantee a living wage for millions of workers employed by federal contractors.
  3. Kiss of Death / Tracy Fernandez Rysavy
    Why is lead in lipstick?
  4. How I Exposed an Undercover Cop / Lacy MacAuley
    Spying on protestors is the worst violation of our freedom.
  5. The Devil Is in the Taxes / Donald Kaul
    My foolproof plan will rescue our society from the sleazy grasp of special-interest politics.
  6. The Bezillionaire Times / Sam Pizzigati
    Amazon’s take-no-prisoners business model made founder Jeff Bezos staggeringly rich while stranding thousands of warehouse workers on the borderline of poverty.
  7. Hold the Pomposity / Jill Richardson
    You can’t produce good food without some humility.
  8. Get Radio-Active / Jim Hightower
    Thousands of low-power radio broadcast licenses will be up for grabs by non-profit, community groups this October.
  9. As the World Drowns / William A. Collins
    Let’s do something before it’s too late.
  10. Climate Change We Can Believe In / Khalil Bendib Cartoon
Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

Climate Change We Can Believe In, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib
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