High CEO pay isn’t a problem. Short-term incentives pose a bigger danger to shareholders.
While high taxes or ratio caps would indeed address income inequality (an important topic, but beyond the focus of this article), it’s very unclear that they would do much to improve shareholder (or stakeholder) value. The levels of CEO pay, while very high compared to median employee pay – and thus a politically-charged issue – are actually very small compared to total firm value. For example, median CEO pay in a large US firm is $10 million – only 0.05% of a $20 billion firm. That’s not to say that it’s not important – a firm can’t be blasé about $10 million – but that other dimensions may be more important.
A low equity incentives as evidence that CEOs were “paid like bureaucrats”
European Commission has recently capped banker bonuses at two times salary, seemingly reducing bankers’ incentives to perform well – but also reducing their punishment if things go badly.
The problem isn’t the amount of stock and options that the CEO has, but their vesting horizon – whether they vest in the short-term or long-term, and thus whether they align the CEO with short-term or long-term shareholder value
One solution is to lengthen vesting periods. While increasing vesting horizons from (say) 3 to 5 years may not be as politically alluring to voters as a rant about the level of pay, it will likely have a much greater effect on shareholder value and society. For example, such a change will now incentivize the CEO to engage in a long-term investment with a 4-year horizon