A reader pointed out a news item we missed, namely, that the new government in France is trying to implement a maximum wage for the employees of state-owned companies. From the Financial Times:
France’s new socialist government has launched a crackdown on excessive corporate pay by promising to slash the wages of chief executives at companies in which it owns a controlling stake, including EDF, the nuclear power group.
In a departure from the more boardroom-friendly approach of the previous right-of-centre administration, newly elected president François Hollande wants to cap the salary of company leaders at 20 times that of their lowest-paid worker.
According to Jean-Marc Ayrault, prime minister, the measure would be imposed on chief executives at groups such as EDF’s Henri Proglio and Luc Oursel at Areva, the nuclear engineering group. Their pay would fall about 70 per cent and 50 per cent respectively should the plan be cleared by lawyers and implemented in full…
France is unusual in that it still owns large stakes in many of its biggest global companies, ranging from GDF Suez, the gas utility; to Renault, the carmaker; and EADS, parent group of passenger jet maker Airbus.
Of course, in the US, we have companies feeding so heavily at the government trough that they hardly deserve the label of being private, but the idea that the public might legitimately have reason to want to rein in ever-rising executive pay is treated as a rabid radical idea.
In July 2011, Doug Smith proposed a maximum wage, using a 25 to one ratio, for any enterprise that used taxpayer funds. I’d be curious to learn how this idea developed in France, since it would be helpful to know who this idea developed and what experts/research they relied on. From Doug’s post:
For those, however, receiving bailouts, deposit insurance, government guarantees, tax breaks, tax credits, other forms of public financing, government contracts of any sort – and so on – the top paid person cannot receive more than twenty-five times the bottom paid person. This ratio, by the way, is what business visionary Peter Drucker recommended as most effective for organization performance as well as society. It also echoes Jim Collins who, in his book Good To Great, found that the most effective top leaders are paid more modestly than unsuccessful ones. And, critically, it is a ratio that is in line with various European and other nations that have dramatically lower income inequality than the United States.
In other words, the French proposal isn’t that big a change from existing norms, at least in most other advanced economics (ex the UK, which has also moved strongly in the direction of US top level pay). But despite the overwhelming evidence that corporate performance is if anything negatively correlated with CEO pay, the myth of the superstar CEO and the practical obstacles to shareholder intervention (too fragmented; too many built in protections for incumbent management, like staggered director terms; major free rider problems if any investor tries to discipline extractive CEO and C level pay, which means it’s easier to sell than protest) means ideas like this are unlikely to get even a hearing in the US. Let the looting continue!