The Fed and the Pay Czar’s Executive Compensation Restriction Plans
- It won’t significantly reduce pay
- It will concentrate on risk management, which is to say trying to tie pay to longer term measures rather than shorter term measures
- The big banks will have to give their compensation packages to the Fed upfront, but the review will be confidential. Only the bank and the Fed will know the contents of the review.
- Small banks will have their pay reviewed when they are examined.
Meanwhile, Feinberg, the pay czar, has restricted compensation at bailout recipients. Cash compensation is restricted to 500K a year until they pay back the bailouts, but once they do they can receive more, and they do have bonuses tied to various goals given by the treasury till then.
I am skeptical. The end result of Feinberg’s plan will simply be that the companies will pay off the bailouts as fast as they can, even if that means borrowing the money at higher rates than the feds have loaned it to them.
As for the Fed’s plan, it requires us to trust the Federal Reserve to really restrict pay and to really understand what type of compensation creates long and short term risks. Given the Federal Reserve’s track record in understanding systemic risk, which indicates they have no understanding of systemic risk worth speaking of, I’m skeptical that they can do this. And that assumes one trusts the Fed to tell its friends in the banks they can’t have what they want, which, again, given their track record, is questionable. Especially when the Federal Reserve itself seems to essentially be run by Goldman Sachs.
Furthermore, the Federal Reserve is confused. When they say it’s not about “social equity” it’s about risk, what they mean is “we don’t mind them getting paid a lot of money if it doesn’t lead to risky behavior”. But receiving enough money in a year or 3 years to retire inevitably means that people will engage in risky behavior because they don’t need the job. They may want to keep it, they may like it, but if their company goes under, at the end of the day, they’re still going to be rich, rich, rich—and never have to work another day of their lives. And, after all, even if they do blow it, this crisis shows that the government will probably bail them out so they probably will keep their jobs.
Paul Volcker, the last good central banker the US had, is right. This finicky micromanaging won’t work. He’s right to want to break the banks back up, dividing retail banking from investment banking. And while as far as I’m aware he hasn’t suggested high marginal taxation as a solution to the perverse wage incentive issue, that’s my suggestion. Just tax every dollar after 1 million, on all income equally and with no deductions, at 90%. Tax every dollar after 5 million at 95%.
The objection to this sort of taxation, or any other severe restrictions on excessive pay is:
But, bowing to concerns that too heavy a hand could lead to a mass exodus of executives, both the Treasury and Fed policies will permit top earners to reap millions of dollars.
This is insane. These executives are the folks who lead the world to the greatest financial crisis since the great depression. The goal shouldn’t be to keep them working, the goal should be to convince them to quit. Let some middle managers take over, it is beyond comprehension that they could cause a greater disaster, and if they are only earning a few hundred K a year, they’ll have every incentive to turn their banks around so they can keep their jobs, which they’ll actually need to keep unlike the current generation of overpaid, incompetent, executives.
These executives’ management lead to the greatest destruction of wealth and the largest job downturn in post-war history. They did so by pushing products and practices which were frankly fraudulent. In a sane world, huge criminal investigations would be ongoing and most of them would be spending all of their time huddled with their lawyers, rather than sending out millions of dollars worth of lobbyists.
However, as a second best scenario, their pay should be restricted, and if that makes them leave, well, that’s a bonus. Let them go work for companies in any country stupid enough to want them. Hopefully if not operating from the US anymore they’ll only be able to trash their new host economy, and not the entire world economy. These men and (a few) women, are parasites who feed off and damage their hosts. They are not a benefit to the country or company they work for, but an active hazard.
I’m glad to see the Fed and Feinberg doing something. But it’s not nearly enough, and it won’t be sufficient to stop the same suspects from causing yet another financial crisis.