Monday, April 23, 2012

When Is Enough, Enough?

Enough (adjective) 1.adequate for the want or need; sufficient for the purpose or to satisfy desire                            --American Heritage Dictionary

How much money is enough?  What is the appropriate, the right, the equitable pay for just one person? All depends on whom you ask, I guess.

One day last week may have marked a very small turning point in the societal debate about just how much America’s CEOs and business titans are worth, what they “deserve” to be paid in exchange for the services they render to their companies and shareholders.  As reported by the Huffington Post: “At Citigroup's annual meeting on Tuesday [April 17th], about 55 percent of shareholders participating in an advisory vote rejected [CEO] Pandit's pay package. That marked the first time that investors had rejected a compensation plan at a major U.S. bank. “  

Citigroup is America’s third biggest bank by assets, and its shareholders (and those of other public companies) recently won the right to have “a say on pay”, under a provision of the 2010 Dodd-Frank federal law passed by Congress and signed by the President in direct response to the economic meltdown.  Citigroup was right in the middle of that mess and had to be rescued from insolvency by Uncle Sam to the tune of $356 billion in bailout funds and loan guarantees. 

Citigroup’s Board of Directors had recommended a pay package of $15 million to CEO Vikram Pandit, a seeming return to the pre-meltdown days of sky high executive pay for the elites. But now his salary has been called out, questioned.  One Citigroup director called the rejection “a serious matter” that the board plans to take up.  That board will no doubt research what the “market” is for bank CEO pay then calculate the most they can pay him without risking shareholders’ wrath.  Pandit won’t be poor anytime soon. But one question I doubt they’ll ask is for me the most important one of all, one which is never posed, not in “polite” company.  Not on MSNBC or The Fox Business Channel, not in the pages of The Wall Street Journal either. 

When is enough, enough?  How much money is one person really worth in our world?

By my calculation if Pandit like most Americans works fifty weeks a year with two weeks for vacation, that comes out to 2,000 hours of labor, so by his proposed pay package, he takes home $7,500 an hour, or $125 a minute.  Pandit's pay is above average in comparison to his peers.  According to the AFL-CIO, in 2011 the average pay for American CEOs in the Standard and Poor's Stock Index was up 14 percent from 2010, to $12.9 million, 380 times more than the average worker.  The real whopper of a pay package these days is that recently awarded to Apple CEO Tim Cook: $378 million in salary and stock grants.  Can one person actually hope to spend all that cash in a lifetime?  Is it possible?

When is enough really, finally, enough? 

Yes I know that “the market” will argue these folks and other select few in our world are in fact “worth” that much, at least from a bare knuckled Darwinian economic perspective. If you can get it take it, right?  Others will call any questioning of such outsized wealth accumulation “class warfare”.     

But for me—as a person of faith, I just pray that this one question will continue to be asked in boardrooms and shareholder meetings and in the media and on the factory floor and in the public square.  Spoken out loud: simply, clearly, seriously and consistently. 

When is enough, enough?  Not just economically but also morally and ethically? What is right and fair and good when it comes to the worth of all American workers and not just the ones at the very top of the food chain?  What is best for the many and not only the few? 

In that vote by Citigroup’s shareholders, maybe, just maybe, some one finally said, “Enough is enough.”      


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