Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A just society as executive compensation

Tuesday, New York Times columnist David Brooks attacked the Obama administration for placing limits on executive compensation.

He called the effort a “fatal conceit” that is doomed to failure.

Brooks, and most who address this madness, overlook a key fact.

If lining their own pockets drives executives to their decisions, it stands to reason that the corporate decisions will be based on how much the executives can game the system to reward themselves.

The result: decisions that feed executive greed and to hell with the rest of us. We’ve seen plenty of those kinds of decisions recently. Hence the response of the Obama administration.

If there’s a problem with the government’s approach, it’s that it ignores the bankrupt values that drive the system.

We need leadership that makes decisions not for personal gain but for societal good.

By “good” I mean paying a living wage, offering meaningful work, providing universal health care, protecting the environment, providing affordable housing, maintaining justice and security, and educating children and adults alike.

Those are the rewards of leadership. Not vacation chalets in Aspen, yachts in Barbados, mansions in Scarsdale, private jets at the ready, country clubs, penthouses and jewels.

And certainly not compensation that is 500 times that of the average worker.

No, the rewards for the powerful should be nothing more than this: a modest, adequate salary with basic benefits and the knowledge that one’s leadership has helped create of a better, more just, sustainable society.

Ultimately, it comes down to a question of values. Talk about fatal conceit. What do our corporate leaders believe in? Themselves and their personal wealth or humanity and the future of the planet?

The government must come up with a way to ensure that the latter, not the former, values prevail.

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