The CEO's Are All Right

In case you were keeping track:

CEOs at California's largest 100 public companies took home a collective $1.1 billion in 2004, up almost 20% from 2003. That compares with the 2.9% raise that the average California worker saw last year, according to the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

The difference is even sharper at the top rungs of the ladder. The 10 highest-paid executives on this year's list earned 36.7% more than last year's top 10 — garnering a collective $467.5 million. That's enough to buy about 275 homes in Malibu or 1.5 million sets of golf clubs or two 747 jumbo jets.

Some of those CEO's, like Yahoo's Semel or Apple's Jobs, have actually turned their companies around and justified a major salary for themselves. But was Semel's performance so impressive that he needed a 24,000% pay raise in 2004, which meant a total yearly haul of $175 million?

I'm all for performance incentives, but the market for them is simply too high. Since it's climbed so much in past years, any corporation attempting to attract a top CEO has to outbid an already-inflated going rate, leading to bizarro world stock options and cash bonuses. What to do? I'd suggest some nice Democratic demagoguery on the issue, but alienating the nation's CEO's probably isn't so good for our fundraising (particularly relevant as Dean continues to post lower than hoped donation totals). Savvier populists than I might have some suggestions on how to shame these numbers down or force stock options to enter ledger sheets in a rational way, but for now I'm relying on smarmy moral superiority to make my case. Keeps me warm at night.