How much is a CEO worth? These days the munificent compensation packages lavished on America's chief executives have about as many defenders as Slobodan Milosevic. The statistics are simply too obscene: In 1999, the average chief executive earned 419 times more than his or her coworkers, up from 25 times in 1981, while the 10 highest-paid executives have seen their income soar an astonishing 4,300 percent between 1981 and 2000. If factory workers' pay had grown at the same clip, their average annual earnings would now be $114,035 instead of $23,753. Yet throughout the uproar over what Fortune magazine dubbed "The Great CEO Pay Heist," one question has lingered unresolved: What's driving it all?