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Learning from the Past: Trends in Executive Compensation over the Twentieth Century

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  • Carola Frydman

Abstract

In recent years, a large academic debate has tried to explain the rapid rise in CEO pay experienced over the past three decades. In this article, I review the main proposed theories, which span views of compensation as the result of a competitive labor market for executivesto theories based on excess of managerial power. Some of these hypotheses have foundsupport in cross-sectional evidence, but it has proven more difficult to determine which factors have caused the observed changes in pay over time. An alternative strategy is to evaluate the fit of plausible explanations out of sample by contrasting them with the evolution in executive pay and the market for managers during earlier time periods. A case study of General Electric suggests that evidence for earlier decades can speak to the recent trends and reveals the limitations of current explanations to address the long-run data.

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Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 2460.

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Date of creation: 2008
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Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_2460

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Keywords: executive compensation; managerial incentives; corporate governance; market for managers;

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References

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  1. Fama, Eugene F, 1980. "Agency Problems and the Theory of the Firm," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 88(2), pages 288-307, April.
  2. Rosen, Sherwin, 1981. "The Economics of Superstars," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(5), pages 845-58, December.
  3. Lucian Arye Bebchuk & Jesse M. Fried, 2003. "Executive Compensation as an Agency Problem," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(3), pages 71-92, Summer.
  4. Paul A. Gompers & Joy L. Ishii & Andrew Metrick, 2002. "Corporate Governance and Equity Prices," Center for Financial Institutions Working Papers, Wharton School Center for Financial Institutions, University of Pennsylvania 02-32, Wharton School Center for Financial Institutions, University of Pennsylvania.
  5. Cuñat, Vicente & Guadalupe, Maria, 2006. "Globalization and the Provision of Incentives Inside the Firm: The Effect of Foreign Competition," IZA Discussion Papers 2408, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. Fabienne Llense, 2010. "French CEOs' Compensations: What is the Cost of a Mandatory Upper Limit?," CESifo Economic Studies, CESifo, CESifo, vol. 56(2), pages 165-191, June.
  7. Steven N. Kaplan & Bernadette Minton, 2006. "How has CEO Turnover Changed? Increasingly Performance Sensitive Boards and Increasingly Uneasy CEOs," NBER Working Papers 12465, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Benjamin E. Hermalin, 2005. "Trends in Corporate Governance," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 60(5), pages 2351-2384, October.
  9. Xavier Gabaix & Augustin Landier, 2006. "Why Has CEO Pay Increased So Much?," 2006 Meeting Papers, Society for Economic Dynamics 518, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  10. Frank Levy & Peter Temin, 2007. "Inequality and Institutions in 20th Century America," NBER Working Papers 13106, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Cuñat, Vicente & Guadalupe, Maria, 2006. "Globalization and the Provision of Incentives Inside the Firm," CEPR Discussion Papers 5950, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  12. Bizjak, John M. & Lemmon, Michael L. & Naveen, Lalitha, 2008. "Does the use of peer groups contribute to higher pay and less efficient compensation?," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(2), pages 152-168, November.
  13. Carola Frydman & Raven E. Saks, 2010. "Executive Compensation: A New View from a Long-Term Perspective, 1936--2005," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 23(5), pages 2099-2138.
  14. Brian J. Hall & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 1997. "Are CEOs Really Paid Like Bureaucrats?," NBER Working Papers 6213, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2001. "Are Ceos Rewarded For Luck? The Ones Without Principals Are," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, MIT Press, vol. 116(3), pages 901-932, August.
  16. Vicente Cuñat & Maria Guadalupe, 2007. "Executive Compensation and Competition in the Banking and Financial Sectors," FMG Discussion Papers, Financial Markets Group dp598, Financial Markets Group.
  17. Murphy, Kevin J., 1999. "Executive compensation," Handbook of Labor Economics, Elsevier, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 38, pages 2485-2563 Elsevier.
  18. Bebchuk, Lucian A. & Fried, Jesse M., 2003. "Executive Compensation as an Agency Problem," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics qt81q3136r, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.
  19. Marko Tervio, 2008. "The Difference That CEOs Make: An Assignment Model Approach," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(3), pages 642-68, June.
  20. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2003. "Income Inequality In The United States, 1913-1998," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, MIT Press, vol. 118(1), pages 1-39, February.
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