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Executive Compensation and Corporate Governance in the U.S.: Perceptions, Facts and Challenges

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  • Steven N. Kaplan

Abstract

In this paper, I consider the evidence for three common perceptions of U.S. public company CEO pay and corporate governance: (1) CEOs are overpaid and their pay keeps increasing; (2) CEOs are not paid for their performance; and (3) boards do not penalize CEOs for poor performance. While average CEO pay increased substantially through the 1990s, it has declined since then. CEO pay levels relative to other highly paid groups today are comparable to their average levels in the early 1990s although they remain above their long-term historical average. The ratio of large-company CEO pay to firm market value is roughly similar to its level in the late-1970s and lower than its pre-1960s levels. These patterns suggest that similar forces, likely technology and scale, have played a meaningful role in driving CEO pay and the pay of others with top incomes. With regard to performance, CEOs are paid for performance and penalized for poor performance. Finally, boards do monitor CEOs. The rate of CEO turnover has increased in the 2000s compared to the 1980s and 1990s, and is significantly tied to poor stock performance. While corporate governance failures and pay outliers as well as the very high average pay levels relative to the typical household undoubtedly have contributed to the common perceptions, a meaningful part of CEO pay appears to be market determined and boards do appear to monitor their CEOs. Consistent with that, top executive pay policies at over 98% of S&P 500 and Russell 3000 companies received majority shareholder support in the Dodd-Frank mandated Say-On-Pay votes in 2011.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18395.

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Date of creation: Sep 2012
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18395

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References

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  1. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2003. "Income Inequality In The United States, 1913-1998," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(1), pages 1-39, February.
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  3. Carola Frydman & Raven E. Saks, 2007. "Executive compensation: a new view from a long-term perspective, 1936-2005," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2007-35, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  4. Kaplan, Steven N. & Strömberg, Per, 2009. "Leveraged Buyouts and Private Equity," SIFR Research Report Series 65, Institute for Financial Research.
  5. Jonathan A. Parker & Annette Vissing-Jorgensen, 2010. "The Increase in Income Cyclicality of High-Income Households and Its Relation to the Rise in Top Income Shares," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 41(2 (Fall)), pages 1-70.
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  7. 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.
  8. Bengt Holmstrom & Steven N. Kaplan, 2001. "Corporate Governance and Merger Activity in the United States: Making Sense of the 1980s and 1990s," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 15(2), pages 121-144, Spring.
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  10. Clifford G. Holderness & Randall S. Kroszner & Dennis P. Sheehan, 1999. "Were the Good Old Days That Good? Changes in Managerial Stock Ownership Since the Great Depression," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 54(2), pages 435-469, 04.
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Cited by:
  1. Moritz Heimes & Steffen Seemann, 2012. "Which Pay for what Performance? Evidence from Executive Compensation in Germany and the United States," Working Paper Series of the Department of Economics, University of Konstanz 2012-29, Department of Economics, University of Konstanz.
  2. Josh Bivens & Lawrence Mishel, 2013. "The Pay of Corporate Executives and Financial Professionals as Evidence of Rents in Top 1 Percent Incomes," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 27(3), pages 57-78, Summer.
  3. N. Gregory Mankiw, 2013. "Defending the One Percent," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 27(3), pages 21-34, Summer.

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