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The Taxation of Executive Compensation

In: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 14

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  • Brian J. Hall
  • Jeffrey B. Liebman

Abstract

Over the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the share of executive compensation paid through stock options. In this paper, we examine the extent to which tax policy has influenced the composition of executive compensation, and discuss the implications of rising stock-based pay for tax policy. We begin by describing the tax rules for executive pay in detail and analyzing how changes in various tax rates affect the tax advantages of stock options relative to salary and bonus. Our empirical analysis leads to three conclusions. First, there is little evidence that tax changes have played a major role int the dramatic explosion in executive stock option pay since 1980. Although the tax advantage of options has approximately dounbled since the early advantage of options has approximately doubled since the early 1980s options currently have only a slight tax advantage relative to cash - approximately $4 per $100 of pre-tax compensation to the executive. A more convincing story for the dramatic explosion in stock options involves changes in corporate governance and the market for corporate control. For example, there is a strong correlation between the fraction of shares held by large institutional investors and the fraction of ececutive pay in the form of stock options, a result that holds both longitudinally and cross-sectionally. Second, we find evidence that the million dollar rule (which limited the corporate deductibility of non-performance-related executive compensateion to $1 million) led firms to adjust the composition of their pay away from salary and toward "performance related pay," although our estimates suggest that substitution was minor. We find no evience that the regulation decreased the level of total compensation. Third, we examine whether there is evidence for significant shifting of the timing of option exercieses in response to changes in tax rates. After replicating the Goolsbee (1999) result regardin tax-shifting with our
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Suggested Citation

  • Brian J. Hall & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2000. "The Taxation of Executive Compensation," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 14, pages 1-44 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:10845
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Yermack, David, 1995. "Do corporations award CEO stock options effectively?," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(2-3), pages 237-269.
    2. Brian J. Hall & Jeffrey B. Liebman, 1998. "Are CEOs Really Paid Like Bureaucrats?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(3), pages 653-691.
    3. Paul A. Gompers & Andrew Metrick, 2001. "Institutional Investors and Equity Prices," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(1), pages 229-259.
    4. Alan J. Auerbach, 1986. "The Dynamic Effects of Tax Law Asymmetries," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 53(2), pages 205-225.
    5. Core, John & Guay, Wayne, 1999. "The use of equity grants to manage optimal equity incentive levels," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(2), pages 151-184, December.
    6. Rosanne Altshuler & Alan J. Auerbach, 1990. "The Significance of Tax Law Asymmetries: An Empirical Investigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 105(1), pages 61-86.
    7. Daniel R. Feenberg & James M. Poterba, 1993. "Income Inequality and the Incomes of Very High-Income Taxpayers: Evidence from Tax Returns," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 7, pages 145-177 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Feldstein, Martin, 1995. "Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the 1986 Tax Reform Act," Scholarly Articles 2766676, Harvard University Department of Economics.
    9. John R. Graham & Michael L. Lemmon, 1998. "Measuring Corporate Tax Rates And Tax Incentives: A New Approach," Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, Morgan Stanley, vol. 11(1), pages 54-65.
    10. Jensen, Michael C & Murphy, Kevin J, 1990. "Performance Pay and Top-Management Incentives," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(2), pages 225-264, April.
    11. Feldstein, Martin, 1995. "The Effect of Marginal Tax Rates on Taxable Income: A Panel Study of the 1986 Tax Reform Act," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(3), pages 551-572, June.
    12. Brian J. Hall, 1999. "The Design Of Multi-Year Stock Option Plans," Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, Morgan Stanley, vol. 12(2), pages 97-106.
    13. George P. Baker & Brian J. Hall, 1998. "CEO Incentives and Firm Size," NBER Working Papers 6868, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • G34 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Mergers; Acquisitions; Restructuring; Corporate Governance
    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue

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