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May 07, 2008

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Tomaltach

This is a topic which I have been following for some time. I'm delighted to see it addressed here. You are right this has become an issue in the US of late, and also in France. I have had several letters published on this issue in the indo. Anyway, some of the points I usually make are:

First, boards, and of course CEOs themselves, justify this rise by arguing that top talent is crucial in managing huge companies in a complex business environment. Yet no hard evidence has been marshalled to show that excellent managers are harder to find now than they were twenty years ago. In any case, managers now 'grow up' in an environment where change and complexity are all around them, so they are no less prepared for the challenges of top jobs than were their predecessors a generation ago.

Second. Of course the current orthodoxy is that private business = good, creates value, dynamic. Public sector = bad, universally wasteful, inert. But something narrower still is at work. The idolisation of senior executives as risk-taking, innovative, smart, strong, and even sexy. The cult of celebrity, therefore, has made it to business as well. Such and such a CEO is no longer merely a successful business leader, he or she is a "personality".

Finally, In theory, shareholder value is paramount in the private sector and executive remuneration is set by boards at levels which deliver optimum value for the shareholder. In reality, however, that is often not the case. Even in a big country like the US, studies show that executives and directors come from the same pool with frequent crossover between the two. In truth, very often the shareholder comes second. Besides, why would boards rein in executive pay, since many of them are executives or were executives or will be executivees again.

Joe Holt

Nicely presented easy to read article. I'm convinced. In the same vein, I have always argued that decisions on judges, TD's and higher civil servants salarys should take place at the same time as national wage talks. That way big business economists have to argue for "pay restraint" and the need to "retain top people" at the same time - much more difficult for them than at present when they can spin one story today and a totally different story in six months timw

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When you say "Companies are, of course, allowed to deduct labour and salary costs – including PRSI and pension costs – from tax. "
do you mean Corporation Tax?

Because, if so, CT is 12.5% so it is hard to see how €737,750 extra tax would be paid on the €3.2 million excess over the €500K limit you propose. The extra 12.5% cost would probably not make most companies pause too much for thought.

Of the other proposals you mention:
1) taxing non-domiciles: fair enough
2) putting a ceiling on pension investment - there already is one.
3) capping annual bonuses at, say, 20% of base salary: Eh, no. What does it matter if someone gets a high salary or a high bonus?
3) requiring full financial disclosure of all companies operating in Ireland – including executive remuneration: Yes, absolutely. I thought the (brief) Italian exercise in publishing everyone's tax return was brilliant.

Connor O'Jack

Restrict bonuses to 20%? Sheer genius! And once the last company has left the IFSC and moved to some non-quasi Communist country, SIPTU can have a fantastic campus for Jack's Trade Union University.

Michael

Tomaltach - can you forward me your letters or the dates in the Indo when they were published. Would like to have a read of them.

Thanks for the comment, Joe. The thing is that decisions on judges pay, etc. are taken at the national pay talks - and they get the same rise as the rest of us. BUT: they get another bite at the cherry, if you will, with benchmarking. This is to ensure that public sector workers maintain pay relativities with the private sector. However, as we saw, the only relativity that went up - private or public - was for those at the top end. There is a story here which I hope to address soon.

Yes, Pavement Trauma, you caught that one. Well spotted. I miscalculated the interaction between corporate tax rate and PRSI payments. Let me correct my error - the increase in liability for the excess €3.2 million would be €400,000 (salary against CT) and €42,800 (PRSI payments against CT). I'm glad that there are some readers who really study all these numbers I throw out.

Thanks, Connor O' Jack, for the comment. I certainly wouldn't want the IFSC to go empty. After all, multi-nationals are the only thing keeping our economy afloat. But having ceded that, I'm sure you would agree that lone parents, old age pensioners, the disabled, the low-paid - never mind us ordinary average paid working types - shouldn't have to subsidise mega salaries and bonuses through tax write offs.

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