In an op-ed in the New York Times, Bill Saporito writes:
There are some good reasons C.E.O. pay has risen. Large companies keep getting bigger, and in some ways more complex. Health care, pharmaceutical and media companies have been making sizable acquisitions as these industries continue to consolidate. Disney, for instance, just bought a large chunk of 21st Century Fox’s media and entertainment properties for $71.3 billion. AT&T bought Time Warner for $85 billion. And no one is arguing that Mr. Iger, for instance, isn’t a first-rate C.E.O. But executive pay is exceeding revenue and profit growth….That sort of magic is no longer needed to justify fantasy levels of pay. Of the 100 highest-paid executives, 47 lead companies whose total shareholder return — stock price and dividends — went down in 2018, according to a New York Times survey conducted by Equilar, based on Securities and Exchange Commission filings through April 1, 2019….Measured by a market in which the S & P 500 index has tripled since 2009, every chief executive is a managerial genius. Never mind that last year the market was propped up by $806.4 billion in corporate stock buybacks that supported stock prices and thus C.E.O. pay by reducing the number of available shares. Consider, too, the source of the buyback money: a corporate tax cut, not increased profits created by superior management. In 2018, in fact, corporations spent more on buybacks than they did on capital expenditures. This year, buybacks are on another record pace.
Why wouldn’t chief executives propose more buybacks? They are a surer path to better pay than capital investments, which take a longer time to generate a return. Not necessarily better for the company but better for the bosses. The C.E.O.s got some extra gravy on their extra helpings, too. Thanks to the Trump tax cuts, their earnings were taxed at a lower rate, saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars; employees, on the other hand, saved only hundreds of dollars, or even less.