The October edition of Reader’s Digest is out and with it, another in a series of outrageous injustices - or so it may seem, if you don’t look at the details or pay much attention to the writer’s hidden motive. The writer of this particular piece, titled “the $54,000 an Hour Executive”, is Michael Crowley, whom Reader’s Digest acknowledges in rather fine print after the article, is also Senior Editor at The New Republic. That is, he sees things with his own perspective and agenda, and while this is valid for a writer, it’s just a touch unfair that Reader’s Digest does not present this fact plainly, at the start. The reader is led to believe that Mr. Crowley speaks from Middle America, and so is misled from the start.
The article Mr. Crowley put out this month is a harangue against CEO pay. Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of overpaid people in the world, and more than once I have looked at this case or that and wondered “What were they thinking?”, about the people who approved such extravagant compensation. But the essence of Crowley’s article is based on a very false premise; that wages and compensation should be controlled, that if someone makes more money than the average person thinks is appropriate, that he should be denied his wealth. That, friends, is nothing but forced redistribution of wealth, the stuff of Lenin and Stalin and Chairman Mao. As un-American as anything we’ve seen since the Nazis thought it would be cool to impose their will on anyone they could control. I am not saying that Michael Crowley is a communist or wishes to overthrow the American tradition of government, but simply that he has done a poor job of thinking his complaint through. He’s done a poor job, but broadcast his ill-considered thoughts on a very significant stage. That must be rebuked.
Sure, some CEOs make a ton of money. But the guys who garner these deals do so through negotiations; no one is forced to make the deal they do, and Mr. Crowley leaves off the success stories, in large part because there are too many CEOs who do their jobs with integrity and modesty; they don’t fit the picture Crowley wants to sell, so he leaves them off, but still pretends he’s showing the matter cleanly.
Consider professional sports, those fortunate few who are paid millions to play games. A basketball, football, or baseball player who is able to drive his name and reputation can make more than a hundred million dollars before he sees his first grey hair. Next to pro sports, the money paid to the average CEO is frankly paltry. Then there are doctors and lawyers, who can make millions of dollars off a single case; why doesn’t Mr. Crowley consider that a conflict of interest? Authors who find an audience can become rich, even though they do not hire employees, produce tangible commodities, or improve the efficiency of any business or industry. Shall we tell Michael Crichton or J.K. Rowling that they are not entitled to the results of their efforts? For that matter, it seems that Mr. Crowley’s annual earnings are several times my own, even though I work just as many hours, just as hard, and with just as much ingenuity and creativity. Perhaps Mr. Crowley should, in keeping with his sense of fairness, share his salary with me? Somehow, I doubt his sense of fairness extends to personal responsibility.