Call Me Old Fashioned But I Was Raised To Yes to Limiting Top Executives Compensation

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Yes to Limiting Top Executives Compensation

I was particularly encouraged by the executive compensation limits set forth in the Stimulus Plan, yet dismayed when they were eliminated or watered down.

The stimulus plan was passed by a 246-183 and a 60-38 margin in the House and Senate, respectively. Although Republicans Collins, Specter, and Snow were all instrumental in brokering several compromises, not a single House Republican cast a FOR vote; some predicted ruin if it passed.

Aren’t we in a ruinous state? Haven’t these same Republicans asked an unemployed person, uninsured family or senior citizen eating cat food recently how they are doing?

If it weren’t such a serious situation, I might have been amused to read about concerns that there would be a brain drain on Wall Street if the top management mix was limited. Recently, insiders expressed concern that excessive taxes voted on the retention bonuses of AIG’s and Merrill Lynch’s top executives were somehow unfair.

In response to our government’s attempt to claw back $4.4 million in retention bonuses for Freddie Mac & Fannie Mae’s four top executives, Federal Housing Finance Agency Director James Lockhart said, “We run a high risk of those same employees deciding that this is the drop and goes away.”

Many Americans who do theirs, and also work for the laid off, could easily come up with the “last straw” excuse, but don’t. But according to their annual Securities and Exchange Commission report, Fannie Mae apparently paid their Vice Chief Financial Officer a handsome $1.1 million retention bonus AND an additional $160,000 cash bonus for filing their financial statements on time. Call me old fashioned, but I remember times when you were demoted or fired if you didn’t do your work on time.

With all due respect, Mr. Lockhart, where were these overpaid heads of failed agencies supposed to “go”? Last I checked, a lot of unemployment has set up camp, and hedge fund managers — the once easy fallback position of corporate America — are lining up to buy tents.

Apparently, there is a growing belief that there are no top executives out there with a desire to return to some integrity who would gain pride—yes, there are other types of gains besides the almighty dollar—by being instrumental in breathing new life in our once proud, now dilapidated financial institutions.

Michael S. Melbinger, an executive compensation attorney at Winsteon & Strawn in Chicago commented on the Stimulus Plan’s proposed salary caps for top executives: “There is no pay for performance in this.” Haven’t we already issued WAY too much pay for WAY too little performance for WAY too many years on Wall Street?

Aren’t there motivated individuals who can be lured with the near promise of fame and future book or movie deals (that would surely bring more wealth than a year’s salary OR bonus) when they put their shoulder to the grindstone and lift their businesses from the ashes and into a Phoenix state? Perhaps there are even a few talented Warren Buffet-like individuals left – in 2008 he received the same $100,000 base salary as he has for 25 years and $25,000 in executive fees – that would be motivated by the upholding of their good name or not – such a good name to be turned up a notch or two when they performed?

Yes, President Obama’s exhortation to all of us to “step in” applies even to top executives. It’s time they used their brains for a little more than their families’ luxury ski trips and ultra (non-green) fleets of bling-bling cars and otherwise lavish lifestyles and rolled up their sleeves to restore even a modicum of consumer confidence to the system.

Not only would this be smart, it can better ensure that we don’t touch class wars. The middle class is shrinking fast. There is a clearer distinction between the haves and the have-nots; and they have not are restless.

So it’s not only morally important to give hope to hardworking Americans, it’s economically important to stop the horrendously steep increases in unemployment. Let’s get people back to work. Some of them are downright hungry; some justifiably angry. For those of us with jobs and food, we look for some measure of control over those whose appetites for unlimited personal gain are seemingly unsatisfied.

As a financial advisor, I would appreciate some sign that our government is strengthening Wall Street so I could encourage people to “invest in stocks in America” ​​again.

Without this trust, the employees Larry Lunch pails and Nancy Nurses will park their 401(k) or 403(b) [http://www.msmorrisonspeaks.com/money/2008/11/what-to-do-with-that-201k.html] on a fixed income sub-account. Not only will it not speed up the stock markets’ recovery, but it will be devastating to their long-term purchasing power; quite possibly result in them having to work another 10 years just to make up for the lost performance relative to stocks, at least historically.

Apparently, the big fear is that companies whose executives are greedy beyond words (OR act) will seek to repay TARP money ASAP so they can be out of the new executive compensation restrictions. Then the fear continues, banks in particular could restrict the flow of loans etc. that were designed to increase liquidity into the system – you know, Main Street.

They clearly forgot to insert the “instructions for use” page in the TARP check envelopes; the ones where the banks had to lend to mom and pop America without siphoning off other foreign or domestic financial institutions to shore up their balance sheets, or worse, paying themselves huge year-end bonuses. Remind me how the missing cash flow would stop if TARP money were to be repaid?

The top executives of failed companies must admit to themselves and their families that they were not worth those groups of zeroes, nor will they receive such disproportionate compensation for terrible performance going forward. They will act in a fiduciary capacity and take what shareholders feel is commensurate with their performance over the next 2 years. They will recognize that this will indeed involve a lifestyle adjustment – something they could receive free training in from scores of other managers laid off even since September 2008.

There is no silver bullet; yet there is a hole in our collective rowboat. We cannot waste time fussing over whose end it is; start bailing. The votes have been cast; a stimulus proposal has been adopted. There is no time for smug “I’m not responsible because I didn’t vote for it” excuses. If there’s anything I hate, it’s a quitter, worse yet a sore loser, or someone who refuses to entertain an idea that doesn’t come from their own corpus collosum. Let all that rationale make up your campaign rhetoric next election. In the meantime, roll up your sleeves like elected politicians and work until the job is done.

What history will report on is who did what to contribute to sound legislation to oversee the use of these Stimulus Plan funds; best to ensure that the end result is not perfect, but the most favorable, in terms of solving America’s biggest problems.

This country, its citizens and their economic health and hope rest on your bi-partisan cooperation.

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