Volume 30, Issue 1/2, 2011
A Moral and Economic Defense of Executive Compensation
A great deal has been written in recent years about the justification, if any, for the current levels of executive compensation. The folk consensus is that the current levels of executive compensation are unjustifiably high from both a moral and an economic perspective. In the case of the former, the compensation level is unfair and unjust. And in the case of the latter, the compensation level is not in the broader interests of other stakeholders or of firm-value maximization.
In this paper I counter this folk wisdom. I argue that executive compensation is a facet of the Stockholder Model, in which the primary objective of the firm is taken to be the maximization of shareholder wealth, and as such any moral critique of executive compensation is by default a critique of the Stockholder Model. Thus a necessary and sufficient condition for a moral defense of executive compensation is a moral defense of the Stockholder Model. I provide such a defense. Once the Stockholder Model is accepted then any moral or economic defense of executive compensation rests on its compatibility with shareholder wealth
maximization. I argue that the current levels of executive compensation are consistent with the overarching corporate goal of shareholder wealth maximization. Thus the current levels of executive compensation are both morally and economically justified.