Monday, April 16, 2012

Overpaid jocks? How 'bout overpaid CEOs!

Every once in a while, a friend or a reader (or both -- they aren't mutually exclusive!) will start a conversation about the mega-bucks so many athletes receive. S0metimes, I start the conversation myself, as was the case in my back-to-back posts about Joe Mauer last week.

Though I find athlete compensation to be an extremely interesting subject, I just about never am outraged about the salaries these folks get. For one thing, nobody forces team owners to dole out these kinds of dollars. For another, well-compensated athletes are among the very best in the world at what they do. They work hard. They earn their money.

This brings me to a recent story I saw about the CEO of Lowe's hardware chain, a guy named Robert Niblock.

Niblock had a pretty lousy year in 2011, with Lowes profits falling 8.5 percent. The chain announced it was closing 20 stores and slowing future growth.

For this, Niblock saw his compensation decline -- to only $11.6 million. (He had made $12 million in 2010.)

Think about that. He failed at his mission, yet he still was rewarded with $11.6 million.

Now, THAT's outrageous.

Let's turn this conversation back to Joe Mauer. He is one of only 30 people on the planet good enough to start at catcher for a major league team. And Mauer is a multiple All-Star, meaning he is a member of a group that numbers only about a half-dozen -- in the entire world!

It's classic supply and demand. There are very, very, very few Joe Mauers available, and he is fortunate enough to take part in a multibillion-dollar business with a history of compensating its best participants well.

Is Mauer as valuable to society as the best teachers, cops, firefighters, nurses, doctors, etc.? Of course not. But there are millions of those fine folks.

My wife is a nurse, and an excellent one ... but she is not one of only six people in the entire world who is outstanding at what she does. Literally just about anybody could be a nurse; hardly anybody can be an All-Star big-league catcher.

With proper training, Mauer could be a nurse. He also could be the CEO of a major corporation. And he probably would do as well -- or better -- than Robert Niblock.

Thousands -- maybe millions -- of us regular folks have the intelligence and work ethic to do what Niblock does if we had the training and the breeding and the luck. Very, very few of us have the physical ability to do what Mauer does.

I don't mean to pick on Niblock. He is one of hundreds upon hundreds of corporate titans who gets huge money, regardless of whether their companies succeed or fail.

CEOs and others high in the corporate food chain have a profound effect on the economy. So many of them are fine men and women, so I don't want to rip the entire group, but the greediest among them can conspire to melt down our financial system, as almost happened a few years ago. Some even engage in criminal acts, with a very small percentage of those miscreants ever serving jail time.

If you want to be outraged by elite salaries, don't bother with jocks and rock stars and actors. In the big picture, they mean bupkis to society.

Be outraged about executive compensation, especially for those who run their companies into the ground and put our national financial security at risk. That means something.

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