Did Obama’s fiscal stimulus work?


"You didn’t build that" – which of sport superstars, celebrities and top CEOs earn their pay more?

Defenders have also pointed to the pay of pro ballplayers or Hollywood stars, but they do not determine their own pay (as CEOs do) and are paid based on performance. Once they begin to fail, they are dumped. By contrast, CEO pay isn’t tied to performance in any meaningful way.

Bruce Murphy – The Incredible Rise of CEO Pay

It’s a big concession to say that athletes and celebrities earn their pay but top CEOs don’t. Most of all, that concession changes the case against the top 1% from inequality to just desert – a big shift in theories of distributive justice. It’s also a big risk to base the argument for greater equality and a 80% top tax rate not only on the excesses of CEOs but on the very specific and testable hypothesis that these CEOs determine their own pay.

if we are to look at CEOs, top athletes and Hollywood celebrities, it is the athletes and celebrities who benefited the most from the windfall of been able to service huge markets through the global media market.

Figure 1: CEO pay and share market performance


Source:  Economic Policy Institute.

CEOs actually have to run large complex companies to earn their pay, which is why their compensation tracks the share market relatively closely. Athletes and celebrities don’t do that what they do any better than in the past. They simply do it in front of a global media market. Since the late 1970s, the ratio of average pay of CEOs of large public companies to the average market value of those companies has stayed relatively constant: CEO pay grew hand in hand with corporations.


Steven Kaplan and Joshua Rauh make a number of basic points backed up by detailed evidence about CEO pay:

  • While top CEO pay has increased, so has the pay of private company executives and hedge fund and private equity investors;
  • ICT advances increase the pay of many – of professional athletes (technology increases their marginal product by allowing them to reach more consumers), Wall Street investors (technology allows them to acquire information and trade large amounts more easily), CEOs and technology entrepreneurs in the Forbes 400; and
  • Technology allows top executives and financiers to manage larger organizations and asset pools  – a loosening of social norms and a lack of independent control of CEO pacesetting does not explain similar increases in pay for private companies–  technology explains it;


To put it simply:

If the reason for growth of incomes at the very top is, say, managerial power in publicly owned companies, then one would expect the increases in income at the top levels to be much larger for that group.

But the breadth of the occupations that have seen a rise in top income levels is much more consistent with the argument that the increase in “superstar” pay (or pay at the top) has been driven by the growth of information and communications technology, and the ways this technology allows individuals with particular skills that are in high demand to expand the scale of their performance.

As for the turnover argument, that underperforming athletes and celebrities are dropped, prior to the GFC, CEO turnover was already on the rise:

Turnover is 14.9% from 1992 to 2005, implying an average tenure as CEO of less than seven years. In the more recent period since 1998, total CEO turnover increases to 16.5%, implying an average tenure of just over six years.

Internal turnover is significantly related to three components of firm performance – performance relative to industry, industry performance relative to the overall market, and the performance of the overall stock market.

Only 21.3% of CEOs in 1992 remained in that role in 1999; only 16.35% of CEOS on the job in 2000 were there in 2007. In any given year, one out of six Fortune 500 CEOs loses their jobs, compared to one out of 10 in the 1970s.


Dirk Jenter and Fadi Kanaan in a study of of 3,365 CEO turnovers from 1993 to 2009 found that:

CEOs are significantly more likely to be dismissed from their jobs after bad industry and, to a lesser extent, after bad market performance. A decline in industry performance from the 90th to the 10thpercentile doubles the probability of a forced CEO turnover.

In another study, Kaplan found that average CEO pay increased substantially during the 1990s, but declined by more than 30% from peak levels reached around 2000.


In addition, private company executives have seen their pay increase by at least as much as public companies. Private company executives with fewer agency problems have increased by more than public company executives. To close with another quote from Kaplan:

The point of these comparisons is to confirm that while public company CEOs earn a great deal, they are not unique. Other groups with similar backgrounds–private company executives, corporate lawyers, hedge fund investors, private equity investors and others—have seen significant pay increases where there is a competitive market for talent and managerial power problems are absent.

Again, if one uses evidence of higher CEO pay as evidence of managerial power or capture, one must also explain why these professional groups have had a similar or even higher growth in pay. It seems more likely that a meaningful portion of the increase in CEO pay has been driven by market forces as well.

Secret Tapes of the final Copenhagen Summit negotiations, starring Obama, Brown, Sarko & Merkel

In Copenhagen’s final private negotiations, Obama, Brown, Sarko and Merkel sat down with He Yafei, the Chinese vice-minister of foreign affairs. There is a tape of this meeting at Der Spiegel

He Yafei was the smartest guy in the room. Wen Jiabao refused to attend most of the negotiating sessions.

Given the choice of walking out or sitting down with a vice-minister, they chose humiliation. One response of Obama was:

It would be nice to negotiate with somebody who can make political decisions.

There were still two important placeholders, X and Y, in the draft agreement. They marked the spots where the percentage targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, for the industrialized nations and emerging countries respectively, were to be entered.

China and India were unwilling to make that commitment. They had reached their own agreement with Brazil and South Africa.

"We have all along been saying ‘Don’t prejudge options!,’" said a representative of the Indian delegation*, prompting Merkel to burst out: "Then you don’t want legally binding!"

The entire discussion at Der Spiegel in multiple parts should be read while listening to the tape.

Obama’s opportunistic record on fighting global warming

Even in the US, where nothing can be done through legislation thanks to Republican delusionists.

The 2008 Republican Party presidential nominee supported cap-and-trade. McCain had a strong legislative record; he introduced a bill with Joe Lieberman to introduce carbon trading in 2003.

McCain has been one of the most outspoken members of Congress on the issue of climate change’ and he “managed to force the first real Senate vote on actually doing something about the largest environmental peril our species has yet faced.

McCain used a Senate parliamentary manoeuvre that forced a floor vote on the climate legislation. The McCain-Lieberman bill lost 43-55.

In 2007 he reintroduced his bill, with bipartisan co-sponsorship. Obama missed the June 2008 vote on McCain’s Climate Security Bill.

In a March 2008 speech, McCain called for a “successor to the Kyoto Treaty” and a cap-and-trade system “that delivers the necessary environmental impact in an economically responsible manner.”

McCain’s climate policy includes several target dates. By 2012, McCain said U.S. emissions should return to 2005 levels. By 2050, he says, the U.S. emissions should be 60 per cent below 1990 levels.

In January 2010, the Pew Research Center asked Americans to rank the importance of twenty-one issues. Climate change came in last.

After winning the fight over health care, another issue for which polling showed weak support, Obama moved on to the safer issue of financial regulatory reform.

There were 5 Republican senators who would have voted for cap and trade in April 2010: Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Scott Brown, and George LeMieux. There were 57 Democrat Senators. It takes 60 votes to break a filibuster.

President Obama could have fought harder to get the Bill the House passed through the Senate but he did not.

Blame Obama, no one else. He is supposed to make change happen. He lacked the political skills to build coalitions even within his own party to deliver.

Many others, including McCain softened or reversed positions as voter support waned as the great recession deepened.

In Copenhagen’s final private negotiations, Obama, Brown, Sarko and Merkel sat down with He Yafei, the Chinese vice-minister of foreign affairs. There is a tape of this meeting at Der Spiegel. HT: The Guardian.

He Yafei was the smartest guy in the room – listen to the tape. Wen Jiabao refused to attend most of the negotiating sessions.

Given the choice of walking out and sitting down with a vice-minister, they chose humiliation. One response of Obama was:

It would be nice to negotiate with somebody who can make political decisions.

Rather than blaming vast right-wing conspiracies, using Google searches for “unemployment” and “global warming”, Kahn and Kotchen found that:

  • Recessions increase concerns about unemployment at the expense of public interest in climate change;
  • The decline in global-warming searches is larger in more Democratic leaning states; and
  • An increase in a state’s unemployment rate decreases in the probability that Americans think global warming is happening, and reduces the certainty of those who think it is.

The middle-of-the-road voters changed their priorities and their political leaders followed them.

It’s the peoples’ will, I am their leader, I must follow them. – Jim Hacker, The Greasy Pole

As Geoff Brennan has argued, CO2 reduction actions will be limited to modest unilateral reductions of a largely token character. There are many expressive voting concerns that politicians must balance to stay in office and the environment is but one of these. Once climate change policies start to actually become costly, expressive voting support for these policies will fall away, and it has.

President Obama’s persistent ’77-cent’ claim on the wage gap gets a new Pinocchio rating–updated


The fact checker at the Washington Post said:

Few experts dispute that there is a wage gap, but differences in the life choices of men and women — such as women tending to leave the workforce when they have children — make it difficult to make simple comparisons.

…From a political perspective, the Census Bureau’s 77-cent figure is golden. Unless women stop getting married and having children, and start abandoning careers in childhood education for naval architecture, this huge gap in wages will almost certainly persist. Democrats thus can keep bringing it up every two years.

…There appears to be some sort of wage gap and closing it is certainly a worthy goal. But it’s a bit rich for the president to repeatedly cite this statistic as an “embarrassment.” …The president must begin to acknowledge that “77 cents” does not begin to capture what is actually happening in the work force and society.


In premiere episode of ‘Factual Feminist’ Christina Sommers explains how the gender wage gap is based on bogus statistics