In 1965, America’s big companies had a hell of ayear. The stock market was booming. Sales wererising briskly, profit margins were fat, and corporateprofits as a percentage of G.D.P. were at an all-timehigh. Almost half a century later, some things lookmuch the same: big American companies have had ahell of a year, with the stock market soaring,margins strong, and profits hitting a new all-timehigh. But there’s one very noticeable difference. In1965, C.E.O.s at big companies earned, on average,about twenty times as much as their typicalemployee. These days, C.E.O.s earn about two hundred and seventy times as much.
从第二段开头的the huge gap可以看出第一段讲的是两种经济状况之间的差距。这里也正好是第一题的定位：The author makes a comparison between today’s America with that of 1965______.既然第二段追究的是这种gap的原因，那么答案就在第一段结尾处：今天的CEO-雇员的收入差距比大大增加了。
That huge gap between the top and the middle is the result of a boom in executivecompensation, which rose eight hundred and seventy-six per cent between 1978 and 2011,according to a study by the liberal Economic Policy Institute. In response, we’ve had a host ofregulatory reforms designed to curb executive pay. The latest of these is a rule, unveiled bythe S.E.C. last month, requiring companies to disclose the ratio of the C.E.O.’s pay to that ofthe median worker. The idea is that, once the disparity is made public, companies will be lesslikely to award outsized pay packages.
Faith in disclosure has been crucial to the regulation of executive pay since the nineteen-thirties, when companies were first required to reveal those figures. More recently, rules havemade companies detail the size and the structure of compensation packages and haveenforced transparency about the kinds of comparisons they rely on to determine salaries.The business press, meanwhile, now rigorously tracks executive pay. The result is thatshareholders today know far more about C.E.O. compensation than ever before. There’s onlyone problem: even as companies are disclosing more and more, executive pay keeps going upand up.
This isn’t a coincidence: the drive for transparency has actually helped fuel the spirallingsalaries. For one thing, it gives executives a good idea of how much they can get away withasking for. A more crucial reason, though, has to do with the way boards of directors setsalaries. As the corporate-governance experts Charles Elson and Craig Ferrere write in a recentpaper, boards at most companies use what’s called “peer benchmarking.” They look at theC.E.O. salaries at peer-group firms, and then peg their C.E.O.’s pay to the fiftieth, seventy-fifth, or ninetieth percentile of the peer group—never lower. This leads to the so-called LakeWobegon effect: every C.E.O. gets treated as above average. With all the other companiesfollowing the same process, salaries ratchet inexorably higher. “Relying on peer-groupcomparisons, the way boards do, mathematically guarantees that pay is going to go up,” Elsontold me.
On top of this, peer-group comparisons aren’t always honest: boards can be too cozy withC.E.O.s and may tweak the comparisons to justify overpaying. A recent study by the laboreconomist Ron Laschever shows that boards tend to include as peers companies that arebigger than they are and that pay their C.E.O.s more. The system is also skewed by so-called“leapfroggers,” the few C.E.O.s in a given year who, whether by innate brilliance or by dumbluck, end up earning astronomical salaries. Those big paydays reset the baseline expectationsfor everyone else.
This isn’t just an American problem. Elson notes that, when Canada toughened its disclosurerequirements, executive salaries there rose sharply, and German studies have foundsomething similar. Nor is it primarily a case of boards being helplessly in thrall to a company’sexecutives. Boards are far more independent of management than they used to be, and it’snotable that a C.E.O. hired from outside a company—who therefore has no influence over theboard—typically gets twenty to twenty-five per cent more than an inside candidate. The realissues are subtler, though no less insidious. Some boards, in the face of much evidence tothe contrary, remain convinced of what Elson calls “superstar theory”: they think that C.E.O.scan work their magic anywhere, and must be overpaid to stay. In addition, Elson said, “if youpay below average, it makes it look as if you’d hired a below-average C.E.O., and what boardwants that?”
Transparent pricing has perverse effects in other fields. In a host of recent cases, publicdisclosure of the prices that hospitals charge for various procedures has ended up drivingprices up rather than down. And the psychological causes in both situations seem similar. Wetend to be uneasy about bargaining in situations where the stakes are very high: do you wantthe guy doing your neurosurgery, or running your company, to be offering discounts? Better,in the event that something goes wrong, to be able to tell yourself that you spent all you could.And overspending is always easier when you’re spending someone else’s money. Corporateboard members are disbursing shareholder funds; most patients have insurance to foot thebill.
Sunlight is supposed to be the best disinfectant. But there’s something naïve about the newS.E.C. rule, which presumes that full disclosure will embarrass companies enough to restrainexecutive pay. As Elson told me, “People who can ask to be paid a hundred million dollars arebeyond embarrassment.” More important, as long as the system for setting pay is broken,more disclosure makes things worse instead of better. We don’t need more information. Weneed boards of directors to step up and set pay themselves, instead of outsourcing the job totheir peers. The rest of us don’t get to live in Lake Wobegon. C.E.O.s shouldn’t, either.
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