Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Greenspan on shareholders, governance and pay

From Age of Turbulence:
Over the decades governmemnt agencies and various interst groups have pressed institutional investors, especialy pension funds, to vote their shares in a manner that would resurrect the "corporate democracy" of earlier decades. But these institutions argue that their responsibility to their pensioners is to invest profitably, and that their expertise is in judging financial market value, not in the alien practice of corporate management. Some public pension funds have become more engaged, but their activities are marginal.

So, shareholders as owners is a bit of a myth, and:
...if the owners are no longer the managers, CEO control and the authoritarianism it breeds are probably the only way to run an enterprise successfully. There do not appear to credible alternatives to placing the power of governance in the hands of the CEO...

It's a coherent view, even if we don't accept it. But then why say a bit earlier:
I hope shareholders will look beyond their focus on investment returns and pay attention to CEO compensation. If compensation is inappropriate, it is their pockets that are being picked. There is no role here for government wage control.

This is what makes me cycnical about those on the Right who argue that exec pay is purely a matter for companies and shareholders. Greenspan even acknowledges that the shareholder-ownership function doen't work properly, and that CEO inevitably must have the whip hand. But then he argues that shareholders are the ones to ensure that CEOs don't loot the company. Eh? It looks like suggesting a remedy that you know doesn't work.

No comments: