Sunday, April 24, 2011

Fifty-Eight Million

I was in New York over the past few days for meetings related to one of my projects. Half of those were with people working in various parts of the United Nations system and the other half was with colleagues involved in the rest of the social sector, on the operating (NGO) or funding side. The message that I heard most consistently is that money is tight. Very tight. The general funding context for anything that seeks to create social or societal value seems incredibly depressed. The 2008 financial meltdown hit the social sector hard and it appears – based on these few conservations - that we are far from having returned to pre-crisis funding levels.

This occurs while in the US we all have in mind the incredibly hard battle that was fought over the next budget, the threat to shut down government operations for a while, and all the cuts that are going to occur (and luckily some to social programs that were avoided). I am all for chasing waste and redundancies - but the poor, the marginalized, and the elderly will likely suffer as a consequence of the new budget and of the probable changes to come in Medicaid and Medicare financing.

It seems as though we are all struggling and it is just damn hard for everyone these days…

Well – maybe not for everyone. Last week the compensation of the CEO of CBS was revealed for the year 2010. Leslie Moonves made a whopping 58 million – Fifty Eight Million, People. I am sure Leslie is a hard worker and did not steal his money. The CBS Board argued the increase in shareholder value (CBS stock has nearly doubled in the past year) that “outpaced both the industry and the company's internal targets" was the main justification for Moonves’ big payday. But the LA Times article (see hyperlink) is quick to point out that CBS’ total revenues in 2010 were largely unchanged from 2007 and that the company is not as profitable. Basically, CBS has recovered from the slump it went through along with most of its competitors.

Who else at CBS was as lucky as Leslie? CBS Chairman Sumner Redstone received a package valued at $20.3m and Viacom’s CEO Philippe Dauman pocketed nearly $85 million (!!!!), which included a $31.65m signing bonus.

That is about 165 million dollars overall, Folks!! How about the rest of the company’s executives and employees?

It boggles my mind that the question of allocation of profits is too often left aside. Too few among us are questioning our system. How much did CBS’ rank-and-file employees receive for the company’s supposedly vastly improved situation (well, don’t look as far back as 2007 though)? How much will shareholders get in dividends? How much will CBS reinvest in its own growth?

I am writing about Leslie’s (and the Other Philippe’s) Big Payday because I just cannot understand how we find it ok that a few individuals make millions of dollars while hundreds of millions of folks live in poverty around the world, including in our richer countries. We have to fundamentally re-think how income is distributed in our society. Granted, some folks making crazy amounts of dough may give some of it away and thereby create social value. But why be so enamored with redistribution and philanthropy when our distribution model is so flawed?

Friends out there – if you have ideas about how to fix our distribution model, please contribute by making a comment. Also, tell me if you know of any initiatives that are focusing on these systemic questions (income distribution, reducing disparities, etc.). We have to do it ourselves, People. Not much has been done since the Lehman meltdown in 2008 though so many in government and in the business world said that the “systemic crisis” that we went through would fundamentally change the way our society and economy work. Our future is in our hands – let’s do this.

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