Who is rich?

An executive compensation consulting firm called Equilar does an annual study for The New York Times showing the top 200 compensated CEOs. This year the average pay of these firms’ employees was revealed, and the disparity is ever increasing.  The highest paid CEO for last year (of firms that filed by April 30) was Hock Tan of Broadcom, who total compensation amounted to $103,211,163, but the firm did not provide employee compensation information.  The second on the list was Frank Bisignano of First Data, whose total package amounted to $102,210,396, which was 2,208 times the average employee compensation $50,406.  How about Walmart? Doug McMillon earned $22.2 million while the average employee earned $19,177. That means it would take that employee over one thousand years to earn the CEO’s salary. Or how about Michael Rapino, the CEO of Live Nation Entertainment, who earned $70.6 million while his employees earned an average of $24,406.  It would take the employee 2,893 years to earn the same.

The gap between executive compensation and employee compensation continues to grow at an alarming rate, with an ever-increasingly smaller percentage of our citizens earning vast sums.   While most Americans must work to earn a living, how does this growing gap engender a positive outlook on life? When you add the staggering debt college graduates face, which by the way has overtaken credit card debt as the greatest consumer debt, this report seems to reinforce what some have said: the economy is doing great for certain people.  The increasing life span of Americans means that more money must be saved for retirement, to plan at least for twenty years of income post-retirement.  Two decades ago people retired at a younger age than they do now, and I would think that one of the contributing factors towards delayed retirement is the need to grow the pension beyond its original forecast some forty years ago.  Many retirement planners who advised a certain amount forty years ago have nearly doubled their new target amounts based upon longer lifespans.

Without trying to sound limiting, is there not some ceiling when compensation is enough? The sages of old were very wise in this matter, as we read in Pirkei Avot 4:1: Who is rich? One who is happy with his portion, as it is written, “When you eat the labor of your hands, happy will you be and all will be well with you” (Psalm 128:2). (“Happy will you be” refers to this world; “all will be well with you” refers to the world-to-come.)  We will not be judged by the sum total of investments; rather, we will be judged by how we invested in others.  The heavenly scales do not weigh your gold, but your worth to humanity.  Will the scale of mitzvot be in your favor? When God asks each of us if we were the best possible self we could be, what will be the answer?

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