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Standards? We don't need no stinking standards!

By Michael R. Shannon
web posted May 16, 2011

If it's spring, it must be time for another round of stories focused on executives and compensation. Sure enough, the Wall Street Journal reports the median value of "salaries, bonuses and long–term incentive awards" for the jefe's of 350 large companies rose 11 percent last year, while the median age of their trophy wives declined 10 percent.

Philippe Dauman CEO of Viacom, the media company, was perched at the top with a $84.3 million bonanza that was more than double his take home in 2009. Certainly, when comparing his compensation with the blue-collar get–out–of–the–trailer–park program, better known as Powerball, the check is not so impressive. Powerball players have been known to hit a $365,000,000 jackpot, but remember Wal–Mart shoppers this Frenchman gets his fluctuating millions every year, while Powerball winners are few and far between.

Even mid–range captains of industry are doing well since the median value of their paychecks was $9.3 million, an amount that is more than double what I bring in a columnist. Yet strangely enough, I feel no angst.

By contrast the average worker who is still employed in Obama's Economy saw his paycheck grow by a meager 3 percent to an average of around $40,500, which just about covers Philippe's restaurant and valet parking tips.

Cal Thomas — a columnist I respect — thinks compensation at this stratospheric level is deplorable and sets a terrible example for the rest of the nation. Share–the–wealth Democrats agree and want legislation, indictments, regulations, finger–pointing, Joe Biden or something to level the compensation field without employing the 'S' word = socialism.

Both feel that powerful executives wearing expensive suits should limit their pay either voluntarily to set an example (Thomas) or because Uncle Sam says so (Biden).

It's not often you find both ends of the political spectrum sharing a quaint, old–fashioned notion like this. Why should we expect executives to model a type of behavior that is demanded of no other level of society?

We live in a restraint–free environment. If it feels good do it. If the check's large, cash it.

The only restraints most Americans are even vaguely aware of are passive restraints like airbags that only deploy in an emergency. Otherwise these restraints, just like moral restraints, do not in any way interfere with today's happenin' lifestyle.

Restraint, felt faint in the 60's and died a lingering death in the 80's.

There remain a few lingering pockets of restraint in locales without electricity and containing high concentrations of furniture makers, but the general concept has vanished from the rest of America.

In a country where an astounding 40 percent of all births are out–of–wedlock, do you really think CEOs are going to be troubled because they make more money than the rest of us?

Our cultural mandarins no longer permit any class or individual to set a good example in this country for fear it could damage "self esteem." To have a good example requires a bad example for comparison purposes and that's not allowed because it's "judgmental." All forms of dissipation are equally valid.

You can track the spread of this poisonous thinking throughout society with a calendar. The AFL–CIO, who follows salary matters closely, reports in 1980 CEO pay equaled 42 times the average blue–collar worker's pay.

By 2010 the ratio had exploded to 342 times the worker's median pay. A gap that approximates that of the disparity that exists between the drug kingpin and the drug mule. What's more, our gap is the widest in the world and the main reason illegals are still streaming north: If a Frenchman can cash in, maybe a Mexican can, too.

Meanwhile, among the soap opera–watching demographic, in 1970 approximately 10 percent of all children were born to women without a husband. By 2008 this slow–motion demographic disaster had increased to 40 percent overall and to 67 percent among women who did not finish high school but still had hopes of appearing on Dancing With the Stars.

In the 1930s only 6 percent of the populace, almost exclusively male, owned up to having a tattoo since body vandalism was viewed as low class and pathological. Today it appears only 6 percent don't have a tattoo.

For every Cal Thomas who is trying to encourage the rebirth of shame there are a thousand Jersey Shore viewers urging one to go for the gusto and go now.

Besides you could even say we've achieved a form of perverse equality in 21st Century America: the culture is equally rotten from top to bottom. ESR

Michael R. Shannon is a public relations, advertising and political consultant with experience around the globe. He is also a popular speaker and can be reached at michael–shannon@comcast.net.

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