So, corporate executives make lots of money: What do you want to do about it?

Guest Editorial
Workers, unite! We must rise up and redistribute money that is now lost to corporate greed!

Take CMS Energy. President and CEO John Russell made nearly $4.9 million in 2010, according to the AFL-CIO Paywatch, a group that released a report Thursday focusing on CEO pay in Michigan.

The report presumably intended to provoke outrage. But, really, what else?

Would critics of high corporate pay want us to spread the wealth more evenly? Give Russell’s pay back to customers, perhaps? Consumers Energy serves some 1.8 million people, so that would come to less than $3 per customer per year.

Hmm, that’s not much redistribution of wealth …

Or maybe take that payout and spread it among employees. CEOs make hundreds of times the salary of the lowest worker at many companies.

So, take $1 million, for example, and give it to 1,000 employees. Then, each person gets $1,000. Which is, well, a nice chunk of change, but it probably does not move most families far up the income ladder.

Nor will it get you many CEO applicants. Gov. Rick Snyder famously paid himself only $1 for his first year in office, but most corporate executives are not doing charity work. They are in a free market, seeking out opportunities that pay them the best. It’s no different from any job seeker, except that few of us are being enticed with the lure of million-dollar salaries.

So, how about this? Spare us the outrage over corporate executives’ salaries. Owners and leaders of companies are going to make fortunes that most of us can only dream of. That is true today for a John Russell or a Bill Gates, as it was for Henry Ford, or Andrew Carnegie.

But if you want to change that reality, you have power. Buy products from companies that have a smaller ratio of worker-to-executive pay. Buy your natural gas from a competitor of Consumers Energy if you are upset by Russell’s compensation. Vote for politicians who would raise taxes on top earners.

If this outrages you, don’t merely complain. Do something. But understand, too, this is how things work in our economy. As Jim Muehlhausen, head of the group CEO Focus, put it:

“Talent gets rewarded, and whether people like it or not, executive talent is a free market.”