Understanding the CEO Pay Debate

By Susan R. Holmberg |

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The problem of rising CEO pay is an extraordinarily complex and contested issue. This primer on CEO pay by Roosevelt Fellow and Director of Research Susan Holmberg and Roosevelter Michael Umbrecht serves to unpack this complicated topic by a) explaining the problems with CEO pay, including the harm it imposes on workers, businesses, and society; b) highlighting some of the early history of CEO pay, including a handful of the key policies that have shaped it; c) presenting the main theories that attempt to explain why CEO pay has risen so dramatically; d) addressing the fallacy of shareholder primacy and introduces the stakeholder model; and e) concludes by highlighting some policy recommendations that are outside of the shareholder primacy framework.

Susan R. Holmberg is a political economist and a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, where she researches and writes on inequality, corporate governance, and climate change issues. Holmberg is the author and co-author of numerous books, reports, and articles including, The Hidden Rules of Race, Rewriting the Rules (with Roosevelt Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz), Boiling Points, and The Atlantic essay, "Can CEO Pay Ever Be Reeled In?