Monday, October 10, 2011

Making Sense of Occupy Wall Street

As a business professor I am torn about the Occupy Wall Street protest (OWS).  On one hand, the capitalism and free market economy enable people to “pull themselves up from their bootstraps” and become wealthy by inventing, creating, developing and delivering new and creative products and services that meet a need.  Doing this at a price consumers will pay while making money is an art and science.  For those who have this talent and gift, should they not be compensated for taking risks?  Isn’t that what makes American business great?  This is the land of opportunity….right?  Just look at what the late Steve Jobs did to help make your life better.  We didn’t have to buy an overpriced MP3 player, but Jobs had the gift to make the i-anything what we as Americans wanted to buy.
On the other hand, I read about executive compensation in the millions while the business is laying off workers or not giving them a raise and I wonder how many line jobs those millions of dollars to one person could pay for. I wonder what is “fair” compensation for CEOs who run corporations.  Is anyone worth $1 million a year, $5 million a year, $30 million a year or even $4 billion a year? Does greed cause us to “bend” the rules, influence decision that our more about us and not so much for the greater good?  Is it the corporation that should be concerned with the greater good?  I can argue with myself all night long about these issues and not come to a clear conclusion. 

Maybe that is what I am struggling with the OWS protest, I don’t know exactly what they want and when they will be satisfied enough to unoccupy Wall Street.  I don’t know if they have clearly stated what they want to see changed. 

From my desk, here are my suggestions for clarity of goals:
1.      Deal with executive compensation and fair pay. Limit executive compensation to a times average salary.  Whole Food touts CEO John Mackey’s salary and cash bonus to no more than 14 time the average worker’s salary.  This should also include stock options and differed compensation.  If the people on top want a raise, everyone should get a raise. This may develop a sense of teamwork, community and doing good for everyone.

2.      Limit the amount of contributions to political campaigns, politicians, and political organization.  Isn’t America to be governed for the people, by the people?  Take the all corporations out of politics and limit individual contributions so no one can buy influence.

3.      Make the tax code fair.  When Warren Buffett is saying it is not fair that he pays less in taxes as a percentage of income than his secretary, things need to be changes.  We need to simplify the tax code by getting rid of loop holes to where anyone can do their own income tax.

I know that these three things take time to work through and have to be done through corporate boards and acts of congress. Maybe the Occupy Wall Street protest will grab the attention of the civil unrest in this nation and steps can be taken to save our democracy and do good for the greater good.


  1. I clicked the "interesting" button--thought-provoking post. I like your ideas, but I'm wondering how to enact 1--government regulation? Punitive tax consequences if compensation goes over X times average salary? I feel myself in sympathy with the anger that has led to "Occupy Wall Street," but am not sure what the policy outcome could be that would satisfy protesters.

  2. Great post.

    Bob, on the subject of compensation, here is an interesting video on how reward interacts with performance:

  3. I wrote my own post today, partly in reaction to yours, partly in reaction to the Knapp lecture:

  4. Opps. Wrong link:

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