CEO Wage Dynamics
The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation 2013-02-15
There is considerable debate over the level of executive pay. On one side, Bebchuk and Fried (2004) and others argue that weak governance allows executives to effectively set their own pay while disregarding market forces and shareholder value. On the other side, Gabaix and Landier (2008) and others argue that executive pay is determined in a competitive labor market, so executives have limited influence on their own pay.
In the paper, CEO Wage Dynamics: Estimates from a Learning Model, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, I use CEO wage dynamics as a laboratory for exploring this debate. Specifically, I examine how learning about a CEO's ability affects the level of his or her pay. For example, suppose that after a year of high profits we update our beliefs about a CEO's ability, and as a result the CEO's perceived contribution to next year's profits increases by $10 million. If the CEO obtains a $5 million raise for the following year, then the CEO captures half of the $10 million surplus and shareholders pocket the rest.