Obramba zgornjega 1%: vse je v talentu in trdem delu

Ta vikend smo se precej zabavali z branjem absurdne obrambe zasluženih zaslužkov zgornjega 1%, ki jo je v kolumni v New York Timesu uprizoril ugledni harvardski profesor Greg Mankiw. Mankiw pravi takole: Robert Downey Jr. je leta 2012 za vlogo Iron Mana filmu “The Avengers” zaslužil 50 mio $, kar je približno 3% zneska, ki ga je v blagajne prinesel film. S tem se je uvrstil v zgornji 1% posameznikov z najvišjimi dohodki. Podobno velja za E. L. Jamesa in LeBrona Jamesa itd. So te vsote nezaslužene? Ne, pravi Mankiw, ljudje nasploh nimajo nič proti temu, da talentirani posamezniki za svoje delo zelo dobro zaslužijo. Jasno, s tem ni popolnoma nič narobe.

Problem pa nastane nekaj odstavkov za tem, ko Mankiw začne braniti visoke zaslužke menedžerjev v finančnem sektorju. Saj veste, finančni sektor je tako zelo blazno potreben, zato so v tem sektorju nujno zaposleni  najbolj talentirani posamezniki, pri čemer vodilni v finančnih družbah zasedajo še izjemno tvegana delovna mesta:

A similar case is the finance industry, where many hefty compensation packages can be found. There is no doubt that this sector plays a crucial economic role. Those who work in banking, venture capital and other financial firms are in charge of allocating the economy’s investment resources. They decide, in a decentralized and competitive way, which companies and industries will shrink and which will grow. It makes sense that a nation would allocate many of its most talented and thus highly compensated individuals to the task.

In addition, recent research establishes that those working in finance face particularly risky incomes. Greater risk requires greater reward.

Mhm, glede tega me obideta dve preprosti vprašanji. Prvič, s čim si je finančni sektor zaslužil tako pomembno vlogo v družbi? V čem se je izkazal pomen trgovanja na borzah, hedganja, trgovanja z opcijami, trgovanja z devizami itd. v zadnjih nekaj desetletjih? Mar niso prav finančni trgi zakuhali vseh največjih kriz – od latinske Amerike, Azije, Vzhodne Evrope do ZDA – v zadnjih nekaj desetletjih? Kriz, ki so (smo) jih nato reševali davkoplačevalci na naših plečih.

In drugič, kaj je tako hudimano nadproporcionalno tveganega v vodenju banke, zavarovalnice ali hedge sklada? Kaj je tako hudimano tveganega v vodenju hedge sklada, da je v letu 2012 povprečna kompenzacija 40 najbolje plačanih menedžerjev hedge skladov znašala 400 mio $ (na osebo). Tudi za 10-krat ali 100-krat nižji znesek bi marsikateri talentirani posameznik želel prevzeti tovrstno tveganje, mar ne? Tudi za tisočinko te vsote.

Resnično, kako nadnaravno bolj talentiran moraš biti in kako nadnaravno bolj moraš garati, da sta tvoj talent in tvoj napor ter seveda nadnaravno visok rizik, ki ga vsakodnevno prevzemaš z vodenjem finančne inštitucije, vredna 400+ mio $?

Celotna kolumna Mankiwa je izpadla kot absurdna obramba zaslužkov prav zaposlenih in menedžerjev v finančnem sektorju, ki so vedno na zmagovalni strani. Pred krizo, ko se z napihovanjem balonov napihujejo tudi njihove kompenzacije in med krizo, ko se njihovim visokim plačam nič ne zgodi. Pa tudi če so zaradi lastnih napak odslovljeni, jih čaka bajna odpravnina.

Nič čudnega, da so po Mankiwovi komediji absurda padli cinični komentarji njegovih kolegov. Paul Krugman je pokazal na absurdnost navajanja zaslužkov posameznikov iz šovbiznisa, ki so v celotnih prihodkih zgornjega 1% zastopani le s 3.6%, medtem ko menedžerji v finančnem in nefinančnem sektorju poberejo kar dve tretjini celotnega dohodka zgornjega 1%. O pomenu finančnega sektorja pa:

Has Greg been living in a cave since 2006? We’re now in the seventh year of a slump brought on by Wall Street excess; the wizardly job of “allocating the economy’s investment resouces” consisted, we now know, largely of funneling money into a real estate bubble, using fancy financial engineering to create the illusion of sound, safe investment. We also know that there is a real question whether hedge funds, in particular, actually destroy value for their investors.

Anyway, the wolves of Wall Street are more Gordon Gekko than Iron Man; if they’re the best argument you have for the justice of extreme inequality, you’re not doing too well.

Dean Baker pa se je v Mankiwovi zgodbi lotil vprašanja talenta in trdega dela in pokazal, da zaslužki najbolje plačanih posameznikov ne temeljijo niti na tako velikem talentu niti na tako trdem delu, pač pa bodisi na podaljšanem pravnem monopolu glede izkoriščanja pravic intelektualne lastnine ali sistemu visokofrekvenčnega trgovanja, ki je po njegovem tako koristno kot insidersko trgovanje:

Greg Mankiw is out there defending the 1 percent again. He put forward the argument that the big bucks are simply their just desserts; the rewards for exceptional skill and hard work.

His opening act is Robert Downey Jr. who apparently got $50 million for his starring role in a single movie. This is a great place to start. There’s no doubt that Robert Downey is an extremely talented actor, but of course there have been many actors over the years who have put in great performances for much less money. How is that Downey could earn so much more than a great actor from the 50s, 60s, or 70s? …

In fact, a big part of the reason that Downey can collect huge paychecks is the extension and strengthening of copyrights. The United States has lengthened the period of copyrights from 28 years, with an option for a 28 year renewal, to 75 years in the 1976, and then to 95 years in 1998. 

It also has stepped up copyright enforcement, imposing stiff fines on people who use the Internet to make unauthorized copies of copyrighted material. … It is only because of government intervention in the form of copyright monopolies that he is able to collect $50 million. …

So is Downey worth his $50 million, perhaps given the structure we have, but we could easily have a different structure which could quite possibly be a more efficient way to support and distribute creative work. (Here‘s my scheme.) …

Then we get to the CEOs who Mankiw tells us get high pay because of what they contribute to their companies and the economy. If this is the case, how do we explain CEO’s of companies like Lehman, Bear Stearns, and AIG walking away with hundreds of millions of dollars even though they drove their firms into bankruptcy? … How do we explain the fact that CEOs of incredibly successful companies in Europe, Japan, and South Korea make on average around a tenth as much as our crew does?

That one doesn’t seem to fit the just desserts story. The more likely explanation is the Pay Pals story, where the company’s board of directors are paid off by CEOs to look the other way as they pilfer the company. …

And then there is the financial sector where Mankiw tells us that the extraordinary pay is compensation for the volatility of paychecks. That’s interesting, except the vast majority of comparably talented and hardworking people would be happy to get the pay the finance folks get in the bad years. Much of the big money on Wall Street stems from highly leveraged bets that beat the market by seconds or even milliseconds. This provides as much value to the economy as insider trading…

It would be interesting to see what would happen to the big fortunes in the financial sector if it had to pay a small transaction fee, effectively subjecting it to the same sort of sales tax that is paid in almost every other sector of the economy. It would also be interesting to see what would happen to the private equity folks if they lost the opportunity for the tax gaming that is their bread and butter….

If the 1 percent are able to extract vast sums from the economy it is because we have structured the economy for this purpose. It could easily be structured differently, but the 1 percent and its defenders aren’t interested in changing things. And the 1 percent and its defenders have a great deal of influence on the direction of economic policy.

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