A July 31 letter showed how corporate boards and consultants ride the merry-go-round hand in hand to keep executive compensation obscenely high -- many times higher than the pay of an average middle-class employee.
How much higher? A quick Internet search yielded a wide array of ratios, from a low of 185 to 1 to peaks of more than 500 to 1. Let's stick with numbers reported by the Associated Press for 2011.
They show that the average compensation for a CEO in an S&P 500 company was $9.6 million. The median pay for an average employee was $39,000. In other words, if you plop a CEO on one side of the scale, you need to squeeze 246 employees on the other side to make it balance.
CEOs in other countries work for less. The highest employee-to-CEO pay ratios I found topped out at about 50 to 1 for Venezuela. Canada hit the middle at 20 to 1. Japan paid its top managers a measly 11 times more than an employee.
These figures are not solid, but even doubling or tripling them shows we could buy great CEOs for less than half what we're paying today. (Don't confuse CEOs with entrepreneurs. They're talented managers.) Conservatively, outsourcing one CEO could save the paychecks of more than 100 employees.
It's worth a try.
JOHN WIDEN, MINNEAPOLIS
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A July 29 article broke down the top 100 salaries of Minnesota CEOs, non-CEO executives and female executives. Some made modest gains in total compensation from 2010 to 2011, while others cashed in big-time. There were even some who lost income during that period. One in particular was UnitedHealth Group CEO Stephen Hemsley. His total compensation package in 2011 was $48 million, down 1.6 percent from 2010.
Still, a windfall -- and I recalled my latest benefits statement from UnitedHealth and wondered how much of my reduced benefits and increased premiums had contributed to it. I read on and realized that the top female executive in Minnesota also worked for UnitedHealth. Gail Boudreaux drew $13.8 million in 2011 -- a 287 percent year-over-year increase. UnitedHealth completed the trifecta taking top honors in the non-CEO category. George Mikan's $14.8 million compensation package was 578 percent more than in 2010.
How many UnitedHealth members does it take pay for packages like this? I got a letter from the organization this week stating that it was in violation of the new health care law and would need to refund $114,000 to the member group I belong to. Unfortunately, that amounted to 42 cents per person, so no actual refund would happen. Good thing it only cost 45 cents to mail that notification letter. Brilliant work!
GREG PIERCE, BEMIDJI, MINN.
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Should the freedom of speech be limited today to technology that existed in 1790 -- oration on a soapbox in the town's public square, or handbills produced with hand-set type, duplicated on a hand-cranked, flatbed press and distributed by horseback? Who could imagine, in 1790, the influence of radio, television and the digital age?
I doubt that an Aug. 1 letter writer ("Did Founding Fathers foresee assault rifles?") would accept such a limitation on speech, yet he believes the Second Amendment should be so limited. C'mon -- the founders wrote "arms" in the Second Amendment rather than "muzzle-loaded muskets and pistols" because they recognized that the future could change what constitutes the term. In the day of Prince John, arms were cudgels, pitchforks and long bows. Why be limited to that day's hot setup?
The founders had just finished our war for independence, fought against a supposedly superior army. We won because we were armed and knew how to shoot. Those wise men would have voted to allow whatever was available to win that war.
LOU SANDOW, BIRCHWOOD, WIS.
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Modern science has moved so far beyond "common sense" and everyday human intuition that laypersons -- including me and pediatrician Ross S. Olson ("The Evolution of a creationist," Aug. 1) -- need to proceed with great caution.
Quoting books and research papers is not enough when we lack the technical knowledge and training to evaluate what we read. Finding fault with one idea does not validate a contrary idea. As somewhat remote observers of the debate, we have to give weight to the consensus view of experts.
In the short term, in very narrow fields, it may take time for a newer, and more correct, idea to take hold. But it is clear in the history of science that "professional peer pressure" has a limited shelf life, and truth will out. The evolution debate has gone on for so many decades, and touched so many fields of scientific study, that the consensus can't be tossed aside by us laypersons without looking a bit foolish.
RODGERS ADAMS, MINNEAPOLIS
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Peru has regained its position as the top cocaine producer in the world thanks in large part to the United States, which continues to maintain its position as the top procurer of cocaine in the world. We're No. 1! We're No. 1!
DOUG WILLIAMS, ROBBINSDALE