Archive for August, 2007

Send me your money. Seriously.

Friday, August 31st, 2007

Here’s a bit of news guaranteed to help you to get in touch with your inner Marxist: The top 20 hedge fund and private-equity fund managers pocketed an average $657.5 million in 2006, according to a recent study.

On one hand, that’s a matter for the people who invest in hedge funds to deal with. It’s none of my affair. After all, it’s the investors’ money and the fund manager is their hired hand. If I gave a guy a thousand dollars and he turned it into a million within a few months, I probably wouldn’t mind if he wanted to keep $900,000 of it for his trouble — considering I’m not smart enough to get a hundred-fold increase on my own. On the other hand, if a torch-wielding mob of peasants stormed his mansion and made off with his loot, I wouldn’t mind that, either. The greedy bastard would deserve it.

I suspect most Americans would agree with this viewpoint — especially that mob-of-peasants scenario.

The thing I don’t understand about executive compensation in general is why the laws of supply and demand apparently don’t apply. It’s not as if there are only a tiny handful of business executives capable of running a corporation, and that shareholders have to bid up their wages in order to attract them. In fact, I’d bet that almost every corporation has a very deep bench, to put it in sports terminology. There are surely a dozen people at each company who could do what the top guy does. Has anybody ever thought to say, “You know, that fellow Epstein in the Asian-markets office seems like a bright lad. Why don’t we give him a crack at the job for, say, $10 million?”

I suspect young Epstein would lunge at that offer like Paris Hilton goes after a photo op.

When you think about it, the only jobs in which compensation is truly and directly tied to performance tend to be in sports. If you’re driving in 100 runs a year for a baseball team, you collect a nice paycheck. Drop to 50 runs a year, and Epstein will be playing in your place and tipping you to detail his car. A fund manager has a bad year and, “Hey, it’s the market. You got your ups, you got your downs, it’s just the business cycle. Tell you what, make it $500 million this year and we’ll call it good.”

Don’t think it actually happens that way? According to this 2006 news article, one hedge fund manager took home $350 million in annual pay even though his flagship fund only returned 3.4 percent for two consecutive years. I’m getting more than that in my bank savings account.

Tell you what. Send me your money, I’ll park it in my account and guarantee you 4 percent. You pay me — aw, hell, I’ll do it for $100 million because I’m a generous guy — and we’ll call it good. I’ll even deal with the looting peasants on my own dime.