They may be paid like Tony Stark. But they're no Tony Stark.
In 2014, CEOs of the top 350 U.S. firms made 303 times more than their average workers.
First of all, are we talking about hundreds of Tony Starks? Are we dealing with f**king Ironmen? Because payouts like that could make sense if they're saving the world like everyone's favorite "genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist."
But they're not. There are no arc reactors MacGyvered in desert caves to keep their hearts beating. No flying armored suits with rocket-propelled, evil-seeking missiles.
These are just regular human people who happen to make tons of money.
They're the ones steering the companies that source our groceries, genetically modify our foods, pipe in our oil and gas, throttle our Internet service, drape us in sweatshop denim, and invest in ways to keep society more or less the same: unequal. Among other things, of course.
Why do we pay them so much?
It's not all a matter of choice, some might say. It's the market at work. And the ultimate payouts are just the costs of top talent.
But in the Harvard Business Review, John Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods, suggests we need to rethink how CEOs are rewarded:
"A bias to focus only on the external market in recent years has helped push executive compensation way out of whack. Because of the yawning gap between the leaders and the led, employee morale is suffering, talented performers' loyalty is evaporating, and strategy and execution is suffering at American companies."
Mackey says Whole Foods uses salary caps to "keep the external and internal equity perspectives in balance." Today, the company's salary cap ratio is 19:1.
Maybe you're thinking, "These CEOs run the nation's largest companies, so maybe they deserve a pass?"
True. They run huge companies with a lot at stake. But the fact that they lead the largest companies is precisely why they matter most on this issue.
"The reason to focus on the CEO pay of the largest firms is that they employ a large number of workers, are the leaders of the business community, and set the standards for pay in the executive pay market." — Economic Policy Institute
These folks are the spearhead of rising income inequality. The Economic Policy Institute found that 41.2% of people who are heads of households in the top 1% are executives or high-level managers.
If their pay packages look like they've been struck by elephantiasis...
...that's going to affect how a lot of other companies pay their leadership.
All of this might be a non-issue if all workers received a fair and living wage, which they should.
But they don't. Until they do, to anyone who argues that top CEOs deserve 303 times their average workers' salaries, Tony and I have only this to say: