How income inequality happens

Where's Charles Dickens when we need him? The novelist, who laid bare the shame of gross income inequality in 19th century England, came up with some perfectly-fitting names for his fat cat characters, including Scrooge, Mr. Tulkinghorn, Miss Havisham, and Nickleby. So I'm wondering what moniker Dickens would've given to Robert Marcus.

Where’s Charles Dickens when we need him? The novelist, who laid bare the shame of gross income inequality in 19th century England, came up with some perfectly-fitting names for his fat cat characters, including Scrooge, Mr. Tulkinghorn, Miss Havisham, and Nickleby. So I’m wondering what moniker Dickens would’ve given to Robert Marcus.

He’s the CEO of Time Warner Cable who has just won gold in the Greed Olympics for Grabbing the Most Gold with the Least Effort in the Shortest Time. Marcus became chief of the cable company on January 1st, and he immediately reached out to his corporation’s biggest rival, Comcast, offering to sell Time Warner to that giant. Only six weeks later, the deal was done.

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Why would a CEO rush to eliminate both his corporation and his own job? Perhaps because of a lucrative little provision in the contract he signed to become Time Warner’s honcho. It’s a CCC – a “change of control clause.” This is yet another way for CEOs to feather their own nest, for a CCC hands a big golden parachute to the top executive of a corporation that gets sold.

In this case, Robert pockets $80 million. Yes, that’s roughly $1.8 million a day for each of about 45 days he “worked” to sell off the company.

What we have here is a perverse form of incentive pay for corporate chieftains. Rather than rewarding them for outcompeting their rivals, a CCC encourages them to sidle up to their competitors and whisper: “Psssst, wanna buy my corporation?”

Not only did Marcus sell off Time Warner, but his self-serving deal will also sell out untold numbers of its employees who’ll be made “redundant” by the merger. We hear about America’s widening gap in income inequality, but here we can actually see it widen – one rich man gains an extra $80 million, and hundreds of workers lose their income.

“$80 Million for 6 Weeks for Cable Chief,” The New York Times, March 20, 2014.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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