Becker on the Pay Czar

Gary Becker on the pay czar:

The title of my post, “The Fatal Conceit”, is taken from the title of a book published in 1988 by Friedrich Hayek. In this book Hayek attacks socialists for “the fatal conceit” that government officials can effectively determine prices and production through various forms of central planning without having the incentives and information available to firms in competitive markets. A closely related conceit is behind the belief that someone sitting in Washington can determine the pay to hundreds of executives and other employees.

The social purpose of competition and private enterprise is to provide quick responses to constantly changing market conditions. These responses include determining and changing the salaries, bonuses, and stock options of employees and top executives. Companies get into trouble and even fail when their decisions, including decisions on the quality of employees and their compensation, are less effective than decisions of their competitors.


The background of the Czar, Kenneth Feinberg, is not reassuring in these respects. A lawyer, he first worked for the federal government, and then during the past several decades headed a law firm based in Washington. Since he apparently has never been an employee of any company other than the government and Washington law firms, how can this background prepare him to set the pay of large companies, such as AIG or GM, that are in highly competitive industries?

Read the whole thing.

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