Agents with and Without Principals
15 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2000
Date Written: January 2000
Who sets CEO pay? Our standard answer to this question has been shaped by principal agent theory: shareholders set CEO pay. They use pay to limit the moral hazard problem caused by the low ownership stakes of CEOs. Through bonuses, options, or long term contracts, shareholders can motivate the CEO to maximize firm wealth. In other words, shareholders use pay to provide incentives, a view we refer to as the contracting view.
An alternative view, championed by practitioners such as Crystal (1991), argues that CEOs set their own pay. They manipulate the compensation committee and hence the pay process itself to pay themselves what they can. The only constraints they face may be the availability of funds or more general fears, such as not wanting to be singled out in the Wall Street Journal as being overpaid. We refer to this second view as the skimming view. In this paper, we investigate the relevance of these two views.
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