So President Obama wants government oversight of executive pay and bonuses at banks, investment firms, and God-only-knows where else as a part of proposed plan to “overhaul financial regulation.”
My first thought was a Limbaugh-esque “See I told you so.” When you take money from the government, you’re in for a heap of trouble, mostly in the form of bureaucrats eager to help you spend “their” money.
But as I thought more about this issue, I began to wonder if, in fact, President Obama wasn’t going far enough. After all, it would be difficult to find a single sector of our society that is not financially tied to the government in some form or fashion. As taxpayers, we should expect — no, demand — a track record of success and positive results when the government uses our tax dollars. Plus, we live in a world awash in “unfairness.” After thinking about the problem for just a few minutes, three areas immediately came to mind:
You’re joking, right? The government involved in sports? Absolutely. How many billions of dollars have local governments collected from us in the form of hotel/motel taxes, whose proceeds fund mega sports arenas? How many times have local governments raised sales taxes or enacted other tax programs in order to build lavish, hundred-million-dollar digs for professional sports teams? I think we should have the Federal government look into Major League sports teams, and act quickly to confiscate ticket revenue and other forms of compensation for teams with losing records. Obviously those teams are not being good stewards of the gobs of tax dollars thrown at them by local governments. And for “superstar” athletes who get enormous signing bonuses and outrageous compensation — if you play poorly, the government swipes your bonus, and taxes your salary at 90%. That ought to motivate everyone to do their best, shouldn’t it?
State governments give entertainment companies, especially TV and movie studios, millions of dollars in tax breaks for filming or producing entertainment in their respective states. So yes, government is involved in entertainment. I think we should look very carefully at actors, singers, TV shows, and films. If a movie or TV studio gets a tax break for filming on location and the film bombs at the box office, or the TV show is a ratings loser and gets canceled, the studio should pay a tax premium to the Federal government equivalent to the money they saved in state tax breaks. And actors, if your performance in said film or TV show is panned by critics, Uncle Sam takes 90% of the compensation you received for that role. And how about concerts? Aren’t big-name music concerts often held in the taxpayer-funded mega-arenas built for professional sports? If newspaper reviews say that an arena concert was lame, the Federal Government should tax the performers for 90% of the ticket revenue and return the money to the attendees.
Who pays our public school teachers? Who funds our state universities? You guessed it — the government. So I think we need much more government oversight and accountability with respect to our education system. If public school teachers have an unacceptable number of students who fail, then the government should tax away 90% of their compensation. If the school as a whole has unacceptable standardized test scores, then all teachers and administrators should be taxed at a higher rate. The government should carefully examine the course material at all higher education facilities that receive Federal money. If government inspectors determine that course content is inadequate, or if students rate a professor poorly, or if an unacceptably high number of students fail a professor’s classes, then that professor’s pay should be taxed at 90% by the Federal government. Further, universities with a significant number of inadequate courses or incompetent professors should be forced to give back all the Federal funding that they received during the previous year.
Will this ever happen? Of course not, and I think I know why. Most of the people I mentioned — actors, musicians, athletes, teachers, etc. — all belong to some kind of union. On second thought, maybe employees in the financial industry should just form a union. That way, they would be largely free from government interference in their compensation. And their compensation would be locked-in for the duration of their contracts, even in the case of poor job performance. Perhaps Hollywood can teach Wall Street something, after all.
(Note: I drafted this piece last night, and in the meantime I see that Scott Ott has tackled this subject as well. Do read his piece; he is a much better satirist that I am, even if we disagree about Hollywood.)