American corporate executives, we are regularly assured, are rewarded only when they perform. In reality, though, pay-for-performance has become a perpetual enrichment machine for the captains of business.
Executives don’t even have to game the system in order to gain their windfalls. The foundation upon which contemporary executive pay rests—the practice of granting large stock-related incentives on an annual basis—almost guarantees jackpots for top executives. By bestowing generous performance incentives year after year, corporate boards essentially reward executives for digging themselves out of whatever holes they dig themselves into.