The Hightest-Paid Tech CEO Is One of the Most Evil

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren is climbing in the polls, due in part to her tendency to roll out plan after plan designed to make America a fundamentally fairer country to live in. As the Atlantic succinctly put it a couple years ago, America has “one small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy (but still mostly white) lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.”

Elon Musk, before Tesla

But here in the Bay Area, we have all-too-frequent reminders of how long a slog it’s going to be to refashion the country along more egalitarian lines. The San Francisco Business Times looked at the nine-county region’s 100 highest-paid CEOs, and found that — probably to no one’s surprise — it’s a who’s who of dudes in tech and private capital. French economist Thomas Piketty straight-up says that the mere existence of billionaires harms economic growth and we should tax them until they are no longer billionaires, yet here’s America’s most ostensibly progressive region all but swimming in them.

In the No. 1 spot for 2018 was Tesla’s Elon Musk, who earned $2.28 billion in compensation last year, almost all of which came in the form of performance-based options stretching to the year 2028. 

That’s the same Elon Musk who admitted earlier this year that Tesla is hemorrhaging money and would go broke within months without major changes, causing him to micromanage employee expense reports. The same Musk who has only taken two weeks’ vacation in more than a decade, whose hatred of the color yellow has created an unsafe work environment, who said a $40 million fine for a tweet was totally worth it, and who really, truly, doesn’t understand what socialism is.

In terms of CEO-to-median-worker pay ratios, Tesla is the most let-them-eat-cake company of all, as Musk takes home 40,668 times what a typical employee receives. Yes, that means for every 10 bucks someone toiling on the assembly line in Fremont earns, Musk gets $406,680. Compare that to Facebook’s downright Trotskyite 37-to-1 ratio.

It’s not uncommon for executives to see more than 90 percent of their total compensation come in the form of stock awards or stock options, but Musk’s total package dwarfs the next dozen or so names on the list combined. And he isn’t getting those billions by direct deposit every other week. In a complicated arrangement that seems designed to placate the Securities and Exchange Commission, Tesla will pay its founder more than $2 billion in 12 separate tranches — but only if the company meets certain benchmarks, including expanding the company’s market capitalization from $40 billion to $100 billion. Because Musk already owns so much Tesla stock, he has every incentive to juice its price by whatever means possible, including tweeting or not tweeting or whatever. In essence, he will be handsomely rewarded for making himself phenomenally richer, a kind of legal double-dealing that amounts to shareholder capitalism on steroids and makes you almost wish this universe were a simulation.

And Marc Benioff of Salesforce said shareholder capitalism was dead

Benioff, for his part, is no. 12 on the list, with a $28 million haul last year. Other names you might recognize include Netflix’s Reed Hastings (No. 9, $36 million), Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg (No. 17, $22 million), and Apple’s Tim Cook (No. 36, $15 million). Although their CEOs aren’t household names, Oracle, Chevron, PayPal, Adobe, eBay, Wells Fargo, Zynga, and Clorox are all on there. And while it’s mostly men, there are a few exceptions, like Laura Alber of Williams-Sonoma (No. 14, $27 million) and Julia Hartz of Eventbrite (No. 15, $26 million)

The Business Times is candid that their list doesn’t quite offer exact comparisons, since different companies use different dates for their fiscal years. (Tesla’s ended on Dec. 31, 2018, for instance, while Oracle’s ended on May 31, 2018). Further, they do a good job of differentiating between base salaries and other types of compensation, which can be fascinating. Did you know that Mark Zuckerberg technically only makes a dollar a year? Don’t be fooled by that symbolic salary, though, because he still took home more than $22 million, though.

And if you’re one of those people who insists that tech titans are basically demigods and they deserve all that money and the feds confiscate half of it anyway so what are we even complaining about, here’s a handy and infuriating chart from The New York Times’ David Leonhardt that shows just how drastically taxes at the highest levels have plummeted over the years, consolidating the plutocrats’ dominion over the rest of us. At least Milo Yiannopoulos is broke.


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Peter-Astrid Kane

Peter-Astrid Kane

Peter-Astrid Kane (they/them) is the Communications Manager for San Francisco Pride and a former editor of SF Weekly.