How Badly Does Obama Want Wage Controls?

By Conor Clarke

I agree with Henry Blodget that it's hard to imagine a way in which industry-wide wage controls "could be implemented that wouldn't be an absolutely terrible idea." Sure, wage controls would probably be a terrible idea. But I read the Wall Street Journal's big piece on this subject and didn't really see a whole lot of evidence that "wage controls" were what Obama was after. Instead I saw a whole lot of vague and vacillatory hints that didn't really indicate Obama had anything specific in mind:



The Obama administration has begun serious talks about how it can change compensation practices across the financial-services industry, including at companies that did not receive federal bailout money, according to people familiar with the matter.

The initiative, which is in its early stages, is part of an ambitious and likely controversial effort to broadly address the way financial companies pay employees and executives, including an attempt to more closely align pay with long-term performance.

Administration and regulatory officials are looking at various options, including using the Federal Reserve's supervisory powers, the power of the Securities and Exchange Commission and moral suasion. Officials are also looking at what could be done legislatively.

Among ideas being discussed are Fed rules that would curb banks' ability to pay employees in a way that would threaten the "safety and soundness" of the bank -- such as paying loan officers for the volume of business they do, not the quality. The administration is also discussing issuing "best practices" to guide firms in structuring pay.

What do we have here? Not especially thick soup: "serious talks" in their "early stages" that are looking at "various options" -- including everything from "moral suasion," which sounds decidedly unserious, to issuing a "best practices" report, which sounds like a waste of everyone's time. But I don't see anything about wage controls.


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This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2009/05/how-badly-does-obama-want-wage-controls/17532/