Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 45–72 | Cite as

Exorbitant CEO compensation: just reward or grand theft?



The failure of society to criminalize policies and practices of powerful organizations and individuals that are demonstrably harmful has been a central theme of the white collar crime literature since Sutherland. In recent years much commentary and criticism has been directed at vastly exorbitant compensation packages awarded to CEOs of major corporations and other major institutions. Although some criminal prosecutions have been pursued on the basis of allegations of fraud in relation to CEO compensation (e.g., the Dennis Kozlowski/Tyco case and the Conrad Black/Hollinger case), and some civil lawsuits demanding repayment of unjustifiably large CEO compensation have been initiated (e.g., the Richard Grasso/New York Stock Exchange case), most typically exorbitant CEO compensation packages result in neither criminal indictments nor civil lawsuits. This article explores the status of exorbitant CEO compensation as a criminological phenomenon, beginning with a typology of different views on such compensation. The contemporary scope of disproportionate compensation is reviewed, with the exponential increase in the gaps between the compensation of CEOs and those below them documented. Some of the different mechanisms along a continuum of legal to illegal for providing exorbitant CEO compensation are identified. Why is the awarding of exorbitant CEO compensation typically legal? What specific forms of harm arise from awarding exorbitant CEO compensation? Why do Corporate Board Compensation Committees award exorbitant CEO compensation? Indeed, what are the specifically criminogenic dimensions of Corporate Board decision-making that contribute to this process? What arguments can be advanced in favor of criminalizing exorbitant CEO compensation and against doing so? What specific practical constraints would have to be overcome to criminalize the awarding of exorbitant CEO compensation? If exorbitant CEO compensation has not been addressed traditionally as a form of white collar crime, what arguments can be advanced in favor and against doing so now? This article promotes attention to the exorbitant CEO compensation issue by white collar crime scholars, with a provisional addressing of the questions raised above.


Private Equity Stock Option Executive Compensation Corporate Board Social Harm 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology/Criminal JusticeUniversity of ScrantonScrantonUSA

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