Abigail Disney, Walt’s great niece and Roy’s granddaughter, stole the show last weekend, topping even Disney Studio’s Avengers: Endgame $1.2 billion box office for favorable mentions. Her criticism of Disney’s 2018 compensation of $65 million to CEO Bob Iger, because that was “1424 times the median pay of a Disney worker” also earned her another rare trifecta (see HL 70) of leading stories in the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
But over here at Hopelessly Liberal, the fourth member of the press tetrarchy, we found Abigail’s comments depressing. They are evidence of increasing class stratification, diminished standards for the rich to fulfill noblesse oblige and a decline in basic math and/or English usage skills.
When the important discussion of the proper hi-lo salary ratio in a good and humane community began, the formula proposed by Plato was 5 to 1. Twenty-four centuries later, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield walked that walk, restricting CEO Ben’s total compensation to 5X the lowest paid Ben & Jerry’s employee in Vermont. That only went to 7X when they hired Chuck Lacy to replace Ben as CEO in 1990 and then to 17X in 1995 when they hired Robert Holland, Jr. to be among the small number of big American companies then headed by an African-American.
Rather than view this history as proof of the unworkability of a hi-lo formula (as business journals generally do) we think it proof that it not only can but has worked. Any formula needs some flexibility, because that will accommodate other important and sometimes complementary goals. All the while, Ben & Jerry’s has made great ice cream, has been extraordinarily charitable, social-minded, humane and egalitarian. And it has made lots of money for its owners, despite and because of all that.
Ms. Disney’s critique is really disillusioning because instead of proposing a specific ratio like Ben, Jerry and Plato, she simply says that 1424X is too much. She’s also depressingly switched from the Greco-Vermont classical hi/lo formulation to a ratio of high to “average,” a serious decline in social aspiration. Comparing highest to average salary, instead of to lowest, severely reduces concern over and potential help for those most in need of it and fairness.
And that “median” Ms. Disney writes of, we assume that’s just ignorance and that she doesn’t mean that given the meaning of median. She means “mean”, because the “median” salary at Disney is somewhere slightly north of $32.5 million but the “mean” over there is roughly $45,646, which multiplied by 1424 is $65 million.
Given Abigail’s Yale, Stanford and Columbia degrees, we assume that was what she was trying to say. But forgive us for wondering whether any of the Disney Family fortune was paid to Rick Singer and The Key in support of her admission to the first two of those three fine schools (see HL 71: College Admissions Scandal Ushers in the Silly Season).