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A poster child for income inequality

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One-hundred fifty-six million dollars! That’s what David Zaslav, the CEO of Discovery Communications, made in a year. That wasn’t just a good year. In 2011, he made $52.4 million; in 2012, he made $49.3 million; in 2013, he made $33.3 million. If you’re adding that all up, that’s $291 million since the year 2011. Talk about income inequality.

{mosads}First, let’s get something straight: This column is not inspired by envy. No, the motivating sentiment is one of genuine bewilderment that the employees of that organization don’t feel massively underappreciated and valued. Their No. 1 guy gets so much more than they do. Don’t they feel there is something terribly wrong and unfair there?

The spokesperson for Discovery Communications — who desired not to be identified by her name (so much for lifting the corporate veil) — informed me that Discovery has nearly 8,000 employees worldwide. She would not publicly disclose the average compensation of their employees. Which gets me to the point: Presently, U.S. executives are paid 296 times as much as the average worker. Also, incomes in the U.S. grew just 2 percent from 1999 to 2009 and they have been stagnant since then for most U.S. workers.

It’s my feeling that there is something terribly wrong and unfair about this situation. Do the Discovery employees, when they go to work every morning and toil away during the day, occasionally wonder if their efforts are being exploited for the benefit of just one individual? Is Zaslav so indispensable that he must be compensated at that outrageous sum? I doubt it.

The corporate spokesperson said that most of his compensation is derived from a cash bonus and stock awards. The cash bonus portion, many executive pay consultants feel, is just a reward for doing one’s job. As for the stock price, last year Discovery’s declined 24 percent.

Now I am perfectly aware that we live and operate under a capitalistic system. But don’t the words “excess” and “greed” ever enter into the conversation? Obscene compensation like this is the No. 1 reason that a definite populist strain is in the rhetoric of not just the Democratic Party, but is even creeping into the Republican Party, as well.

The objective of our economic system is to do well. I understand that. I agree with that goal. But there are many individuals living in this country who, through no fault of their own, feel that they are not getting ahead. Their wages are staying the same. They are not moving up.

As many presidential candidates are repeatedly saying, “the system is rigged”; the “cards are stacked.” This is not leftist claptrap. This is how the average American worker feels.

I called Zaslav. He didn’t call back. Why am I not surprised? He knows he cannot legitimately defend or justify his compensation. The strategy is not to respond. The hope at the very top is that the questions will go away, or better yet, stop being asked.

David Zaslav very well might become the poster boy for the 2016 campaign. That is, the poster boy for income inequality. The issue of income inequality and massive disparity of wealth is not going away. That’s what a presidential campaign is for.

This piece has been corrected to reflect the accurate percentage by which Discovery Communications stock declined last year.

Plotkin is a political analyst, a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner.

Tags David Zaslav Distribution of wealth executive compensation Executive pay income inequality

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