Ostentatiously wealthy CEOs more likely to run problematic companies

Remind you of anyone?

A new working paper (pdf, £) from the American National Bureau of Economic Research finds that while ostentatious displays of wealth by CEOs don't make them more likely to commit crimes, the companies they run are more problematic:

We examine . . . executives’ behavior outside the workplace, as measured by their ownership of luxury goods (low "frugality") . . . We do not find a relation between executives’ frugality and the propensity to perpetrate fraud. However, as predicted, we find that unfrugal CEOs oversee a relatively loose control environment characterized by relatively high probabilities of other insiders perpetrating fraud and unintentional material reporting errors. Further, cultural changes associated with an increase in fraud risk are more likely during unfrugal (vs. frugal) CEOs' reign, including the appointment of an unfrugal CFO, an increase in executives’ equity-based incentives to misreport, and a decline in measures of board monitoring intensity.

So "unfrugal" bosses run a "loose control environment" with "high probabilities of unintentional... errors". If only there were some story this week that neatly illustrated the theory:

Jubilee stewards boss led 'champagne lifestyle' while guarded by trainees

  • Trainees used as “bodyguards” while she hit the town
  • Treated as VIP while she shopped, wined and dined
  • On one trip bought Hummer car worth £30,000+

Director of Jubilee stewards firm had five companies "struck off"

The director of a security company who forced unpaid jobseekers to sleep rough before assisting at the Jubilee pageant has had a string of previous companies "struck off" by regulators after a failure to submit accounts.

Manager at Jubilee stewards firm and "illegal access to police files"

A senior manager for Close Protection UK — the firm at the centre of the Jubilee stewards scandal — was passed highly sensitive information from the police national computer, it has been claimed.

 Oh yes, that's right. Well, don't say we weren't warned.

A stretch Hummer. If you see a CEO with one, steer clear. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.