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Alejandro Navas, Professor of Sociology School of Communication
Minder against capitalism
Rarely has a Swiss referendum provoked as much passion as the March 3 referendum on the Minder Initiative. Small businessman Thomas Minder launched his proposal just five years ago. The chosen slogan, Against swindling, announced a controversial intention: it was to limit the remuneration of managers of listed companies. Enough of the scandalous multimillion-dollar bonuses, it said. Business organizations and a large part of the political class mobilized against him: his crusade was a threat to the competitiveness of companies, which would lose their best executives. His foreseeable exodus would endanger the capitalist sanctuary that is Switzerland. But the people's decision was unequivocal: 68 percent of voters supported his proposal. Forty-six percent of the electorate voted, one of the highest numbers in history. A few days have passed and there is no trace of an apocalypse: life goes on with Swiss regularity.
The core of Minder's proposal applies to all countries: giving shareholders the power to decide management salaries. It is urgent to put a stop to the excesses of so many who have effectively hijacked the will of the owners. The problem has also occurred in Spain, and we have seen timid attempts to implement good corporate governance guidelines: the Olivencia Code (1998), the Aldama Code (2003) and the Unified Code (2006). These codes are as well-intentioned as they are inoperative. They are codes that are as well-intentioned as they are ineffective, due to their purely voluntary nature. Companies are not obliged to apply them and do not comply with them.
The road to good corporate governance has been a long one: the first goal was to find out what managers earned, as this item was often masked in the income statement. Now we are sold as a great advance the fact that the general shareholders' meeting board can ratify the proposal remuneration presented by the management. When will it be the shareholders who decide on the salaries of the directors? Where is the Spanish Minder who will impose this change on management?
This discussion sample one of the weaknesses of financial capitalism: the stock market allows access to capital and stimulates economic activity, but at the same time imposes a short-term vision. Many investors want profits now, and as soon as executive compensation is made dependent on the stock market price, anything goes in order to increase that price. The Boards of Directors, which theoretically should supervise the management of the executives, very often do not comply with their mission statement and, by receiving substantial per diems for attend to sessions of mere formality, they become accomplices. The final touch to the scandal is the internship of firing with millionaire bonuses to directors who lead their companies to ruin.
Public opinion is on fire. The clamor of the street could no longer be ignored, so the European Parliament has agreed to limit the payment of these controversial bonuses to bankers. The best of regulations, including jail sentences, will not be enough to clean up the business environment, but it will help.