Markets and the Long Term

The Economist has an article on the problems of aligning the CEO’s interests with those of the shareholders. The obvious solution to this is to ensure that a large proportion of the manager’s compensation is in the form of shares or stock options. But it turns out that during the recent financial crisis, the more shares of a bank its CEO held, the worse the bank performed.

I believe that this is confounding two different problems. The agency problem relates to aligning an incentives of the agent (i.e. the CEO) to that of the principal (i.e. the shareholders). The second problem is that of translating long term goals into short term actions.

Human beings are not very good at solving the second problem even when the principal and agent are the same people. We aren’t good at planning our own diet and exercise so that our long-term health is maximized. The challenge is not only the intellectual one of long-term planning, it is also one of the incentive to execute the plan. Who wants health food and rigorous exercise when fried stuff and indolence are so pleasurable?

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