Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 132, Issue 1, pp 171–184 | Cite as

Egalitarianism and Executive Compensation: A Relational Argument

  • Pierre-Yves NéronEmail author


What, if anything, is wrong with high executive compensation? Is the common “lay reaction” of indignation and moral outrage justified? In this paper, my main goal is to articulate in a more systematic and philosophical manner the egalitarian responses to these questions. In order to do so, I suggest that we take some insights from recent debates on two versions of egalitarianism: a distributive one, according to which no one should be worse off than others because of unfair distributions of goods and resources, especially ones based on matters of luck or arbitrary factors, and a relational one, which maintains that egalitarian justice requires members of a society to relate to one another as equals. Drawing on recent attempts to highlight the tricky nature of managerial authority, I argue that high inequalities in pay are not simply a distributional matter but should also be analyzed through a relational lens. I also attempt to show that relational egalitarians are well-equipped to question the now dominant “incentives” view of CEO compensation.


Executive compensation Egalitarianism Justice Business organizations (normative analysis of) Managerial authority Relational equality 



This work was generously supported by the Centre Éthique Entreprise et Économie at the Lille Catholic University (France) and the Emile Bernheim Foundation (Belgium). For helpful comments on first versions of this paper, I thank the audience at the 2012 International Bernheim Workshop on Fair CEO Compensation, (Louvain-la-Neuve/Brussels, Belgium), and the Practical philosophy workshop at the Lille Catholic University (France). I must thank Axel Gosseries for his comments, but also for his role in organizing and designing the Annual Workshop as a part of his Bernheim course “Social Responsibility in Economic Life”. For comments and discussions on this paper I also thank Malik Bozzo-Rey, Peter Dietsch, François Hudon, Xavier Landes, Jeffrey Moriarty, David Robichaud, Camille Ternier, Raphaelle Thery and Patrick Turmel. I also owe special thanks to Sandrine Blanc, Juliana Uhuru Bidadanure and Laurent DeBriey for extensive and constructive written comments and criticisms on a first draft of this article. I finally thank three anonymous Journal of Business Ethics referees for their excellent suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ethics and PhilosophyUniversité Catholique de LilleLilleFrance

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