Who Makes What? CEOs vs Everyone Else

CEOs Testify On Tax Code At Senate Finance Hearing
Getty ImagesCVS Caremark CEO Larry Merlo: Mustaches connote power.
Nothing gets people riled up like wage disparity. Want to kill two hours while slowly escalating rage burns away at your insides? Pay a visit to the internet K-hole that is celebritynetworth.com, where the savings accounts of the rich and famous are laid out with crushing matter-of-factness. It's easy to look at the earnings of a Russian scrap metal billionaire and wonder what they could possibly do that's so important--especially, as my girlfriend pointed out, when the eminent Ryan Gosling is worth a comparably paltry $30 million.

But net worth is one thing--actual salaries are another. And sure, tech zillionaires (like Mark Zuckerberg) who elect to receive a one-dollar salary are making a nice gesture toward the fact that they have more money than they can spend in ten lifetimes. But when you match them up against a lowly software programmer, for instance, the total arbitrariness of salary in relation to job description becomes all too apparent.

Want to see why? Just take a look at some of the match-ups we've put together for our inaugural installment of Who Makes What? CEOs vs Everyone Else.

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1. Oracle
$78.4 million
Software engineer: $104,091
Commentary: Oracle CEO Lawrence J. Ellison is one of those one-dollar salary guys, but when you register the fact that he still made nearly $80 million in perks and options, you have to wonder whether another $20-odd million would really make a difference to the guys sorting his mail.

We can't speak for those folks, but the average software engineer at Oracle is actually pretty well compensated, according to the numbers at Glassdoor.com. Salaries for that position average out at over $100k, and reviews for the company mention solid perks and generally high pay. Unless you're an assistant, that is--at an average of $52,000, administrative assistants earned far less than other employees.

> Find a job as a software engineer

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2. CVS Caremark
$22.9 million
Cashier: $16,680
Commentary: Fine, I guess there's something a little unfair about lining up the lowest workers on the totem pole with the corporate Grand Poobah--in this instance, CVS CEO and mustache-bearer Larry J. Merlo (what is it with CEOs and writing out their middle initial?). But still, it's hard not to feel for the CVS employees here, who, according to Glassdoor reviews, are classically overworked and underpaid.

At least Merlo's actual salary was only around a million. It was his $8 million bonus (and countless stock options) that put him over the top.

> Find a cashier job

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3. 21st Century Fox
CEO: $26.1 million
Production assistant: $22,000
Commentary: Aussie-American uber-magnate Rupert Murdoch basically owns the news (or at least its more right-leaning sources), and also counts Fox Entertainment Group and various international TV networks among his holdings. Nevertheless, he still finds enough time to tweet about his favorite movies (We Bought A Zoo), the whereabouts of Flight 370 ("effectively hidden, perhaps in Northern Pakistan, like Bin Laden"), and, for some reason, u-boats.

His gratitude toward some of the production team behind "Zoo" doesn't go much further than tweets, unfortunately. At $22,000, Fox pays lowly production assistants even less than most studios (Salary.com reported the national average at around $28k). And that's assuming they're even able to string together more than one freelance gig.

> Find a production job

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4. Walmart
$20.7 million
Sales associate: $15,500
Commentary: Walmart recently topped 24/7 Wall Street's list of the ten companies paying Americans the least, beating out union-baiting Target and the much-loathed McDonald's for the gold. While the company reported that a full-time hourly wage is $12.83, employees say otherwise; Glassdoor puts associate wages at less than $9 an hour, suggesting that Walmart's number is inflated by high-paid employees.

After all, those heavy rollbacks don't just come out of nowhere.

> Find a sales job

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5. BONUS ROUND: Celebrity Deathmatch
Louis CK: $16 million
Justin Bieber: $58 million
Commentary: Louis CK makes dark, deeply funny television out of the mundanities of day-to-day life. Justin Bieber bangs Hooters waitresses and gets high on Xanax. Pretty much the only thing the two have in common is that they both routinely sell out arenas. And while we'd never suggest that a man making $16 million a year is underpaid, we do need to be asking questions about what we assign value in this world--as with art, as with CEOs.

CEO salaries source: New York Times
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