Politics

Lloyd Blankfein defends CEO pay on CNBC: 'Do you think television reporters make too much money? I do'

Key Points
  • Lloyd Blankfein, former Goldman Sachs CEO, says the pay disparity between CEOs and rank-and-file employees is really no different from what on-air TV personalities get paid compared with behind-the-scenes workers.
  • Blankfein responds to a question from CNBC's Scott Wapner about whether he thinks corporate leaders make too much money by asking and answering a question of his own: "Do you think television reporters make too much money? I do."
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Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein weighs in on the CEO salary debate

Lloyd Blankfein, former Goldman Sachs CEO, told CNBC on Tuesday the pay disparity between CEOs and rank-and-file employees is really no different from what on-air television personalities get paid compared with behind-the scenes workers.

Defending well-paid CEOs, who have become punching bags in the wealth inequity discourse of the Democratic presidential primary race, Blankfein responded to a question from CNBC's Scott Wapner about whether he thinks corporate leaders make too much money by asking and answering a question of his own: "Do you think television reporters make too much money? I do."

Blankfein went on to say to Wapner, "Someone must have decided that you in this seat draws more viewers than if your cameraman switched places. And therefore you command a higher pay for the job you do, even though when I chatted with the fellow back there ... I liked him a hell of a lot."

Read more: Blankfein says politicians like Elizabeth Warren are moving from populism to demagoguery

Wapner responded by saying what he makes compared with the cameraman is probably not nearly as wide a spread as what CEOs are paid compared with subordinates.

Blankfein, who grew up in public housing in New York and rose to the highest echelons in finance, also used Hollywood as an analogy.

"If you film a movie and get the No. 1 box office star ... and you think, 'What is that movie worth with the No. 1 box-office star in it versus the No. 40 box-office star?' If someone thinks they can make an extra $50 million by having the No. 1 guy in it, what's that guy worth as a difference over the other guy?" Blankfein said.

Every industry has its own "market mechanisms" for compensation, Blankfein added, stressing, "I don't think anybody should apologize for where they end up in the process."

"I don't think the whole economic system hinges on whether Taylor Swift or the NFL quarterback" gets paid more than concert crew or linemen, he said on "Fast Money Halftime Report" from the CME's Global Financial Leadership Conference in Naples, Florida.

However, Blankfein said that asking wealthy people what they do with their money and how they can make the world a better place is fair game.

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Key Points
  • Goldman Sachs senior chairman Lloyd Blankfein on Tuesday appeared to double down on his use of racially loaded language in remarks about Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.
  • Blankfein, 65, drew attention last week when he made an apparent swipe at Warren's past claims of Native American ancestry, that "maybe tribalism is just in her DNA" in a tweet criticizing her most recent campaign ad.
  • Later in the interview, when asked about the tone of the apparent battle of "Warren versus Wall Street, Blankfein seemed to take things further, saying, "If I could, I would just bury the hatchet and move on."