“Now that I’m older,” a friend of mine says, “I’m starting to get more involved in politics. You get that way when you have kids,” he says. “You start to realize that there are more important things in life. Our future. Their future.” He said the latter absently, staring off into the distance dramatically.
“We gotta get rid of the greed in this country,” my friend continued. He said this over and over, until a scenario popped into his head. “What if I opened a business and I nominated you as CEO of this company, but I offered you a flat rate of $250,000 a year. Would you take it?”
I said yes, but in the process of my employment I told him that I would want to barter. He said fine, as long as I accepted that initial offering. We went forward a year in our scenario, and we decided that I made him a significant profit after the first year. After that first year, I informed him I would ask for a significant raise contingent upon the profits I secured for him. He told me that that wouldn’t happen, and that I should be very happy on the very livable $250,000, flat rate salary. I informed him that I would give him a hearty handshake and thank him for hiring me when no one else would, as an inexperienced CEO, and I would shop my wares on the market.
My friend was disgusted with me at this point. “You would go to another company?”
“I would,” I said. “Unless you were going to give money commiserate with the amount of profit I brought to your company in year one.”
He said he wasn’t going to up my salary. “The 250 grand was a flat rate,” he repeated.
“Where are all those profits going to go?” I asked.
“It’s for the good of the country,” he said. “What’s killing this country is greed,” he said.
“How is my desire to make the most money I can–what you call greed–going to make any difference in the manner this country is run? How is my desire to market my ability going to control the manner in which Congress spends our money? In our scenario, we have an insular agreement based on merit. How is that going to effect this economy in any way?
“Unless,” I continued, “you’re going to send your profits directly to Congress to help pay down the debt.” He said nothing. “If you send this current crop of politicians more money, they’ll only spend it. It’s not their money. They have done nothing to earn it, and they have a deplorable record of spending other people’s money.
“Plus,” I continued, “the greedy CEOs that you’ve heard lambasted in the press had little to nothing to do with the debt. Unless, that is, you’re talking about Harold Raines and the CEOs of Freddie MAC and Lehman Brothers, but that’s another discussion for another day.”
In an attempt to get educated on politics, I believe that my friend tuned into CNN and MSNBC a little too often. These two networks have successfully conflated CEO salaries with some of the greed that led to our downfall. Of course the greed of some CEOs (listed above) had a hand in the economic downfall of 09/08, and CNN and MSNBC joined that chorus. Yet, these networks didn’t mention specific CEOs responsible at first. Then they did list CEOs, but the specific CEOs they finally listed had nothing to do with the economic debacle. Then they stoked the fires of the indignant masses by listing the salaries of CEOs. They left the public with the notion that the exorbitant salaries, and the subsequent exorbitant lifestyles, of the CEOs had a direct impact on the economic debacle, and they counted on class envy to fill in the blanks.
In doing so, they diverted the eyes away from the government and the complicit politicians James Earl Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barney Frank and “Countrywide Financial” Christopher Dodd. In doing so, they deflected attention away from any of those involved in the matrix of the debacle. We, as my friend exhibited, were left with the notion that greed (i.e. the salaries of any and all CEOs) was responsible for the current unemployment rate, the lowered salaries, the difficulty a working man has in getting a loan, and the hits on the stock market.
Some of the downfall did have roots in greed, but that greed came from lower income families that sought NINJA (No Income, No Jobs, and No Assets) loans that banks were called upon to give out by the federal government. These loans were then backed by Harold Raines, Freddie MAC and Lehman Brothers. These loans were to attempt to lessen the divide between the rich and the poor.
It seemed like such a beatific idea. It fulfilled all of the angst ridden comments about America made by members of the media, comedians, movies, music, TV, and the screamers on the street corners. “Every American should have the right to pursue the dream of home ownership,” George W. Bush once proclaimed. The question that should’ve been asked sooner was do the ends justify the means? Bush tried to reverse the means seventeen different times, but he was thwarted at every turn. The question of whether the means would succeed in America, under Capitalism in good times and bad, should’ve been asked sooner. That question would’ve killed the dream however.
My eager friend has been handicapped in his attempts to become political by a corrupt press. In our brief political discussion, he spouted all of their lines. His intentions weren’t nefarious. He just wanted to understand the issue. He just wanted to solve the issue, and he figured that it had to be the rich that caused all this. He needed a face, he needed a cause, and the politicians and the media gave it to them. They didn’t allow this disaster to go to waste. Don Henley once sang: “A man with a briefcase can steal millions more than any man with a gun.” Henley’s worldview dictates that he was referring to a man from the private sector, but can a man from the private sector steal more money from you than a man from the public sector?