In an October 2, 2015 column for The New York Times, on The Hypocrisy of ‘Helping’ the Poor, Mr. Paul Theroux reveals his bias in the first sentence.
“Every so often, you hear grotesquely wealthy American chief executives announce in sanctimonious tones the intention to use their accumulated hundreds of millions or billions, “to lift people out of poverty.” (Emphasis mine.)
One would assume that a writer that has achieved the privilege of being published in The New York Times would have moved beyond the need to use various versions of -ly words to persuade a reader. One would also think that that writer’s research would provide enough substantive material for the reader that the writer wouldn’t have to characterize the subject of their scorn, as Mr. Theroux’s does with his use of the words “grotesquely” and “sanctimonious tones”. Some writers, however, don’t want to leave anything to chance.
Mr. Theroux doesn’t deny that these grotesquely wealthy Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) may do some good with their money, but he believes they are hypocritical when they do so.
“Here’s the funny thing,” he writes. “In most cases, they (the CEOs) have made their fortunes by impoverishing whole American communities, having outsourced their manufacturing to China or India, Vietnam or Mexico.”
Mr. Theroux spends the rest of the article detailing the areas of America hardest hit by outsourcing manufacturing jobs and globalization. He states that the Deep South has been devastated by these actions, but he writes that some “work has trickled in”.
“Most of (these) workers are nonunion, and, owing to robotics, the workforce is relatively small.”
Theroux laments that while some of the efforts automakers have made at keeping manufacturing jobs in America, have re-energized parts of the Deep South, BUT he writes:
“None of these automakers have said it is their intention to life people out of poverty, or taken the Bill Gates, Warren Buffet “giving pledge.””
“The strategy of getting rich on cheap labor in foreign countries while offering a sop to America’s poor with charity seems a wicked form of indirection. If these wealthy chief executives are such visionaries, why don’t they understand the simple fact that what people want is not a handout along with the uplift ditty but a decent job?”
After spending a majority of his article bashing the heartlessness of these American corporations, and their chief executives’ “wicked form of indirection”, he arrives at his point that if the “CEOs of these American corporations were to invest in the Deep South, by paying their workers “fairly”, they may not end up as multibillionaires, but they wouldn’t have to provide charity to lift Americans out of poverty.”
The gist of Theroux’s complaint is this, if these CEOs would give citizens jobs, they wouldn’t have to be charitable with their own money on the backend. He states that most American citizens don’t want charity. They want jobs, and they want a livable wage.
It is not the job of any Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to get anyone out of poverty, or to sign a pledge to do so. If they do make such a pledge, on their own time, and on their own dime, that is up to them, but their job, as the CEO of a company, is to maximize their corporation’s profit margin by any means possible.
If that CEO does not perform this fundamental task in his job requirements, the corporate board will replace them with someone that is not afraid to explore every possibility at their disposal to appease shareholders and attract future shareholders. One measure Mr. Theroux may want to consider is to have shareholder satisfaction government mandated. This would allow CEOs much more latitude in their decision making.
As opposed to what Mr. Theroux’s emotional appeal would lead you to believe, a CEO does not act in an autonomous manner, and they are not playing around with their money when they make corporate decisions to “impoverish American communities”. It may appear to those that have no experience in the private sector that the face of a corporation, its CEO, is equivalent to a king in that corporation, but they are not. They are answerable to their bosses: the corporate board, the shareholders, and the analysts that will help that corporation attract new shareholders. They are accountable to bottom line, profit margins, and when they appease their bosses, they are awarded with a bonus.
If they then make the “hypocritical” pledge to help the poor with that bonus, or salary, they do so with their own money. It may appear hypocritical to one that doesn’t try to understand how business works, but when one attempts to view this dilemma in an objective manner, a renewed appreciation for what these individuals –that happen to be CEOs– are attempting to do, can be gained.
A CEO is also not given the latitude to hire new people, at a livable wage, “just cuz’”. We can be sure that the human beings, that are CEOs, feel for the plight of the average worker in the Deep South, and it may cause them sleepless nights to know the devastation that their decisions will wreak on their community, and the schools of their children, when they are forced to lay employees off, relocate, and outsource jobs.
My contention, as a person that has never owned a business, never been in a management position, much less a CEO position, and may be less informed than Mr. Paul Theroux, is that I don’t believe that any CEO would want to move their manufacturing operations offshore, so much as it’s a necessary evil they are forced to explore to escape the burdensome government regulation, taxation, and the union demands some corporations experience.
“Either you move operations off shore,” is the ultimatum some of these CEOs face, “or we will find someone that will.”
In another part of the article, Theroux writes that citizens state that “they’d be happy to make Nike shoes, if they were paid a livable wage.” The reader reads this and thinks it’s great that they say that, but the obvious rub in that statement is that the citizens cannot dictate to their bosses how much their work is worth. At this point in America, no one can force a corporation to pay an employee a specific amount, save for the government’s mandated minimum wage, and a union that may attempt to force a specific wage based upon an agreement that is reached with the employer. Most employees deem the minimum wage unlivable, and most corporations deem the union’s demands unfeasible. Thus, all parties involves are forced to abide by what Mr. Theroux may consider a grotesque system that allows a corporation to determine what each employee’s contribution is worth. And if that work is determined to be worth less than the minimum wage, those employees are replaced by robotics, or computers, or their jobs are moved offshore where there is no mandated minimum.
This system that Mr. Theroux implies is grotesque, is called capitalism, and every corporation in this system has been created, and continues to prosper, based on its desire to attain profit. A CEO is required by his corporation, the corporate board, the shareholders, and the analysts that write reports on the corporate profit sheets to attract new investors to do whatever he, or she, can to maximize the profit that corporation will incur.
This article is not intended to garner sympathy for multimillionaire, or billionaire, CEOs, but to suggest that there is another side to the argument about how the system works that Mr. Theroux either hasn’t considered, or chooses not to represent in his article. This system may end up squashing the little guy, and that is an awful thing. It is incumbent upon the little guy to figure out how the system works when he, or she, is the little guy. They can complain about the system, and if they have some sort of outstanding talent, such as those that are recognized by the New York Times, this talent could lead to them being paid to complain about the system. For the hundreds of millions of us that don’t have such talent however, there is a need to figure out how the system works, and how we can succeed in it.
We all know the the types of CEOs that Mr. Theroux would prefer to run these companies … and they are in the movies. In the movies, a Bruce Wayne-type CEO runs a company for the benefit of mankind, and he eschews the grotesque need for corporate profits. It’s a wonderful sentiment, and I’m sure most CEOs would love to be more like Bruce Wayne, but I’m quite sure if a real life CEO were faced with the question: “Why can’t you be more like Bruce Wayne,” they would inform the questioner that what works well in comic book plot lines, and Paul Theroux columns, doesn’t work as well in corporate boardrooms. “We have a name for CEOs that are permitted to do such things … We call them actors.”