Thursday, August 31, 2006

 

Yet More Ironic Reflections On Labor Day


Here is another article about the decline of the unions and the middle class. You've heard the sentiments before, but here are some bracing new statistics. Productivity and median family income both rose 104 percent from 1947 to 1973, moving in tandem like a pair of oxen yoked together. Since '73, things have been different. Now they are worse than ever. While corporate profits have been bolting ahead like a racehorse, the median hourly wage has declined 2 percent since 2003 - 1.8 percent for men and 1.3 percent for women in the last year alone. Instead of a world where "a rising tide floats all boats", to quote a speech about the economy from JFK in the early sixties, we have one in which the rising tide actually sucks the water out from the rest of us. The author dubs this storm surge of the profit motive The Great Upward Redistribution.

According the New York Times, wages and salaries comprise the lowest share of the GDP since 1947. Most of the rest is corporate profits, glorious, golden corporate profits, in which the CEOs wallow like pigs in a trough. Salaries are hunkering so low in the mud of economic subsistence that the entry level salary for an airline pilot of all things, once a famously lucrative profession, has been reported at $21,000 at some companies - barely enough to pay for your morning Starbucks. How can happiness thrive in the barnyard of labor when even the birds are plucked? We are all just waiting for slaughter while our leaders proclaim, like the pigs in Animal Farm, that all animals are equal, just that some animals are more equal than others...

"Workingman's Blues" from American Prospect

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

 

Unions Keep The Balance Of Power For The Middle Class


Labor Day brings a spot of leisure for most of us, but reflections on, ahem, "labor" for a few. More power to them, I say. At the link below is an article that summarizes what I've been trying to convey in this blog. Corporate power is expanding, the middle class is getting screwed, and a lack of outrage and organized resistance is to blame. The article reminds us that the middle class was strongest - in the mid-20th century - when labor unions were at their strongest as well. Now both are at their weakest, and that is no coincidence. As for the Republican mirage of an "ownership" society, the article again reminds us, "Unions equalize power in the marketplace between those who work and those who own something. Those who work are the stuff of which the middle class is made. Those who own fill the ranks of the very wealthy. When the balance of power is with the labor unions, the gains from production stay with the middle class. When the balance shifts as it has today, the very wealthy take an ever-larger share from economic activity".

The article goes on to make an interesting point. "When people have more money than they can possibly spend on goods and services, they no longer use it in ways that stimulate the economy. Instead, they use the power their money brings to get more tax breaks, less regulation, more support for globalization, and policies favoring capital over labor." I have never heard it put quite this baldly before, but it makes terrifying sense. Excessive wealth is not just more of the same. Above a certain level it undergoes a qualitative change. It is no longer channeled back into the economy in a natural or organic way, but is diverted into artificial means of sustaining itself - such as purchasing political power - which do not benefit the economy at all. Excessive wealth is not merely bad in the sense that it represents an inequitable distribution of resources - it is actively destructive.

The only way to rid society of this toxic imbalance is to take back some of that stolen power from the wealthy. Read the article for yourself.

"It was unions that built middle class" from The Mountain Mail

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

 

Bad Bosses No. 1 Reason For Quitting Jobs


A recent Gallup poll of one million people identified abusive or incompetent managers as the most common reason why workers quit their jobs. Public indignation at bad bosses in general is starting to peak. According to the article at the link below, "Nasty, insensitive bosses...have always been out there, but in the past several years, stories about them...have reached a kind of critical mass in the media, as more and more working people vent about maltreatment in the workplace." Working America, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, has been running a Bad Boss contest on its website for several weeks now and has received an unexpectedly large volume of entries. The director of Working America, Karen Nussbaum, cited some examples. One man, a recent winner, related how he was allowed no time off when his father died, and was even billed $200 for the flowers that his company perfunctorily sent to the funeral. Nussbaum emphasized that the "bad boss" tales of previous years had generally been light and humorous. Recently there have been not only more such tales, they were also darker and angrier, expressing true grievances. We can only hope that the tide is turning in the public consciousness, and that mounting outrage at managerial abuse will eventually force changes in the corporate world.

"Bad bosses take toll on workers' health, sanity" from Times Herald-Record

Monday, August 28, 2006

 

Telecommuting Is Lonely For Some


Most people welcome the opportunity to work from home. It allows them to save time, energy and gas money, while quite literally providing the "comforts of home". Yet a substantial minority miss the structure and the human interaction that comes with working in an office. According to a recent survey, the number of workers who telecommute at least one day a week rose 30 percent from 2004 to 2005, to 9.9 million - but, according to another survey, 14 percent of those who have the opportunity to telecommute still prefer to go to the office. The office is where their friends are, and where the real action happens, and many are reluctant to telecommute because they feel they might miss out. IBM, 40 percent of whose employees work out of the office on any given day, has taken steps to eradicate telecommuter dissatisfaction. It has established auxiliary facilities which telecommuters may use as temporary office space, and has expanded its network of IBM-related extracurricular activities to provide its employees greater opportunities to get together for parties, sports events, and so on. As a result, morale ratings rose 28 percent over an 18 month period.

Check out the link below to learn more about telecommuter malaise, and the basic needs that all corporate employees working from home must satisfy.

"When Working At Home Doesn't Work" from the Baltimore Sun

Sunday, August 27, 2006

 

The New Yorker Weighs In On Pensions


Malcolm Gladwell, the author of such books as Blink and The Tipping Point, specializes in stories about subtle, initially almost imperceptible effects that somehow achieve a decisive influence over human affairs. In Blink, he reported on the way snap judgments can prove more accurate than considered analyses, and in The Tipping Point, he traced how ideas can start out small, then achieve momentum and explode into compelling new trends. There is an element of wishful thinking in these stories - a belief in the eventual victory of small things - and also an element of irony.

In an article in The New Yorker entitled "The Risk Pool", the element of irony predominates. Using the recent debacle at General Motors as his starting point, he describes how the private pension and benefits programs of large corporations are in big trouble in the United States, and acknowledges that most of these programs were doomed to failure to begin with.

He invokes a concept called the "dependency ratio", which is the ratio of the number of people in a population who are not working to the number who are. Populations with large numbers of children, such as Africa - or Ireland before the legalization of contraception and the subsequent boom that begat "The Celtic Tiger" - have high dependency ratios that impede economic development. The same is true of populations with large numbers of elderly - which will be the case for most of the industrialized world sooner than we think. The ideal scenario is a small number of dependents and a large number of workers, but this scenario represents merely a stage in a cycle and almost by definition never lasts - e.g., vast numbers of workers with few children eventually become the elderly, outnumbering their own children once they themselves become workers. Gladwell applies this concept to show that increasing numbers of retirees depending on corporate pensions gradually overburden the corporation and its current employees, causing high overhead, layoffs and eventual bankruptcy.

But the burden differs from one corporation to the next, depending on such factors as the size of the company, its age, the age and composition of its work force, its financial condition and the market for what it produces. The best way to offer pensions and benefits, Gladwell argues, is for all employers to pool their resources into one giant fund, thereby spreading the risk. Nationalized health insurance, supported by both corporations and individual tax payers, would be one example of such a fund.

Here is where the irony is introduced to our story. Walter Reuther, along with other officers of the UAW in the 1940's, initially wanted to establish an industry-wide fund to which all employers in the automobile business would contribute. This fund would spread the risk of providing pensions and benefits to employees of the industry. The big automobile manufacturers, however, reacted with the typical paranoid short-sightedness that still pervades the corporate world. Believing that the collectivization of pension funds would yield too much power to the unions, they shot the plan down at once, offering their workers instead private pension plans run by the corporations themselves. One of the first of these companies to offer a pension and health benefits to its workers was General Motors. GM was so afraid of its workers that it preferred to hobble its own financial future rather than agree to a plan that would be more cost-effective for all concerned.

"The Risk Pool" from The New Yorker

Friday, August 25, 2006

 

Shouldering The Burden Of Health Care


Over the last five years, the proportion of employers providing health benefits has dropped from 70 to 60 percent, while during the last six years premiums have gone up 75 percent. A recent poll indicates that nearly a quarter of families earning over $75,000 - all at least solidly middle class - have trouble paying for health insurance. Other surveys report that 65 percent of Americans want univeral health insurance, even if it means more taxes - and that nearly half of American doctors agree with them. Then why don't we have universal health insurance? What on earth is the problem?

Those who decry universal health insurance as a grossly impractical potential boondoggle that would massively overburden American tax payers are wrong. We are already footing 51 percent of the nation's health care bill through our taxes alone - which support Medicare, Medicaid, veterans' programs, public hospitals, school programs and, last but not least, private medical insurance for government employees. Private insurers - your employer and mine, if we are among the lucky ones - pay just 30 percent of the $2 trillion total. Ultimately they pay even less, as private insurers deduct from their own tax bill everything they pay to insure their employees as just another cost of doing business. Nor are employees required to declare health benefits as income, although a portion of their paychecks is deducted by their employers to cover them. A recent study estimates that, of the $443 billion spent by private insurers on health care costs in 2004, the government lost $108.5 billion in tax revenues and $66.4 billion in payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare. To make up for this lost revenue, Uncle Sam raises taxes on the rest of us - including those of us who don't receive health benefits from our employers. These additional taxes, plus substantial out of pocket costs paid even by those who are insured, raise the total proportion of health care costs met by the average American tax payer from 51 to 74 percent.

Shouldering the remaining 26 percent of the health care burden has little appeal - until one realizes that health care costs are artificially high to begin with. There are potent forces that drive the cost of health care much higher than it might otherwise be. Because health care is an industry, not a service, and is run entirely for profit, equipment and drugs are wildly overpriced and doctors are encouraged to perform unnecessary and expensive tests. It doesn't have to be like this. According to Maggie Mahar, author of Money-Driven Medicine: The Real Reason Health Care Costs So Much, "in virtually every other developed country in the world, the government takes responsibility for trying to check health care inflation. This is why patients in other countries pay so much less for both drugs and medical devices. In nationalized systems, governments are the health care industry's biggest customer, and they use their clout to negotiate lower prices." In our current system, private insurers are as little and ineffectual as the rest of us compared to the vast and avaricious power of the health care industry. Here is a situation where an army of Davids cannot help us. We need a Goliath of our own to face those philistines who dare to overcharge us for our own well-being. As Mahar says, "In the end it is inconceivable that Americans will be willing to continue supporting a health care system that is funded largely by the public but is run largely by lobbyists".

"What Would Lenin Do?" from American Prospect

Thursday, August 24, 2006

 

House Prices Don't Fall For Pampered CEOs


Corporate executives worship "The Market" with all the feverish double-mindedness of Victorian hypocrites. While they unceasingly invoke this fierce deity to justify everything from layoffs to wage suppression, they routinely escape its wrath by enriching themselves with stock options, through which they may buy low and sell high anytime they want, irrespective of the true market value of the stocks in question. Now they have acquired another perk that allows them to cheat on their own god.

Several companies have recently disclosed in their SEC filings that they are "protecting their executives from real estate market forces". What this means in practice is that they are either compensating executives on the shortfall from their obscenely overpriced homes - or actually buying the homes themselves.

For example, eBay has provided a generous "relocation allowance" to Bob Swan, its new CFO, to enable him to sell his $3.3 million house in Plano, Texas and move to California without suffering any loss due to plunging real estate values. Two months ago, his house was listed at $2.7 million - $600,000 less than what he paid for it in 2002. But - not to fear, eBay says that if Bob's house goes for less than $3 million they will pay him the difference up to as much as $700,000. I wonder if they do that for the average Java coding shill or web content coolie joining The eBay Team.

Similarly, when Nike's ex-CEO Bill Perez put his $3.1 million Portland house up for sale, Nike bought it themselves. Not only that, but they reimbursed Perez for $578,000 in renovations, which included three plasma TV screens, various rare antiques, and a wine cellar with a capacity for 2,000 bottles. That's a lot of "bottles of beer in the wall" for Bill and his wife and kids to sing about as they make their cross-country drive to their next change of address. Presumably in their Rolls-Royce SUV... The newly refurbished old manse is now on the market for $3.99 million. Not an inconsiderable leap in value, if I do say so myself. I have heard of real estate agents advising home-sellers to install new carpeting or fix the garage to get their house ready for the market, but I've never heard of anybody getting their employer to plunk down the cost of the sprucing up.

Check out the article by Michelle Leder at the link below. God bless our sister in indignation.

The CEO Real Estate Scam: The new infuriating perk for corporate executives" from Slate

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

 

Let's Make Karl Marx The Next Stephen King!


A man named Francis Wheen has just published a book entitled Marx's Das Kapital: A Biography. That's right - it's a biography of a book, not a man. Das Kapital is one of those tomes like the Bible, the Talmud or the Koran. It is a huge verbal labyrinth inside which a major belief system twists and turns. Its title in English is simply "Capital", and it should strike a chord with millions in America today simply because its author was as obsessed with Capitalism as Bush, as Cheney, as Congress, as Jack Welch or Sumner Redstone or Michael Eisner. Certainly he was at least as obsessed with Capitalism and everything it stood for as you are, whoever you may be. The myth is that Karl Marx wanted to destroy Capitalism, to hasten its downfall and replace it with a new world order. Not so. He wanted only to understand it, at worst to vivisect it.

Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick is a British medical iconoclast who believes doctors should focus on curing diseases once they present themselves instead of terrorizing their patients with unpleasant and statistically ineffective screenings. I like his ideas on modern medicine. What can I say? Any man who tells me I shouldn't need to have a tube stuck up my ass if I don't want to is a man I'll listen to whatever he says. He is also a political writer for Spiked-Online. At the link below he describes his youthful immersion in Das Kapital, and reflects on the book's continuing relevance and its uncannily chameleon-like ability to seem all things to all people. For radical leftists, the book was a recipe for corporate apocalypse, a millenarian screed that invoked the downfall of all profit-mongering. For neo-cons, the book is catnip because it never stops talking about what they most love - money and profit AKA "surplus value".

Few actually read his difficult book all the way through. Hence, he is subject to misinterpretation, his ideas passed along from one person to the next with the distortions of rumor setting in. As Fitzpatrick says, "...contrary to the interpretations of many admirers as well as critics, Marx does not advance a mechanistic thesis of collapse or predict the inevitable downfall of capitalism. He recognizes that crises are both an expression of declining profitability and a mechanism for restoring it." Marx did not see Capitalism ending. He saw it evolving, through fluctuating economic cycles and social conflict. Fitzpatrick emphasizes that "the key factor in the fate of capitalism was the role of class struggle, as the subjective bearer of change..."

Yet the dialectic between workers and management almost no longer exists in Western society. Its demise owes much to what Marx had long ago recognized - that the monetary value of what is produced dwarfs those who produce it, attaining the status of a god while the human beings who nurture it shrink away into nothingness. According to Fitzpatrick, Marx held that the inflated importance of money "conceals the social character of labor and the social relations between producers." Today, the imbalance between Money and Man has gone even further. Now it less conceals than obliterates the social bond between producers, causing management to see us as mere overhead and to discard us at will without any concern for our welfare much less any compulsion to hear us out.

Neo-cons, those Cerberus dogs of upper middle class complacency, believe that we have reached this one-sided dead-end because Capitalism has been stabilized by own perfection, and struggle is no longer necessary. But what if they are wrong? What if improvement is always still possible and can only be achieved through the continued push-and-pull between Us and Them? What if we workers need to be regarded as human again, once more a potent factor in the equation of Capitalism. Get serious, just for the fun of it, for the retro-campy high that it might give you, and check out Das Kapital. Not only was Karl Marx as obsessed with The Big Bucks and their etiology as the wonkiest venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. He was funny, too. Das Kapital is as suffused with irony as, say, Infinite Jest. He was also fascinated with all the funhouse irrationalities of Capitalism, from its macrocosmic reversals of reason right down to absurd little things of the sort that we white collar wage slaves know so well.

"Capital: 'There's nothing remotely like it'" from Spiked-Online

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

 

Stop Big Business From Buying Elections


Nearly 70 percent of the world's democracies provide some public financing of political elections - but, unfortunately, the United States is not among them. The standard argument against such financing is that it would waste millions of the tax payer's hard-earned dollars. Yet its lack causes politicians to depend on the campaign contributions of corporations and their lobbyist intermediaries, with the result that even more millions of the tax payer's dollars are wasted on subsidies, preferential and over-generous defense contracts, and legislation that favors corporations at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Dr. Forrest Hill, a candidate for California Secretary of State, describes at the link below how corporate campaign contributions have slanted political decisions in their favor, sometimes with disastrous consequences both to California and the nation at large. For instance, Pacific Gas & Electric and California Edison spent $17 million on lobbyists and political campaigns from 1996 to 2002. This persuaded state decision makers to pass an energy deregulation bill under the false pretense that it would reduce energy costs to the consumer 20 to 30 percent by allowing increased competition to flourish. No such event transpired. The vast proportion of energy resources remained in the hands of a cabal of giants who used deregulation to push prices through the roof.

The pharmaceuticals industry likewise influences California legislators and executives through its campaign contributions and lobbyists. It arranged for the patent to be extended on the important anthrax drug Cipro by contributing over $130,000 to the campaign funds of Anna Eshoo, who authored a bill to effect the extension. Campaign contributions totaling $325,000 between 2004 and 2005 similarly induced Gov. Schwarzenegger to veto a bill that would have helped improve the availability of less expensive drugs from Canada.

Perhaps worst of all are the campaign contributions of defense contractors - what we might call in a more honest world "war profiteers". For instance, Bechtel Group Inc. made $1.3 million in contributions between 2001 and 2002, and got in return over $2.4 billion in contracts in Iraq. The fourteen companies with the biggest contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan have made altogether more than $23 million in contributions to politicians, including both Republicans and Democrats.

Only by seizing public control of political campaign funding can the United States rid itself of this system of implicit corporate bribery that keeps bad leaders in office, and obliges politicians to siphon money away from health, education and other worthy causes into the pockets of rich wheelers and dealers.

"Public Financing of Elections: Putting an end to 'Pay to Play' Politics" from the California Chronicle

Monday, August 21, 2006

 

Time For A 401(Rx)


Only 21 percent of big U.S. firms offered retiree healthcare insurance in 2005, down from 40 percent in 1993. These numbers are unlikely to improve. According to a recent survey of 163 firms, only 5 percent said they would not consider curbing medical benefits for retired employees in the future. Corporations are cutting benefits of all sorts, from pensions on down. The only available alternative to pensions, however imperfect they may be, are 401(k) plans to which employees may contribute part of their income, a portion of which their employers will presumably match. The future for retiree healthcare insurance may lie with a similar approach, which the article at the link below calls 401(Rx) plans. These would enable employees to make contributions to a fund set aside exclusively for their future medical care, from which they may be able to withdraw funds, although not tax-free, after the age of 59. Just as in the case of 401(k) plans, employers would match a pre-defined portion of the employee's contributions. The rule to allow access after 59, but before retirement age, would enable employees to break away to start their own businesses - or, clearly, to retire early without incurring the cost of getting private health insurance. The article stresses that retiree healthcare funds of some kind will be necessary to offset the costs of senior healthcare which, for a 65 year old couple with an average life expectancy, would reach $200,000 in Medicare premiums, drug costs, co-payments and other out-of-pocket expenses.

"Actually, what we need is a 401(Rx)" from the Star-Telegram

Sunday, August 20, 2006

 

Evil Bosses Redux


Abusive or abrasive bosses have a major impact on the well-being of any corporation. They damage the mental and physical health of employees, causing higher rates of absenteeism and even provoking lawsuits. They also increase the costs of hiring and training new workers by forcing experienced employees to quit. According to Salt Lake City organizational behaviour expert Laura Crawshaw, a bad boss may not necessarily be a bad person. Although popular mythology depicts bad bosses as sadists, many may simply be insecure, unrealistically perfectionist, deficient in empathy, misguided - or a combination of all the above. Ostensibly "sadistic" bosses who bait or taunt their subordinates may only be attempting to motivate them, however perversely, and their verbal atrocities should be interpreted in that light. Beyond all else, Crawshaw counsels against demonizing bad bosses, as that prevents us from trying to improve them.

As much as I understand the "humane" approach to bad bosses, demonizing them is one of the few great pleasures of the working life and should never be completely abandoned. Nonetheless, this "forgive them for they know not what they do" perspective is highly satisfying as it belittles bad bosses, casting them as victims of their own syndromes - be those neurosis, psychosis, Tourette's or Asperger's. Perhaps by pitying them we can have it both ways, being "good people" exercising our "compassion" while at the same time finally achieving that reversal of status we have craved ever since our supposed "superiors" first mashed our souls into the ground like a cigarette butt under a bootheel.

"Tyrants make life miserable for their workers" from the Salt Lake Tribune

Saturday, August 19, 2006

 

Corporate Monopolies "Tax" The Middle Class


According to Dr. Richard Levins, author of Middle Class: Union Made, corporate price gouging is a modern version of "taxation without representation". Relentless consolidation through mergers and takeovers has created near monopolies that can fix prices without fear of being undercut by competitors, and therefore fix prices as high as possible.

For instance, there have been 2,600 mergers in the oil and gas industry in the last 15 years. Under normal circumstances, this pooling of resources into the hands of a few corporations would reduce costs, and therefore allow prices to be cut - but that hasn't happened. Gasoline prices have risen 60 percent in the last five years, allowing the top oil companies to post record profts in the last year - over 100 billion dollars. When the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned the oil companies about their vast profits, industry leaders attributed them to the law of supply and demand. This is an explanation that pleases the more complacent friends of the business world and fools all but the most astute - but not everyone. The Attorneys General of Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin rejected this explanation upon discovering that the cost of heating oil had risen $250 per consumer in their states in the last year alone, despite that demand had actually fallen.

Dr. Levins uses this and other examples from the pharmaceuticals, retail and insurance industries to demonstrate that big corporations have joined together to raise prices far beyond what is warranted by the dynamics of ordinary economic forces, and have imposed their will on the American people like feudal despots demanding tribute. Dr. Levins calls this not just a "tax", but "taxation without representation", because there is no counterforce to hold these corporations in check. They have Congress in their pockets, the unions are weak, and the American consumer is at once intimidated and apathetic. Nor are there any champions anywhere else to defend us from these suicidal corporate predators who are so determined to drive their own customer base into poverty.

"Corporate price gouging a hefty 'tax' on Americans" from The Timberjay Newspapers
"Middle Class Losing Economic Power, New Book" from CommonDreams

Friday, August 18, 2006

 

Bush Signs Pension Reform Bill


The 30,000 traditional pension - or defined benefit - plans in the United States are currently underfunded by 450 billion dollars. President Bush has just signed a pension reform bill that requires corporations offering those plans to fully fund them in seven years, starting in 2008. The new bill includes some exceptions for airlines to give them at least 10 years to fulfill their pension obligations, and a three year delay before defense contractors - such as Cheney's old company Halliburton? - are required to adhere to the new rules. "You should keep the promises you make to your workers," Bush warned, or pretended to warn, those companies that now offer pensions. However, the bill offers neither encouragement to corporations without pension plans to establish them nor any real protection against the freezing or discontinuation of existing plans, and many believe the bill will spell the end for pensions in the future. In effect, Bush may actually be saying to American corporations as a group, "Hey guys, we all know pensions are a thing of the past, but for the time being we?re stuck with a few. So let?s pay up, cut our losses, and eventually we?ll move on to a pensionless society." After all, most of the 112,000 pension plans that existed in 2005 have already disappeared, and most of the 30,000 still left are bound to be phased out in the next twenty years.

The bill, in fact, encourages 401(k) plans, and allows corporations to automatically enroll employees in such plans as soon as they are hired. It also encourages corporations to make matching contributions, but these remain entirely voluntary. The bill institutes some other helpful changes, such as slightly more generous limits on non-taxable yearly IRA contributions - $4,000 until 2007, $5,000 in 2008, with gradual increases for inflation afterwards. This is an improvement, as the limit was previously scheduled to be cut back to $2,000 in 2010.

To better entice the cooperation of business, the bill removes prior legal constraints on investing pension dollars in hedge funds. Hedge funds, despite their risks, have become the favorite financial instrument of the rich. Perhaps at least a few million American workers will get a taste of their quick and slippery cash in the coming years. Although I suspect the CEOs want the hedge funds to beef up their own pensions first.

"Overview of U.S. pension bill signed by Bush" from Reuters
"President Bush Signs New Pension Bill" from Forbes
"Bush signs pension reform bill" from Capitol Hill Blue
"Bush OKs sweeping changes to strengthen pensions, retirement funds" from Sun-Sentinel
"Pension bill becomes law" from Marketplace (NPR)
"AARP Highlights Positive Effect of Pension Bill Signed Today by President Bush" from Newswire

Thursday, August 17, 2006

 

Where Are The Shareholders' Yachts?


Some weeks ago on this blog, I marveled at the extravagant new yachts of boss monsters such as Larry Ellison and Paul Allen. Well, as it turns out, a few business pundits believe yacht ownership reflects more than just extravagance. The batting average of a mutual fund manager named Bill Miller has declined lately and, according to Barron's, it's because he bought a yacht. Yachts are apparently a sign that a man has so much money he has no idea what to do with it - or that he may not be especially hungry to make any more and is now content to just spend the vast billions he has. Perhaps. Still, it is intriguing that Oracle has been underperforming on Wall Street since Larry Ellison bought his yacht, and that Charter Communications has taken a nose dive since Paul Allen - Charter's chairman - bought his Octopus. Needless to say, the notorious spendthrift Dennis Kozlowski had a yacht as well.

I believe that yacht ownership signifies more than either mere extravagance or a once diligent tycoon slacking off. It is yet another symptom of the dread disease that is taking over American boardrooms - acromegaly of the executive paycheck. But it doesn't really matter what your attitude is towards this phenomenon. The results are the same. The shareholders are shafted regardless whether the CEO earns too much money or he doesn't work hard enough. And any theory that discredits the excessive personal spending of a CEO will discredit his excessive personal income by extension, and that is a trend that I heartily applaud.

"The CEO Bought a Yacht? Then It's Time To Sell" from Slate

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

 

White Collar Crime - Punish The Criminal, Not His Corporation


The rather dense article at the link below is essentially pro-corporate. That makes it unusual fare for this particular blog, but it scores some valid points nonetheless. It argues that, although corporations may have the rights of a person in some respects, that doesn't necessarily make them eligible for criminal prosecution as persons. It also certainly shouldn't require them to take responsibility for crimes committed by their employees - even if those employees are the CEO or the CFO. Moreover, the punishments that could be given to corporations could never be the same as those meted out to convicted felons. Corporations cannot be imprisoned. They can only be fined, thus punishing the shareholders as much, if not more, than the actual criminals.

I agree with this. When an executive commits a crime, he and he alone should be brought to trial. The corporation he works for is as much a victim of his crime as anyone else. Considering that most white collar crimes are the product of human weaknesses such as greed, pride or vanity, it is also morally appropriate that a human being - not an organization - should be punished for them. Absolving corporations automatically from the crimes of their executives would relieve them of the strategic obligation to commit legal resources on behalf on those executives, which might result in swifter convictions for the guilty. Removing the corporation from the picture would put more emphasis on the actual felons, enhancing their negative image in the media and thus providing poetic justice to executive criminals whose desire for fame and attention drove them to their crimes to begin with. Last but not least, deflecting punishment from the corporations would help them remain solvent for the sake of their employees - most of whom, especially in the lower ranks, would be innocent of any charges.

"Rethinking Corporate Culpability For White-Collar Crime" from Heritage.org

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

 

The Lure Of Not Working For Downsized Men


The New York Times published an article two weeks ago by Louis Uchitelle about men between the ages of 30 and 55 - what are (or used to be) the prime working years - who have chosen not to work. It featured, among others, a downsized steelworker who has taught math at a community college and is a skilled writer - and a former electrical engineer who was laid off from Xerox at the age of 50, and survives by taking occasional web design gigs and borrowing against the value of his Southern California home. Both men sacrificed decades of their lives working for the same company to little avail and see no point in making similar sacrifices again. The ex-steelworker reads extensively and sleeps late, while the ex-engineer was interviewed on the patio of a trendy restaurant. Money is running out for both, but neither feels a compelling desire to return to work. Their opportunities, in terms of income, benefits and prestige, have shrunken dramatically. The rewards of seniority that they expected to reap from decades of service have been denied them, and they are bitter to the point of apathy. Read the article and decide for yourself whether you would like to offer them sympathy or the bum's rush. Then decide whether or not this is the future you would like to see for the working men of America - or even for yourself.

"Men Not Working, and Not Wanting Just Any Job" from TruthOut.org (copied from the NYT)

Monday, August 14, 2006

 

It's Important To Have Friends At Work


Only 30 percent of Americans have a close friend at work, according to a Gallup poll. One reason is that many corporations discourage employees from making friends on the job. Some even forbid it. 30 percent of 80,000 managers surveyed disapprove of workplace friendships and believe that "familiarity breeds contempt". As a consequence of this attitude, only 18 percent of American workers are employed at organizations that actively encourage the development of friendships between co-workers, or between workers and managers.

Many of those corporate killjoys who shudder at the spectre of friendship claim that fraternization among workers allows gripers to congregate, disrespect for management to crystallize and dissatisfaction to grow. Yet all the evidence is to the contrary. Those who do have friends at work are seven times more likely to enjoy their jobs. They also have fewer accidents, produce more in less time, show more creativity, and are more courteous to both customers and fellow employees. The Gallup poll demonstrated that employees with friends at work are 50 percent more satisfied with their employers, and twice as likely to be contented with their pay.

Read the article at the link below for more information on the benefits of friendship for the little guy.

"People with pals at work more satisfied, productive" from USA Today
Vital Friends: The People You Can't Afford to Live Without by Tom Rath (at Amazon.com)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

 

How To Be A Sycophant


Here are some basic guidelines for "managing your manager", which may be another way of saying how to behave like a total suck-up while deluding yourself that you are the one in control. Still though, such skills are necessary despite their vague repugnance. Follow these basic rules and you shall rise, my child.

1) Resign yourself to the fact that you can't escape office politics no matter how much you might want to, and just dive in and get wet. Become a floater among the sewage.

2) Psych your boss out. Get under your boss's skin like some telekinetic cootie and figure what makes that strange little critter in the corner office tick.

3) Step outside yourself, just as you might rise out of your body after death to hover about your HMO-cheated carcass lying there on the operating table, and view both yourself and the context of your corporation from a "higher" perspective. This is called getting the Big Picture. Remember, It - meaning the company - is not about You.

4) Stay positive, friendly, unfailingly unctuous - but shrewdly so. Meticulously "plan" your interactions like commando raids of good cheer. Transform yourself into the offspring of a Smiley Face button and Nicolo Machiavelli.

5) Ask questions to clarify your boss's desires. The boss might sit there in the shadows like Boo Radley, near catatonic in his self-importance, possibly neither articulate enough nor forthcoming enough to get his point across. It is your mission, should you choose to accept it, to discover what he really wants you to do.

6) If your boss abuses you, "sleep on it". Let it roll off your back. Regenerate your mutilated self-respect as a lizard would its tail. And always, always, make your boss look good, no matter how bad a boss he or she truly is.

For ever more such illuminating nuggets of admonitory banality, consult the link below.

"How To Manage The Manager" from the Kansas City Star

Saturday, August 12, 2006

 

A Growing Serf Mentality Among American Workers


General Motors recently ended pensions for 42,000 of its salaried workers because the "legacy costs" incurred by retaining these pensions made GM uncompetitive. The Wall Street Journal subsequently discovered that GM's pension fund actually included nine billion more dollars than was necessary to maintain the pensions of its regular employees. A vast portion of that excess had been set aside for the pensions of GM's tiny and powerful executive class, which had grown dramatically even while those same executives planned the elimination of pensions for everyone else.

Top executive pensions total $1.4 billion at GM, $3.5 billion at GE, $1.8 billion at AT&T, and $1.3 billion at both Exxon Mobil and IBM. According to The Journal, "Sometimes a company's obligation for a single executive's pension approaches $100 million." And, of course, these are always the guys who want to wipe your own pension off the face of the earth. What's happening here isn't a cost-cutting measure, but a ruthless act of displacement intended to sacrifice even the most minimal concern for employee welfare to the maximization of executive income.

For those corporations so deeply in debt that they can no longer afford pensions and benefits programs, there are always the Bush administration's convenient corporate bankruptcy laws. These allow a company to declare bankruptcy without actually closing down. Once Chapter 11 relieves the company of its pension and benefits liabilities, a new owner buys it, rehires its old employees - without benefits - and continues on its merry way without a worry in the world. Only the employees of the company have really suffered.

The author of the article deplores the strategies and dodges corporate executives use to put their own interests first, as well as Congress for facilitating them - but she also faults workers for so passively allowing themselves to be shafted. As she says, "It's painful to observe a growing serf mentality among ordinary Americans. Working folk seem afraid to complain about greedy executives or tax cuts for the rich, lest some big-money politician accuse them of waging 'class warfare'."

If we "ordinary Americans" don't change our ways, we will soon lose not only the shreds of our remaining "affluence", but our pride, our individuality and our self-respect. In twenty or thirty years, we may become a peasantry as downtrodden as any in old Europe, a sad, humble little bunch of potato chip eaters languishing in the glow of our television-hearths.

"Execs wage class war against serfs" from The Detroit News

Friday, August 11, 2006

 

Billions Of Dollars Lost To Tax Evasion By Multinational Firms And Rich Investors


Eminent tax expert Martin Lobel scolds the press for underreporting 40 to 70 billion dollars lost per year through offshore accounts and foreign tax loopholes. The media has, for example, ignored the findings of the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, which estimates that U.S. corporations and wealthy American citizens have over 1.6 trillion dollars in offshore accounts. That vast sum includes most hedge funds, risky and popular financial instruments that account for more than 50 percent of the trades on the New York Stock Exchange. Lobel believes that speculation in these funds is partly to blame for the inflation in the price of oil, among other effects disruptive to the economy.

The massive tax evasion of wealthy investors has shifted the tax burden to middle class families, which spend more than they earn and keep themselves afloat largely by refinancing their homes. As interest rates rise, mortgages - very much like the hedge funds - will increasingly exceed the value of the properties that secure them, which will in turn weaken the banks that own the mortgages.

Small businesses competing against big corporations also suffer because many of those firms are multinational, and can therefore exploit a wide variety of offshore shelters to keep their tax bills low. Lobel cites the case of Microsoft, which saved itself 300 million dollars in taxes simply by occupying a desk at a law firm in Ireland.

Even if hedge funds didn't exploit tax shelters, they tend to destabilize the economy by their very nature. Hedge funds, which employ mathematical tools called derivatives to overproject the expected profits of an industry, are speculation at its purest. Reminding us that the recent pension reform bill would allow more pension dollars to be channeled into hedge funds, Lobel warns what might happen if one of these funds were to collapse - and take your pension along with it.

Overall, Lobel describes a complex but depressingly coherent scenario of an economy based on speculation, borrowing and tax evasion, each factor colluding with the others to push our future farther and farther out on a limb.

"Tax analyst sees press failure as partly to blame for looming economic crisis" from Neiman Watchdog
Definitions of "Hedge Fund" from Google.com

Thursday, August 10, 2006

 

Battle Of The Logos


There was an article in the New York Times last week that documented a new trend among the young - the development of homemade personal brands for fun and profit. Individualistic and enterprising youths affix their own logo, brand or signature to everything they own or fabricate. On some level their actions are as primal as those of an animal marking out its territory. But the intended effect is less to repel than to attract. Attract what? Notice, comment, admiration, even fame or a market for their self-branded merchandise. I see it as an inevitable grass-roots reaction to those brands and logos imposed on us so relentlessly from the corporate powers that control the world. It is a kind of counter-marketing, an imperial act of self-identification that not only liberates your spirit but takes back as much as it can of the world around you.

Corporations are notorious for their oppressive policies of absolute ownership. Your time is theirs, your tools are theirs, and your actions must follow their rules to the letter. Even the products of your own creativity are owned by the bosses. This insistence on corporate ownership is one of the means through which they oppress you and diminish your humanity. Consider what would happen if we all rebelled by reasserting our own identities, not through violence or resistance or the naive act of just speaking out, but through the medium of commercial publicity - the genesis of one's own sovereign brand. John Doe will not simply express himself - he will distribute John Doe Ideas. He will not simply put in a day's work - he will create John Doe Original Software or John Doe Business Plans or John Doe Press Releases. As Arnold Toynbee once remarked, outsiders take control of the center of the dominant society not by repudiating its values, but by internalizing them even more thoroughly than the insiders. The only way to beat corporate culture may be to swallow it whole.

"The Brand Underground" from New York Times Magazine

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

 

Bad Boss Contest


The AFL-CIO recently sponsored a Bad Boss concert, awarding to winners - among other prizes - copies of a book entitled A Survival Guide For Working With Bad Bosses: Dealing With Bullies, Idiots, Back-Stabbers and Other Managers From Hell. Winning entries will be posted at the website WorkingAmerica.org. Some of these beggar the imagination. One boss brought a stun gun to business meetings to inspire motivation. Another boss refused to pay medical costs for an employee who was hurt on the job, even though the employee was his own daughter. And so on. According to WorkingAmerica.org, the winning entries tended to be those in which the boss kept the employee at work while a beloved relative lay in the hospital dying, and other such heart-rending fare. Pathos apparently beats out humor every time.

I can relate. I was forced to work overtime on an IT project that had been heinously misscheduled by my boss, and ended up having to shuttle back and forth between New York and Kansas City while my mother was dying in a Boston ICU. That boss was not even my worst. The worst may have been a women's clothes mail order magnate who fired a manager merely for calling out his name across the floor of a noisy packaging plant. The manager had just that week made a downpayment on a house, and eventually lost the money when he was forced to relocate. Some day I will tell you more. I have been exposed to a whole menagerie of managerial miscreants, so there is much to tell.

Commentators of the contest on NPR suggested that the greatest grievance workers have against bad bosses is their lack of respect for their subordinates. A union organizer among them noted that bad bosses are good only for unions because they galvanize resistance among workers more quickly. Bad bosses, he asserted, were of absolutely no use to anyone else.

"Your boss never looked so good" from Marketplace (NPR)
"How to survive a boss who makes you miserable" from NorthJersey.com

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

 

U.S. Senator Writes Book To Decry Corporate Greed


Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, has just published a book that not only damns corporate greed, but blasts Congress for serving as its handmaiden. Unlike you and me, not to mention the latest neocon scribe du jour, this man is actually in Congress and knows what he's talking about. "The influence that many of these corporations have over our government is enormous...Big business develops," he says, "with the support of our government, a set of trade policies that create opportunities for them to hire foreign workers to do what American workers used to do. Uncle Sam is selling out the American worker and, in the process, allowing these corporations to pole-vault over standards such as safe workplaces, minimum wages, labor unions, child-labor laws and environmental protection."

He is a skeptic of economic globalization, believing that it hurts foreign nations as much as it hurts the United States. He cites the case of Wal-Mart, which can sell its merchandise cheaply because 70 percent of it is manufactured in China under virtually Dickensian conditions, thereby perpetuating those conditions at the same time as it undercuts homegrown American competition. Dorgan shrewdly observes that, instead of reaching out to foreign nations to help elevate wages and labor conditions worldwide, our government exploits those very conditions to drag down the living standards of American workers as well. The current administration even gives tax breaks to encourage outsourcing American jobs to foreign labor - tax breaks that he vehemently wishes to repeal.

He would also repeal laws that forbid the U.S. government from negotiating lower prices for prescription drugs or from importing less expensive drugs from Canada, a suggestion that even Bush's own Secretary for Health and Human Services privately applauded as "right".

Senator Dorgan is one of the few individuals in public office with the courage to speak out against the subordination of Congress to the whims of the corporate world. Get ahold of his book and listen to what he has to say.

"Take this book and read it: The Dorgan manifesto" from The Bismarck Tribune
"Dorgan authors book on U.S. trade policy" from the Grand Forks Herald
"A Rallying Cry for Democratic Populism" from the Washington Post
Take This Job and Ship It: How Corporate Greed and Brain-Dead Politics Are Selling Out America by Byron Dorgan at Amazon.com

Monday, August 07, 2006

 

Braving The Corporate Hierarchy


Below is a link to an article that is most notable for its novel vocabulary than for it really says. It introduces two neologisms of the social activist variety that are completely new to me. One is "rankism", which is defined as discrimination based on rank. In other words, how the big shots treat the little people. The other is "dignitarian", as in the "dignitarian movement", which aims to win respect for all persons, regardless of their rank in any social setting, be it a corporation, a school, a neighborhood - or even society writ large.

We at The White Collar Warrior thoroughly applaud the battle against "rankism", so long as it has real results. Accusing a manager of "rankism" may - eventually - prevent him from bullying an employee. But the problem is that corporations are sly entities, and have long since devised ways of slighting or even destroying their employees without even raising a blip on the most astute of interpersonal radar screens. For example, "rankism" is implicit in the perception used to justify downsizing - that all white collar workers beneath the upper rungs of management are disposable resources rather than "business partners" or "human beings". I would love to see the "dignitarian movement" grow strong enough to detonate such dehumanizing attitudes for good, but downsizing is by its very nature a faceless and impersonal enterprise. To combat it requires more than just the little guy standing up for himself, for there might not be anyone available for him to confront. Pinning down the enemy is sometimes harder than fighting him. Crusades against "rankism" would probably be most effective on a small scale to make local improvements in the interaction between managers and their teams.

Nonetheless, check out the link.

"A battle cry for the rank and file" from The Boston Globe

Sunday, August 06, 2006

 

As Lunch Breaks Vanish, So Does White Collar Health


An online paper in Southern Illinois, of all places, decries the disappearing lunch break. I suppose in New York or Boston or Washington the lunch break is already as extinct as the dodo or the quagga, so we're long past the mourning stage. Still, it is nice to be reminded of how things once were. The corporate mandate to do more with fewer resources compels white collar workers to stay on the job longer, working continuously from nine to five, and often beyond, with no breaks at all. Many folks eat at their desks, and as quickly as possible, sometimes gobbling down a granola bar or a bag of Cheetoes or something. As the article at the link below points out, break time serves as an efficient stress reliever, and is therefore as important to your health as the quality of the food you might consume. "Extended hours and stress lend themselves to burnout and health problems, making employees less effective in the long run," says Steve Karau, a management professor at Southern Illinois University. He goes on to say that corporations may be losing money by forcing employees to skimp on lunch, causing a more dramatic attrition of energy and focus as the day wears on without the required refueling.

It may be instructive to review this brief article in the context of the links on stress and blood pressure in our previous item. Even in the context of the article prior to that on the diminishment of overtime pay for white collar workers. Corporate managers are taking the path of least resistance by pressing workers to work more hours, getting more labor out of them for less money because most of these workers are either salaried or deprived of overtime pay. This mandate is almost a rote response to some musty old rule about work-per-hour ratios that the managers learned in business school, and which is more appropriate to an assembly line at Ford Motor Co. circa 1920. These managers are just not thinking (that is, if they are capable of thought). What white collar workers produce, at their best, is really most valuable for its quality rather than its quantity. And when those workers are forced to work under duress, and with declining rewards, quality inevitably suffers. We are not machines, and what we produce is not mechanical, but the contempt and ignorance of corporate leadership utterly prevents them from seeing that.

"Lunch break not what it used to be" from The Southern Illionoisan

 

More On White Collar Blood Pressure


A study at Laval University in Quebec on 6,719 subjects over seven years indicates that stress most definitely increases blood pressure in white collar workers, especially men. We reported on this finding several weeks ago, but it is still just circulating (no pun intended) amongst the world press, and is worth a hearty (again no pun intended) re-emphasis. Just as an aside, it is interesting to note that reports of this study continue to be more voluminous - and more frank in the conclusions they reach - in other countries, such as China, India, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

The authors of the study call attention to the fact that a strong social support system at the workplace helps retard the onset of hypertension and can mitigate its severity. "Strong social support" is perhaps harder to come by in an age where your colleagues are here one moment, gone the next, as downsizing wipes them off the planet of your particular corporation, but what can ya do? One wonders whether or not the rampant escalation of whip-cracking that so plagues American corporate culture these days is, in fact, the result of collusion between companies seeking to streamline "productivity" and pharmaceutical firms who want new customers for their blood pressure medicine. I wouldn't put that past either party.

"Blood pressure surges in stressed-out workers" from MSNBC
"You were right: Job stress elevates blood pressure, study says" from CNN

Friday, August 04, 2006

 

Killing Overtime For Office Workers


The Bush administration proposes changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that will eliminate overtime pay for millions of white collar workers.

The current method for determining whether or not a worker is ineligible for overtime is based on three tests:

1) The "Salary Level" Test - A worker must make below a certain salary to be automatically eligible for overtime. The only good news about the entire proposal is that the changes would raise the maximum weekly income under which workers cannot be denied overtime from $155 to $425. This is an anemic improvement, considering that the $155 standard has not been changed since 1975, and a weekly wage of $425 translates to only about $22,100 a year. Above that meagre annual salary, virtually everyone is now fair game.

2) The "Salary Basis" Test - Currently, a worker must be paid a salary, rather than an hourly wage, to be exempt from overtime. This would be expanded to include many different types of contract or temporary white collar workers who earn an hourly wage - and often have no benefits.

3) The "Duties" Test - A worker cannot be denied overtime unless his duties are defined as "adminstrative", "executive" or "professional". The definitions of these duties would be dramatically changed, as described below.

Office workers would need no longer to exercise "independent judgment" to qualify as "administrative" personnel. In other words, even if your job consists simply of being barked at and of then performing mindless chores without any freedom of action, you may still be assessed as an "administrator" and lose your overtime.

The level of skill that qualifies a worker as a "professional" would be decoupled from its association with higher education to include workers who perform jobs that merely require sufficient "experience". In other words, all you'd need do to join the privileged company of doctors and lawyers in the sphere of "professionalism" is to have toiled away at the same job long enough to have become "highly skilled", despite how thankless and unremunerative that job actually is. Aha, but the purpose of this spurious elevation is to reward you even less, not more.

To be exempted from overtime because of your "executive" status, you would not only no longer need to exercise "independent judgment". If you are engaged, say, at setting up computer equipment in a data center, you are performing a "supervisory" duty and would therefore be an "executive". Moreover, even if you spend most of your time not doing anything that could be construed as "supervisory", and work alongside the grunts virtually all day, you may still be painted with the tarbrush of "executive" exemption - because the new definition has drastically minimized the time spent "supervising" to qualify as a "supervisor".

All the exemptions above have been cunningly redefined to take maximum advantage of the growing preponderance of white collar labor in the American workplace, and of the traditional association of such labor with "management" - whether they are managers or not. This is especially poignant in the current business climate, in which white collar workers have less upward mobility than ever before - and thus far less true access to managerial status.

The proposed changes also include an additional exemption for all "highly compensated" workers earning a yearly salary of at least $65,000.

2.5 million salaried white collar workers would lose the right to overtime because of the expanded definitions of "administrative", "executive" and "professional" occupations. 5.5 million hourly white collar workers might lose it because of the same redefinitions, and 1.3 million additional white collar workers would lose overtime due to the proposed salary cap for "highly compensated" employees. In contrast, only 1.3 million workers would benefit from the increased maximum weekly wage, beneath which overtime cannot be denied.

"Eliminating the right to overtime pay" from the Economic Policy Institute
"8 Million White-Collar Workers Could Lose Overtime Pay Under Bush Plan" from AFL-CIO web site

Thursday, August 03, 2006

 

Keeping The Collapse Of The Middle Class A Secret


Shush! Don't tell anyone that the middle class is collapsing. Median income has been falling for five years straight. Health insurance eludes us. Pensions are disappearing. House prices and college tuitions are insane. Yet corporations continue to sacrifice our measly jobs in order to "compete". But don't tell anyone. We can't divert attention from The War On Terror, or from setting the world on fire with The Untamed Flame of Freedom. It's hard to sell democracy, but we'll get there.

Of course, I kind of understand why we're having a hard time selling it. Iraqis look at the American system, with its meek and browbeaten wage slaves, and they don't see "rule by the people". What they see is a mercenary oligarchy of wealthy men trying to squeeze the blood out of the common man. Why import that to their own country, which is screwed up enough as it is? The irony is that if Congress and the President paid more attention to the economic needs of the majority in the good old U.S. of A., rather than pandering to their worst reactionary prejudices, we could not only hold corporations in check, tax the rich the way they should be taxed, and provide for the physical health and financial solvency of all Americans. We might also convince the Iraqi people that maybe democracy is not so bad. But the grotesque hypocrisy of the Bush regime undermines our rhetoric better than any propaganda Al Jazeera could ever invent.

Remember Hilary Clinton, the evil woman who wanted to institute universal health insurance? Anyway, Devil Girl, working with the Democratic Leadership Council, has come up with something called "The American Dream Initiative". This proposes a universal retirement savings plan, whereby American businesses would be required by law to open accounts for their employees, and far earlier in their careers than is typical for 401(k) plans today. It also proposes universal health insurance - at least for children - as well as a strategy for making commercial health insurance programs more affordable to small businesses and individuals.

The Republicans have demonized this proposal as a monstrous waste of tax payers' money. But consider the source - the reverse alchemy of the Bush witch doctors has transformed a 5.6 trillion dollar surplus into a deficit, and raised the national debt by 42 percent. Faced with its pockets turned inside out, and its ledgers red as much with blood as with debt, the Republicans step lightly around the most obvious remedies to the deficit. More taxes - especially on corporations and capital gains. Here we have yet another irony. The Bush regime may actually be as afraid of the rich as the rest of us. Why else would they continue to coddle them so obsequiously?

But corporations need their profits - don't they? - even if they do nothing with them other than overpay their chief executives. And who are we to deprive the rich from making ever more money on capital gains? That would be like robbing the planet Mercury of sunlight, wouldn't it? It would be simply unnatural. The American economy is booming, they say. Growth abounds, and wealth is effulgent everywhere with the green and golden bloom of cold hard cash. If you sense that the middle class is falling, that it may be suffering, that it has lost its pride and its courage, that it stinks from the rot of its own demise, please keep it to yourself. You'll ruin the party!

"Marie Cocco: The Meltdown We're Not Supposed to Talk About" from TruthDig

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

 

Nepotism Causes Firms To Lose Money


According to a study of 5,000 firms conducted in Denmark between 1994 and 2002, appointing a new CEO unrelated to the previous CEO causes a 1.3 percent rise in company performance on average, while appointing a relative as the successor results in a .1 percent decline. Company performance was defined as the ratio of operating income to assets, and the difference cited is equivalent to $14,000 per every million dollars earned. Sexism also appears to influence the role of nepotism in selecting a successor for company leadership. When the firstborn child of the CEO is male, the chances of the top spot staying in the family is 40 percent, while it is only 30 percent if the firstborn child is female. Other factors may come into play in the choice of a successor. For instance, leadership may pass to the CEO's son in good times, but to an outsider with known troubleshooting skills when times are bad. Nevertheless, relatively small differences in the tendency to pass on control to a relative can, and no doubt often do, result in real catastrophe when a corporation is shaky to begin with.

Here is scientific evidence that giving the main chance to the erstwhile prole who worked his way up the ladder, rather than to the spoiled heir apparent, can improve the fate of even the stodgiest family concern. Anything that can shake up the hereditary hegemony of the corporate elite, and keep upward mobility alive, is all for the better in our book at least.

"Meet My Son, Your New CEO" from Slate
"Inside the Family Firm: The Role of Families in Succession Decisions and Performance" from the National Bureau of Economic Research

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