Saturday, November 5, 2011

Young people aren't jealous, they're just very angry

Originally published in the Tuscarawas County edition of the Bargain Hunter

By all accounts Henry Ford, who is the father of the assembly line, was a less-than-perfect American who engaged in anti-Semitism and hobnobbed with Nazis before they got caught up in trying to dominate the world.

But historians give Ford credit for understanding one of the tenets of capitalism – he paid his workers enough money so they could afford to buy the products, primarily the Model T, which they were making on behalf of Ford Motor Co.

In the process of paying those workers enough money, other companies followed suit, allowing their workers, too, to participate in the consumer economy.

This seems to be a good course of action. Everyone benefits if the working public can participate in the economy by buying things it makes. It seems, however, the country – the world – somehow got off track recently, rewarding a small minority, who really don’t make anything other than a deal, with phenomenal salary and benefit packages. CEOs love to make deals.

War was the catalyst for the ’60s protests; it’s spoiled, overpaid CEOs in 2011.

Our work-ethic psyche is damaged. You can toil and sacrifice for your company for years and years – no guarantee that you can hold the pink slip at bay. The suits get the spoils. They always do, not you.

Consider a note from a late-twenty-something son, a product of New Philadelphia High, to his conservative-thinking, work-till-he-drops father.

“I would have to say it is very hard to make an ‘honest’ billion,” wrote the young man.

“For every Richard Branson, Bill Gates, or Warren Buffett I would argue there are untold Richard Fulds. (Fuld was chairman and CEO of the failed Lehman Brothers.)

“Yes, one CEO’s salary wouldn't affect a company, but that one CEO isn’t the only one raking in an obscene salary. The super-rich have gotten super richer on the backs of the bottom 95 percent. While jobs were being shipped overseas, automated, eliminated and outsourced in America, the CEOs and shareholders of those companies raked in ever-growing wealth.

“Is it their responsibility to increase profits? Of course, but by what means? No morality or ethics, that's how – profit by whatever means necessary…

“I'm not jealous of the rich. I’m p----- at them. The rich are the useless nothings in Congress; they're the CEOs of companies like Enron, Lehman and Citi. They’re the trust fund babies and banking ‘Kings of the Universe’ who spend their time boozing, doing drugs and feeling entitled to a life of privilege. The super-rich weren’t catered to back in the day like they are today…”

Add Gene Isenberg to the list of CEOs who are well-compensated underperformers. A week ago, Nabors Industries, an oil driller, said it was replacing Isenberg as CEO but will give him a lovely parting gift of $100 million.

That’s right, $100 million – for keeping the company’s stock flat for a decade.

And therein lies President Barack Obama’s problem. This kind of news keeps on coming.

Is the “hope and change” president losing the generation that helped put him in office? Maybe. But tell me, how does the president – any president – influence compensation packages awarded by executive board members who themselves are part of the club?

Won’t fundamental change have to come from within? Won’t we have to start making things again?

Sadly, Obama has failed to live up to advance billing. Nothing much, including the unemployment rate, has changed since Lehman Brothers went belly-up in 2008.

And the price of gasoline has shot to $3.50 a gallon, give or take a dime or two on either side.

And business has never liked Obama, whose continued calls for higher taxes have profitable companies sitting on their hands, uncertain of the future.

So the campaign for the presidency begins in earnest after Tuesday’s election.

CNBC is touting the 2012 campaign as the most important of our time. I’m not one to buy into TV hype but, you know, I think the network is correct.

“The economy is Topic A,” said the voiceover.

That’s an understatement.

Here are some predictions for Tuesday’s general election:

  • Issue 2 will fail and Senate Bill 5 will be repealed. Gov. John Kasich could have gotten away with tweaking Ohio’s collective bargaining law but missed the opportunity. He does not have the support of most public managers, who have forged decent relationships with their unions. And most unions, at least in our area, have made concessions in the wake of the great recession. Many Ohioans are connected in some way to public employees and feel their pain.
  • Incumbent mayors will be re-elected in Dover and New Philadelphia. The opponents have failed to make a case for the alternative.
  • I’m pulling for passage of a bond issue that will pave the way for a new Dover High. It will be an exciting time for a community that hasn’t built a new school in five decades. People who think the old building ought to be remodeled aren’t thinking realistically. That would be like putting new tires on a tired, old clunker. OK, no prediction here, just hope.
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