- By Allen Hines
- Sep 18 2010
- Volume/Issue: 2/7
What do you deserve?
If I made $50 million a year, I’d paint the world rainbow colors. Maybe. Maybe I’d use it more productively. Maybe I’d fund a battalion of paid volunteers working to end racism, sexism and homophobia.
I don’t make $50 million a year, but Fred Hassan does. What has he done for the money? As the former CEO of pharmaceutical giant Schering-Plough, he prepared the company for its merger with Merck and the laying off of 16,000 workers. Now that he’s with Bausch & Lomb, analysts expect Hassan again to prepare the company for a merger and again make out like a bandit.
If someone who cuts 16,000 jobs in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression deserves $50 million, what do the people scraping up rent and getting by on rice and beans deserve? Do we deserve our poverty? Do they deserve their wealth?
Before the crisis, millions of people in the United States were doing the things society tells us we should do when we grow up. They owned cars. They were making their mortgage payments..But since the crisis began, many working people have lost their homes and their jobs – largely because banking CEOs got (more) greedy and messed up.
Millions and millions of people work hard, making things and providing services corporations can sell for much more than it costs to pay them. Then they go home and raise children, which on its own is a full-time job. Parents are often workers, personal nannies, chefs, chauffeurs and tutors, all in one. Are their lives any easier or less valuable than those of CEOs?
In 2008, the average income for 20 CEOs of banks that got bailed out by the government was 34 times the US president’s $400,000 salary, wrote Sarah Anderson of the Institute for Policy Studies. Census statistics from the same year put the average household income in the United States at $52,000.
This way of doing things defies any logic capitalism has for paying its captains of industry. One of the justifications for enormous executive salaries is the amount of stress executives carry. The centralized leadership of corporations means that the high-ups are responsible for the success of the business, and if they mess up, the fate of the business is on them.
But in the case of the bank bailouts, even when they messed up big time they got paid enough for two Learjets. Those of us who aren’t making millions of dollars, in effect, paid for their messing up and creating an economic failure that cost friends and neighbors their jobs.
Of course it’s not fair. For more than a century, business has gotten by through making the small class of bosses rich while the rest of us struggle. But that shouldn’t keep us from asking whether it’s the best we can do.
We need a radical change in the way we do things, not the slight nudge politicians sometimes offer. Let’s shift our priorities from rewarding the small number of top executives. Let’s reward everyone for being productive members of society. Instead of letting CEOs profit from cutting jobs, let’s give everyone jobs that fit their talents and interests.
It may take a lot – a lot – of discussions to figure out something better, but we need to open those discussions. As people, what do we all deserve, and do some people deserve more because they hold positions of power? Is placing power in the hands of a few wealthy people very democratic? What role do less wealthy people play in society?
What would the world be like if everyone had resources to support a decent standard of living?