To think that greed is simply greed misses the nuances of avarice. There is, for example, the greed of corporate lobbyists lunging for taxpayers’ money in the wake of September 11. Then there is the trickier greed of the Enroners, who locked employees into the declining company’s stock while the CEO was secretly dumping his. But now comes “Greedus Maximus” in the form of a group called the Business Roundtable. This outfit presents itself as the enlightened business community. Made up of the CEOs of the 200 largest corporations in the country, this “enlightened” elite has recently drawn a policy line in the sand to save the financial butts of the Roundtable’s CEOs. These executives have sacked up gabillions of dollars in the past decade in off-the-books paychecks called “stock options.” Under this scam, top executives get paid a king’s ransom, but the corporations’ bookkeepers hide these payouts from investors, employees, and the public, claiming that these millions technically are not expenses–even though this is real money paid from the business. The result is that hundreds of millions of dollars that could be invested in productive ventures are instead being siphoned into the already well-stuffed pockets of the executives. Even the New York Stock Exchange has recently come out to say that these payouts to executives are, after all, stockholders’ money and, therefore, ought not be paid unless voted on by the stockholders. But CEOs despise corporate democracy, so the Roundtable is now pressuring the stock exchange to step away from applying even this small brake to runaway CEO greed. To help get a grip on such greed, call the Council of Institutional Investors at 202-822-0800.
THE NATURAL ORDER OF THINGS
I wish hot-shot Harvard economist Martin Feldstein had to spend a year in the shoes of a single mom working three jobs to hold her family together. That would give the professor a real lesson in talent, skills, risk-taking, hard work… and real-life economics. Feldstein’s claim to fame is that he once was head of Ronald Reagan’s council of economic advisors. You might remember that Reagan was big on the trickle-down economic theory, asserting that if government helps the rich get richer, these privileged ones then will trickle on the rest of us, showering us with the refuse of their wealth. Feldstein was one of the engineers of this policy of elitist economic effluence. Well they certainly did make the rich richer. Indeed, half of the economic gains from the Reagan period to today have ended up in the pockets of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. Another 40 percent of the gains went to the next 19 percent of well-off Americans. That left very little to trickle down to the underlying 80-percent majority. The result is that the gap between the top 20 percent and the rest of us has now grown wider in our country than in any other industrialized nation. Recently Professor Feldstein told The New York Times that this imbalance puzzles but doesn’t bother him. Asked if America should worry that Wall Street barons make a killing while workaday folks get killed, Feldstein was smug in his ideology, telling the Times “I say no.” To him, income inequality is simply a “natural” consequence of the new, high-tech, whiz-bang economy that he says rewards “talent, skills, education, and entrepreneurial risk. So, if you’re not rich, it’s because you’re an untalented slug. He adds that the income gap also exists because some people “may choose not to work as hard as investment bankers.”
Why do I feel an urge to click my boot heels whenever Bush, Ashcroft & Gang bark out the phrase, “Homeland Security”? This bunch has spent its collective political career warning about the evils of a “Big Brother” government, but now that they’re in power, they’re Big-Brother-on-Steroids, rushing to create a massive and menacing new federal police power to monitor all suspicious activity here in the Fatherland… I mean, Home-land. All of this is a political attempt to cover up the recent disclosures that the administration’s top officials missed clear signs prior to September 11 that a crash-bombing was in the making. Ashcroft’s knee-jerk reaction to these embarrassing revelations was, as usual, to grab for more autocratic power and to weaken our Bill of Rights. He has authorized the FBI to engage in more domestic spying and to go on fishing expeditions against innocent people, greatly expanding the federal police’s clandestine authority to enter our computers, churches, and political meetings. He barked that homeland agents need to know more about what people are thinking and planning. The FBI’s own field agents had the information they needed prior to September 11, but the top brass refused to act. The agency doesn’t need more intelligence, it needs more intellect… and a less intractable bureaucracy. But then came George W himself proposing to merge 22 agencies into one humongous Homeland Security department that will be Washington’s third largest bureaucracy. While this new agency will bring everyone from customs inspectors to cattle inspectors under one coordinated regime, it will not include the FBI, the agency most responsible for preventing terrorist attacks. The first rule of bureaucracy is: When criticized, reorganize. But, as Hemingway said, “Never mistake motion for action.”
Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To order his books or schedule him for a speech, visit www.jimhightower.com. To subscribe to his newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown, call toll-free 1-866-271-4900.