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Archive for June 15th, 2010|Daily archive page

THE CEO AS ENFORCER

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics on June 15, 2010 at 1:23 pm

CEOs and Mafia bosses are bureaucrats at heart: When they want somebody roughed up or rubbed out, they nearly always order a subordinate to do it for them.

But once in a while a highly agitated boss (corporate or criminal, as if there’s a difference) loses his cool and decides to do the job himself.

Or, as in the case of Meg Whitman, herself.

According to a June 14 story in the New York Times: California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was accused of shoving an employee while she was head of eBay in 2007. The incident cost the company about $200,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

The employee, Young Mi Kim, said she was helping Whitman prepare for a media interview when her boss became angry, used an expletive and pushed her in a company boardroom.

In her acceptance speech last week, Whitman referred to herself and Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, another former CEO, as “two business women from the real world who know how to create jobs, balance budgets and get things done!”

Carly Fiorina seems to think that getting things done means making catty remarks about the hairstyle of her opponent–in this case, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer.

And Whitman apparently doesn’t rule out the use of physical force in dealing with those who dare not strike back–at least, not physically.

Whitman’s actions may seem trivial, but they tell us a great deal about her–and certainly far more than she wants us to know. As the ancient historian Plutarch writes in his biography of Alexander the Great:

“And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men; sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever.”

At a time when corporate CEOs (Corrupt, Egotistical Oligarchs) are trumpeting their ability to “get things done,” it’s well to ask: “What things?” and “How?”

As for “What things”: Meg Whitman has made it clear she believes that corporations pay far too much in taxes. And if the titans who bring home multi-million-dollar salaries are forced to pay out so much as a penney’s worth of taxes, it’s going to make them not want to hire people who are paid a comparative pittance.

On one hand, it’s the old hostage-game: “If you force me to live up to my obligations as an American citizen and pay taxes, I’ll take my football (company) and go someplace where I won’t have to live up to them.”

On the other hand, it’s the return of failed,
trickle-down Reaganomics: “Give billions in tax-breaks to the ultra-wealthy, and maybe they’ll deign to ‘trickle-down’ a few nickels to the peasantry.”

As for “How CEOs get things done”: There is a Russian phrase that sums it up beautifully: “Kto kovo?” Or: “Who whom?” as in “Who can do what to whom?”

For the vast majority of CEOs, the end of serving their own greed more than justifies whatever means they use to serve it.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Fiorina spent $5 million on her primary campaign and Whitman spent $71 million of her own money towards her race. All this for jobs that pay $174,000 (for U.S. Senate) and $212,179 (for Governor) a year.

Most Americans know nothing about the history of ancient Rome. But even those who do feel there is nothing to be learned from it. To them, the ruthless intrigues by would-be tyrants like Julius Caesar–financed by wealthy businessmen like Marcus Crassus–mean nothing.

On the contrary, there is much to learn from such history–and it sounds a warning for us.

In true “privitization” spirit, Crassus made his millions by setting up a private fire brigade (when there were no public ones) and then offering to buy those tenaments being consumed by fire.

If the owner agreed, Crassus’ brigade then put out the fire–and Crassus paid the now-homeless former owner a pittance. Crassus then became the property’s owner. If the owner refused, Crassus let the property burn–and the owner got nothing.

As the Republican propaganda machine loudly champions the private sector against the public one, it’s well to remember that the motivating force of that private sector is private greed.

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