[Articles in this series will feast on random juicy statements about capitalism reported in the media.]Erin McKean, a lexicographer writing in the Boston Globe, gives us a dictionary tour of today’s corporate capitalism and its private jargon that lights up a few interesting dark alleys. “The Word” of the day is “bonus” (as in “Bonus reduced”). For example:
…major financial institutions continued to pay massive bonuses to executives despite losing even more massive amounts of money. Last year Merrill Lynch essentially collapsed, but still paid almost 700 executives cash bonuses of more than $1 million each. (Boston Globe, 2/22/09)Probably little folks like us just don’t understand how hard it is to run a complicated system like capitalism. We of course tend to weigh quantities against each other the way our parents and teachers taught us to do and draw the simplistic conclusion that someone is getting away with wasting a lot of precious money. Especially since the funds for these bonuses come from (among other sources) laying off millions and millions of workers around the world for the sake of making business more “cost-effective.”
But how are we ever going to manage cracking open a nice, warm fuzzy economics text again without laughing a blue streak, once we’ve learned that “unscrupulous executives may also engage in vest fleecing when they accelerate the vesting of their stock options, or they may get their companies to agree to imputed years of service, where their 10 or 15 years of employment are counted as 25 or even 40 years to bump up their pension payouts.”
Imputed years of service? Bump up their pension payouts? When was the last time you “bumped up your pension payouts” to get a cushier deal? And if you got away with inflating your years of service, did anyone (the IRS, maybe) come around wanting to know where all that nice money came from? Workers who still have real pensions should count themselves lucky, as corporate pensions are second only to the Big Black Lies told by CheneyBush during their Power Trip days.
Well, hold on! says a voice from the back. The hard work of oversight and supervision is well paid because it’s money well spent. Keeping profits from sagging isn’t for sissies. Some very special executives are so highly thought of, in fact, that they “are offered what is called a gross-up, where tax payments are made by the company (and thus borne by the shareholders) on behalf of those high-paid executives” (ibid).
What is a golden coffin? Don’t ask! But just imagine your skimpy little paycheck surviving you…
While it is true that even the Congress now sees such practices as abusive, the abuses don’t seem to cross the wage and salary line somehow. If they could, the uproar from the Top would be quite deafening. We knew all along, to be sure, that the rules work differently for “executives” than they do for everyone else. Now we understand too that the rules governing capital apply only to feeders at the trough of surplus value; ordinary (“little”) people Need Not Apply.
When you hear someone who dismisses all this as par for the course turn around and argue that common ownership and democratic control of the instruments for producing wealth by and for the whole community will never work because human nature is too weak to support it, you know you are listening to an ideologue who wants to sell you on the virtues of capitalism. Demonizing human nature is one of the time-honored tricks inherited from the past masters of civilization to justify their respective class rules, ever since humans first began planting seeds in the ground.
What do we learn from this? In societies that have Tops and Bottoms, the Top is usually made up of swindlers, liars and self-servers, protected by governments whose job is to limit the excesses of their pocket-lining. It is time for a society that has no Bottom, and therefore no Top.