Friday, April 3, 2020

#94 / Help Yourself First

Since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, the stock market has taken a huge dive. Business is hurting - and actually, it's more than "hurting." Millions of employees have been laid off, and many small businesses are going under.

Facing these hugely unsettling economic conditions, business executives are protecting themselves, even when they try to give the impression that they are being adversely affected, just like everyone else. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal revealed one way this is being accomplished. The headline in the hardcopy version of the paper read as follows: "Hyatt Bosses Took Pay Cut, But Stand to Gain on Awards."

When Hyatt Hotels Corp. decided to furlough many of its hotel workers, it told employees that Chief Executive Mark Hoplamazian and Chairman Thomas Pritzker would forgo salaries and nine other senior leaders would take a 50% pay cut through May. 
The executives also received their annually awarded restricted shares and stock options about a week after that March 17 announcement. If Hyatt’s share price bounces back near levels it was before the coronavirus pandemic caused the stock to plunge, those 11 executives stand to gain tens of millions of dollars through those awards, according to an analysis of the company’s March 26 securities filings.

There is nothing very surprising in this news story. Those with the power to make decisions affecting everyone almost always make sure that whatever they do for everyone else, they "help themselves" first. That is more or less human nature. Generosity and concern for others isn't present in everyone, but even when there is some of that - and maybe even a lot of that - most people (we are all included) will be sure to take care of themselves first. 

Still, the sight of business executives helping themselves out in the midst of a crisis, and doing it in a way that is not exactly forthright, does not paint a pretty picture.

Maybe, instead of ranting and raving about the greed of the corporate elite, we should remind ourselves that in a democracy the people, ultimately, make the rules. It is clear that our current political and economic arrangements allow the kind of self-benefitting behavior documented in The Wall Street Journal article. Again, nothing surprising that when the rules allow it, those with the power to make decisions will always be sure to help themselves first.

But what about the public? Perhaps we might decide that we should help ordinary people first, instead of permitting a system that lets the "billionaire class" decide how the economic benefits of our economy will be divided up. We actually DO have the power to change these rules, albeit we would need to get organized, and exercise our political power in ways we seem to have forgotten about. That includes, of course, electing representatives who will take action to make some fundamental changes. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our "New Deal" president, was president a long time ago! People tend to forget. And practically no one remembers the political positions taken by President Teddy Roosevelt, who held office long before FDR ever came along. Both of those Roosevelts, on behalf of an energized democracy, took on the "malefactors of great wealth" (that's Teddy Roosevelt's phrase), and they helped the people first. 

What a concept! And a change like this is still possible in November. The Nation magazine is suggesting that voters are starting to realize that, too!

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