Friday, December 20, 2013

Chicken Soup with the Employer/Employee relationship...

A few weeks after starting my first job way back when I was 16 years old my boss complimented my work ethic in what had to be the worst possible manner. He said, "You're a really good worker. You know the harder you work the more money I make?" He laughed when he said it and he probably thought he was being funny and clever.

He was funny. He was not being clever.

It was one of those shining moments where the truth came crashing in, never to leave. The peculiar nature of the Employer/Employee relationship suddenly presented itself in all its one sided glory.

If you are the CEO of a corporation and you work your employees hard, supervise them closely, and dump them whenever you can get away with it...and you reward all of that hard work and job insecurity by paying them as little as you can get away with, you will be described in business circles as a good business manager. They will say wonderful things about you in the Wall Street Journal and your company's stock will no doubt reach stratospheric heights.

Now let's look at it from the employee's point of view.

As an employee you decide to follow the example of your boss by demanding as much pay and benefits as you can get away with. You join a labor union that manages to consistently extract high wages and generous benefits from your employer. In return for all those goodies, you decide to work as little as possible, take as much sick time as you can get away with, read novels in the bathroom, and generally save your energy for more enjoyable pursuits, you will be described as an asshole who never did a day's work.

This is one of the more obvious double standards you'll encounter in a capitalist economy, yet almost no one is willing to admit that something's wrong with it. In fact, it's very common to encounter people who look upon corporate executives not as professional business managers to be rewarded for competently managing a business, but as deities to be worshipped. A CEO who's annual compensation is $23,000,000 is the equivalent of $11,000 per hour based on a 40 hour week. And you can bet that every CEO in America is wringing his hands and whining about having to pay someone $15 per hour. Mentioning this insanity to the average republican is like walking into church in the Bible Belt and questioning why God is so powerful and humans are so powerless. Bu..bbbut...but...he's the CEO!!

Here's my solution for better or worse.

Pass a federal law that requires corporations to limit the total compensation of their highest paid employee to no more than 20 times the total compensation of their lowest paid employee.

I can almost hear Ann Coulter puking from here.


  1. OK, this I'm not down with. The CEO that you described earned the right to be there. Just like the military has ranks, business organizations have a hierarcky where time and grade includes more benefits than are accorded to lower ranks. And yes, this is a capitalist society, where there is nothing wrong with earnings as much as you can. The only two sure fire ways of dealing with the asshole boss, the playing-favorites of office politics, and the disproportional treatment that managers sometimes dish out are to (a) get another job, or (b) start your own business and run it more ethically. If you are an employee who entertains any of the above ideas, you have problems.

    1. It's a rare individual who has no problems.

      Actually, I've never had a bad boss including my first one. Some of them weren't too bright, but none of them were bad.

      And I don't object to the basic tenets of the capitalist system. In your own words, "there is nothing wrong with earning as much as you can." I agree completely. An economy based upon entitlement breeds laziness and punishes anyone who happens to be creative and productive by taxing them to death. I have a few acquaintances in Europe. But I have some difficulty defining the word "earning."

      If earnings were a direct function of hard work then the guys who pick up the garbage every week would all be millionaires. I worked for UPS loading their trucks for about 10 months. I worked hard enough to lose 30 pounds in three months while eating four meals a day. If hard work is the secret to success, why was I only paid 8 dollars an hour?

      Some jobs are easy to understand. If you work for a piece rate, you earn so much per unit you produce. If you write a book or a song, you generally receive so much per copy sold at the retail level. If you sell something on commission, you receive so much per sale. With some jobs, it's very easy to calculate what you've earned. When you earn a salary or an hourly wage, it starts to get foggy.

      My compensation is not based upon what I do. It's based upon how many people are waiting outside to take my job. This reduces people to "human resources." It dehumanizes them and adds to the preponderance of examples that a potential terrorist can reference to rationalize what he wants to do. The fictional CEO who receives $11,000 an hour is compensated according to a completely different system. His compensation is determined by a board of directors, all of whom are wealthy and like the CEO have a stratospheric sense of entitlement. They're not receiving $11,000 an hour because they actually earn it. They receive it because they've "made it" and therefore deserve it.

      What I'd like to see is a system that provides every employee, including the CEO with a sense of belonging. Treating the guy at the top like a deity while routinely reminding the guy at the bottom that he can be replaced only inspires resentment. And if you've ever been at the bottom, you don't need to be told where that can lead.

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