Friday, October 23, 2009

Irony Returns from the Dead

Okay. I admit when I’m wrong. I recently commented that irony is dead. It not only is alive, but has returned with a vengeance.

Here’s the deal: as many of us are painfully aware, many financial "geniuses" on Wall Street squandered their portfolios on risky ventures… gambling instead of investing; blindly following instead of boldly leading. The economic roulette wheel landed on the wrong number and these firms were about to go bust. We the taxpayers bailed their sorry asses out. Now, the same brilliant folks who drove their companies into the ground are giving themselves huge bonuses and pay increases. Some people - like me f’rinstance - think this sucks. If you do such a crappy job the taxpayers have to save you from your own stupid decisions you probably don’t deserve a huge pay raise.

And before anyone starts griping about “interference” in the “free market”… uh, sorry. Once they accepted our tax dollars to prop up their decaying corporate edifice we became part-owners and we get to call some of the shots.

But that’s not the ironic part. The REAL irony is that some folks defending these massive pay increases are warning of a “brain drain” on Wall Street if these huge salaries are not maintained.

In other words, they’re saying if you don’t pay big bucks for top talent you run the risk of having lower-paid and less competent people at the tops of these companies.

In short, they’re saying if you want quality employees, you have to pay for them.


Leaving aside the (likely valid) argument that these Wall Street types aren't all that smart in the first place, I find it interesting that when upper management is concerned the “you need high wages to attract good people” formula seems to apply, but for the past several decades these same upper management people have done everything they can to make their labor costs as low as possible. Downsizing, outsourcing, union-busting, benefit-cutting, off-shoring and other dubious tactics have been the means by which they made sure to pay their employees as little as possible.

Heck, in April 2007, Circuit City stores even went so far as to lay-off their MOST experienced workers because they “made too much” and replaced them with inexperienced new hires who worked for much less. Where was the corporate concern for “brain drain” in THAT case? Do they think it doesn’t apply to blue-collar workers? Do they somehow think they can get good experienced blue-collar employees for cheap (or from Asia) but when top white-collar jobs are involved suddenly high wages are crucial to finding quality employees?

I have an idea… why don’t we hire American blue-collar workers at decent wages and outsource the upper management positions? I’m sure we could find some smart, enthusiastic and hard-working Asian CEOs who would be willing to work for much less than 7-figures. Or, barring that, would at least be willing to base the amount of his or her bonus check on the success of the company.
‘Tis admittedly a modest proposal, but given the current massive top corporate salaries it may save money in the long run and perhaps it would be worth considering!

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