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Chasing Down The Muse: Where is the fairness?

Optimism.

A wonder word, isn’t it?

In the face of staggering odds, we can still find ways to be look for the bright side.

I’m regularly accused of being overly optimistic. Something in my veins, I think, that hearkens back to the old Laguna Beach High School cheerleader in me.

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“We are the Artists, the mighty, mighty Artists.”

(No, we haven’t always been the Breakers.)

But lately I’ve begun to have my own doubts.

I don’t remember being as disillusioned with the entire political system, with corporate operating structures, or the inability of one person to make any kind of difference. Oh my god — I sound like sour grapes.

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It was the news of reduced corporate compensation packages that started my mood. The average in 2009 was $7.7 million. And these were leaders of banking institutions that had been rewarded for failure with my (and your) taxpayer dollars.

I have to admit that my bank account has never seen $7.7 million — in my lifetime — much less than in one year. I’m sure that there are plenty of Laguna Beach citizens who have — and regularly do. Our real estate and exclusive neighbors attest to the validity of multilevel millionaires. I’m just not one of them.

It seems that most of my acquaintances are on the other end of the financial spectrum. Two close friends have their homes in foreclosure. Another, a bright technological mind who was laid off two years ago, has just about drained his savings.

When the Senate took off for spring recess without voting funding for additional unemployment benefits they’d already approved, I was left wondering about their private jets, speedboats and sporting event box seats.

I don’t mean to sound bitter, it just seems like the chasm between the ultra-wealthy and the “rest of us” continues to grow in a manner that tilts our society in strange ways.

I suppose the question becomes, “What is reasonable compensation? And who should decide?”

Remember, I’m an entrepreneur who has worked for herself her entire life, so I don’t have a benefits package or a golden parachute. In fact, nobody is going to give me a watch when I retire, because frankly, that doesn’t seem part of my package. It wasn’t the path I chose, and I wouldn’t choose it now with everything that I know.

The obvious answer to the question about reasonable compensation would be the stockholders, whether it’s a bank, a railroad, a telecommunications firm, a clothing company or a producer of ice cream. But in so many cases, because of stock options and bonus packages, the same folks who receive the benefits control the votes needed for their compensation. That works out nicely — especially if you are the one on the winning end.

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Again, I sound like sour grapes. But this isn’t my intention.

The bottom line runs somewhere back to my ’60s roots and fast-forwards to the question of sustainability in 2010. How much is enough?

How many cars? How many clothes? How many cell phones?

Our landfills are overburdened. We exist to manufacture another something that somebody has to have.

Another something that promises to make the owner feel better, look better, be smarter, sexier, healthier, happier … But rarely is that the case. The thing itself quickly deteriorates as an object of interest, fails to make life really better (except maybe in the case of a heart pump or body part transplant), and the user — you and me — moves on to finding the next thing that is going to change our lives.

See, I am still an optimist at heart. It’s just that around me I’ve got folks drug down to the nubbins, and others buried in more and more stuff.

When I think of what really makes me happy, it is time spent with friends, anything that has to do with being in or on the water (my own personal therapy), cooking a healthy meal from scratch, getting lost in a really great book, a lively intellectual debate, being close to a loved one, and a long walk in the woods or local trails.

I wish I were wealthy — maybe. If so, I’d help my friends keep their homes, I’d fatten my other friend’s savings, and I’d donate more to organizations that help feed children who are without.

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In the meantime, I’m going to continue to ponder every purchase, analyze the source of products and work toward leaving a less destructive footprint on the planet.


CATHARINE COOPER loves wild places. Her essay, “Just ‘cuz Fishing,” will be included in a collection, Women in Transition, to be published this spring. She can be reached at ccooper@cooperdesign.net


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