Education Matters: Suffering from a plague of greed

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

You work hard. You do good work. You loyally stick with your employer through good times and bad. Do you have a right to a paycheck that rises over time?

If you put that question to Booz & Co., one of the nation's most prestigious corporate consulting firms, their answer would likely be colored by their connection to the corporate bosses who have hired them to increase their bottom line profits.

Rather than take aim at the bloated salaries of the corporate heads, this company looks to diminish the value of veteran employees who, contrary to the mega-millionaire chief executives, deserve their hard-earned wages.

Analysts for this company advised earlier this year that businesses need to start attacking the "exorbitant" paychecks now going to their most prized, "steady and reliable" workers. They even personified this worker by calling him "Joe the machinist." He has many years of experience, but is now making a lot more than he used to make, especially compared with co-workers who have been doing the same job for just two years.

Joe has been "insulated from the harsh economic realities by receiving above market wages," according to a Booz representative. Translated into cost-cutting efficiency, that means that it's time to retool salary structures. This retooling, the Booz analysts gush, could net U.S. corporations "labor savings of 15 to 20%."

Corporate America, in fact, has been depressing wages to fatten profit margins for decades, and the pace has only accelerated since the Great Recession. Their profits from mid-2009 through the first quarter of 2011 have increased 39.6%. Over that same span, typical full-time U.S. workers have watched their paychecks steadily drop.

The Booz analysts want America's Joe the Machinists to swallow ever-lower paychecks to help their U.S. corporate employers "keep up with intense competition" from elsewhere in the world. Yet they demand no similar sacrifice from U.S. corporate executives.

CEOs at companies with more than $10 billion in annual revenue, the Wall Street Journal reported back in 2008, make twice as much in the United States as they do in Europe -- and nine times more in the United States than they do in Japan. The richest 1% of Americans have tripled their share of this country's income over the past 30 years.

OK, class is in session. It's Economics I, and I have some questions for my readers. Can anyone help me understand the blatant inequities above? If the 1% are the "job creators" whose prosperity will "trickle down" to the other 99%, why is unemployment so high, and why is the so-called recovery a jobless one? That's a flat-out contradiction.

Workers' unions are presently under attack in this country for their perceived undue influence in political affairs and for inflating members' salaries beyond sustainable levels. I would agree that unions and politics are ideally kept separate, but until this country's business sector refrains from exerting its influence on laws that are made and the people who make them, unions are a necessary counterpart to the corrosive influence of money on the body politic.

The rise of third parties in our country's history has always interested me as a teacher of U.S. history, and I have watched with great interest the rise of the tea party movement that has captivated a large swath of our voting public.

Unlike the Grangers and Populists and Progressives of earlier eras who directed their wrath at big railroads and robber barons, this present conglomeration is noticeably silent in the face of soaring corporate profits and obscene bonuses for that 1% while the rest of their fellow Americans are falling behind.

The real Tea Partyers back in 1775 protested the monopoly of the British East India Company, the largest transnational corporation then in existence. The company threatened to decimate small Colonial businesses (think Walmart), and this small rag-tag group of patriots, by choosing principle over profit, threw down a gauntlet to a business that had grown too big.

The real Tea Partyers would have seen the inequity in the growing chasm between the very wealthy and the rest of Americans. They would have protested against an exposed scoundrel like Rupert Murdoch, who voted himself and his honchos millions in bonuses while companies like Booz worked to create those bonuses by sticking it to the workers on the line.

Where have you gone, Grangers and Populists and Progressives? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to a spirit gone but not forgotten; a spirit that is part of our history and embedded in our sense of fair play.

While we are, once again, suffering from a plague of greed in this country, it is a spirit that presently cries out for a revival.

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FOR THE RECORD: This column largely duplicated a syndicated column by Sam Pizzigati written for OtherWords, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies.

After publication, Kimber acknowledged borrowing heavily from Pizzigati’s column about “Joe the Machinist.”

News-Press guidelines state that when we rely on the work of others, we credit them, and when wire service reports are used, the source should be clearly attributed. Kimber's column will no longer appear in the News-Press.

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