Monday, June 25, 2012

The Wages of Sin Is $12 Million Plus Stock Options

I saw this item on Facebook a few weeks ago, and my first response was to correct the numbers.  But just the other day someone quoted Mitt Romney's homespun wisdom that the government should be run like a business, and the image above popped into my mind.  I started looking through my right-wing acquaintances' postings but couldn't locate it until a liberal friend tracked it down (tip o' the mouse to Leslie).  Another old friend found another version (tip o' the mouse to Grant), with more accurate figures:

It doesn't look as though anybody who knows anything about how government works thinks that running it like a business is a good idea.  When even Forbes laughs the idea to scorn, you know it doesn't bear scrutiny.  But it's one of those memes that has a strong intuitive appeal to many people.

If those who posted that meme believe that a Republican president would change this state of affairs, I'd like them to think about what it would mean in practice. First, it would mean that the President and US Senators are grossly underpaid: as CEO and upper management of Brand America, they should be paid at least ten times as much as they are now, with stock options and bonuses. Look up someone like Jamie Dimon; that's what our President should be like in terms of compensation.

Second, it would mean that our people in uniform are grossly overpaid, by American business standards. A business would pay them minimum wage and no benefits, as businesses prefer to pay employees who do the dirtiest, most dangerous work. The same friend who found the meme questioned me on that claim, but if you look at labor history, especially the history of job safety, you'll find it's true.  Miners, factory workers, and other people who do dangerous work were generally underpaid until they organized and forced change.  (Can you imagine the International Brotherhood of Armed Forces Personnel?  Can you imagine them going on strike?  Even better, an international union would want to build bridges between exploited workers in all countries.  It could conceivably do more to bring about peace than any corporate/government initiative; maybe it's a good idea after all.)

Still using the Business model, the military should be outsourced where possible to cheaper, more business-friendly countries -- but we've already been doing that for decades. We mostly control our empire with local police and military, trained in torture and mass murder by officers taught in such places as the School for the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.  Much of the American military has already been privatized, and private "contractors" like Xe (formerly known as Blackwater) are being used to obscure US involvement at home and abroad.

Just to try to be clear: I don't think the President and Senators are overpaid, especially when you compare them to other upper management in companies that want to be competitive on a global scale.  (As one blogger mischievously wrote, "I wonder if Obama is such a mediocre president because there's no incentive scheme?") What they're paid now, including benefits, seems about right to me, though considering that they are usually rich before they take office and are guaranteed a comfortable living by working in or with the private sector after they leave office, maybe they shouldn't be paid anything at all.  But the gap between upper management in government and ordinary workers, including the military, is much less than the gap between the highest and lowest paid employees in corporate America.

I do think that our military needs better pay and benefits -- as well as fewer wars to fight in the first place -- but then I think the same about most Americans. Health care and a living wage for all! Anyone who wants the US government to be run like a business should not be allowed to forget what that would mean. Remember the Republicans' claim that Obama isn't friendly enough to business, look at how well he has served business interests in reality, and imagine what it would do this country to go even farther down that path than we have already.

Besides, if our government is run like a business, who will bail it out when it crashes and burns?