Saturday, September 11, 2010

John Perkins: Mr. CEO, Can You Spare A Job or a Free Lunch?

John Perkins is one of those rare individuals who has traversed the worst landscapes of the corporatocracy from the inside and come out with his heart and soul intact. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of spending time with John at a few of his week-long workshops at the Omega Institute in New York. This was before the publication of his incredible best-seller Confessions of an Economic Hit Man where he exposed details of the corporatocracry’s greedy tentacles spreading globalization and empire-building at the expense of poverty-stricken peoples across the world. Recruited by the National Security Agency in his 20’s, Perkins had worked as a consultant for multi-national corporations who benefited from World Bank and IMF policies that were supposed to benefit places like Jamaica, Ecuador, Indonesia and Panama, but instead were really elaborate schemes to profit the multi-nationals. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is a riveting personal memoir and I remember John talking about his decision to publish this book. He had been warned not to do it. Publishers had rejected his manuscript out of fear of the repercussions. But his conscience won out and he went ahead and found a publisher and the book became a best-seller. If you read that book, then the economic melt-down of 2008, the corrupt BP’s actions with the oil disaster in the Gulf this year and the legislative impasse in this country is no surprise. Since then, he has written The Secret History of the American Empire and Hoodwinked. His website is at JohnPerkins.org. His latest essay in The Huffington Post takes on the issue of excessive CEO pay and is another clarion call from this great voice:

"An economic policy which does not consider the well-being of all will not serve the purposes of peace and the growth of well-being among the people of all nations."(Eleanor Roosevelt)

In case you are tempted to feel sorry during these troubled times for the corporatocracy... this just in:

The CEOs who fired the most workers during the current economic recession also rewarded themselves with the highest pay. Top managers at the fifty corporations with the greatest number of layoffs were paid an average of $12 million in salary, bonuses and other perks -- 42 percent more than the average for the Standard & Poor's 500. To make matters worst, at most of these companies -- a whopping 72 percent in fact -- layoffs were announced at a time when earnings were increasing. This according to a study by the Institute for Policy Studies that covered the period from November 2008 to April 2010.

Isn't it comforting to know that while you and I are experiencing the worst economy we've seen in our life-times, with jobless claims rising to 500,000, the CEOs are thriving? They are purchasing luxury cars, yachts, new homes, and even buying off foreclosed properties at fire-sale prices. Perhaps we should sleep better at night knowing that they are working so hard to offset their ruthless firings of employees by trying to revive the Rolls Royce dealerships and mortgage companies!

Not only are some of the world's richest CEOs getting richer off the backs of laid off employees, but they're doing it at the same time profits rise and shareholder cigars are lit with martinis in hand celebrating the companies continued reign of predatory capitalism. These same 50 top layoff leaders' companies also enjoyed a 44% average profit increase in 2009. And many of them paid little or no taxes (e.g. Exxon, with over $45 billion in profits, recorded no U.S. income taxes and GE generated $10 billion in pretax income and took a tax BENEFIT of $1.1 billion).

I have to admit that I was never terribly enamored with Karl Marx. When I was a young man, many of my peers called on his writings to justify taking to the streets against the Vietnam war, but I -- a business student -- saw that war more as an excuse for the military-industrial complex to get rich than as a class struggle. Now, however, I have to suspect that Marx was wiser than I used to believe. In fact, the Institute for Policy Studies report estimates that CEOs in the U.S.'s largest publicly traded corporations earn an average compensation 263 times higher than the typical American production worker. Sounds like the exact situation Marx warned us about!

The study cites some very telling specific examples. Among them:

- Wal-Mart's CEO Michael Duke laid off 13,350 workers and earned almost 20 million for his trouble;

- The now disgraced Mark Hurd of HP managed to reduce his work force by 6400 and still earn $24.2 million;

- AMEX's Kenneth Chenault earned $16.8 million while American Express laid off 4,000 employees accepted $3.39 billion in TARP funding;

- Intel Corp's Paul Otellini trimmed about 5,000 jobs and received $14.4 million in compensation.


The report notes, "The $598 million combined compensation of the top 50 CEOs in our layoff leader survey could provide average unemployment benefits to 37,579 workers for an entire year -- or nearly a month of benefits for each of the 531,363 workers their companies laid off."

As I wrote in Hoodwinked, "When we examine the state of our economy -- the shortage of businesses that produce real things that people need, the huge gap between rich and poor, the current national debt, and the exploitation of the many by a very few -- we see a profile similar to that in the Third World."

Our overall standards may be higher than in the Third Word; however, in relative terms the similarities are shocking. And each year, in fact each quarter, with every new report, the situation grows worse. The sad fact is that the rich get richer and the middle class is disappearing.

Some of the most shocking statistics that highlight the discrepancies are those around hunger. While the CEOs feast on caviar, nearly 17 million, or almost 1 in 4, American children are at risk of hunger. Those hungry children are the victims of bloated, unregulated, corporate Robber Barons who lay off workers (parents) for bottom line greed.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

You and I can change the future for the better by taking action now. Demanding accountability and regulations that protect workers and stop the excessive payouts, golden parachutes and layoffs. A list of the companies is available here.

Please send emails to every company on this list that you patronize or are tempted to patronize and tell them the you will NOT buy from them until they change their ways, until their executives are willing to reduce their compensation and hire back those fired workers. Only through expressing our discontent will we make a difference!

We must demand a completely new economic policy that benefits all not just the wealthiest in our country. It is up to you and me! ~ John Perkins

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
The Secret History of the American Empire: The Truth About Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and How to Change the World
Hoodwinked: An Economic Hit Man Reveals Why the World Financial Markets Imploded--and What We Need to Do to Remake Them

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