Democracy & Billion Dollar Paychecks Don’t Mix

NEW YORK (Frameshop) – In recent comments that seemed to support the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS), GE’s Jeff Immelt said that he empathized with people protesting, he believed that obscenely high CEO pay was a symptom of the issue more than a factor to be addressed immediately.

When reading these kinds of remarks from people who are enjoy astronomically high salaries and unrivaled influence in our system of government, many people are left with a feeling similar to that experienced after eating 30 rotten oysters in fast succession.

While Immelt may empathize with OWS, most Americans will be outraged beyond the point of rational thought when Immelt forces us to explain to our government why a $1 billion dollar paycheck (e.g.) is a problem that threatens our democracy.

Let me put it in another way: when I hear Democratic or Republican Party officials try to protect the billion dollar salaries by hiding it within vague, technical jargon, I need to walk around the block a few times to let off some steam before I can even sit back down and write clearly.

Last year, The New York Times pulled together a list if the highest paid Wall Street types  at the time.  A quick glance presents a series of paydays totaling tens of billions of dollars.

Frankly, it makes no sense to use a word like “earn” to describe these kinds of payouts.  When a person constructs a system that results in a $1 billion, $2 billion, and even $4 billion check arriving in their hands, that is not earning as most of us understand it.

For people in government to begin to move in the right direction on this issue that is already so obvious to millions and millions of Americans, they need to stop talking about CEO compensation as if it were something in the same category as an earned paycheck.

A thermonuclear bomb is detonated underground, pushing unimaginable amounts of earth up in the air before sucking it back down in a burst of destructive energy that leaves the entire region uninhabitable for generations–that is a far closer description of a billion dollar payout than a word like “earned.”

An ocean is drained leaving all the life that once lived in the water flopping around gasping on the craggy bottom–that is a far closer description of a billion dollar payout than a word like “earned.”

Billion dollar paychecks are not salaries.  They are an engineered, unnatural cataclysmic force whose potential to render our world uninhabitable grows with each economic cycle.

It may seem nice at first to hear powerful people recite kind words about the tireless people who have put themselves in the public square to protest economic injustice.  However, it is not possible to support a protest against the destructive force of unregulated Wall Street gambling and at the same time stand as the first line of defense against billion dollar paychecks.

Elected officials will need to pick one: either (a) democracy or (b) billion dollar paychecks, either (a) sustainable global economy or (b) thermonuclear payouts that leave the entire world uninhabitable. We cannot have both at the same time. Choose wisely.

Anyone who says they support OWS, but is not also against billion dollar paychecks is not getting the big picture, yet.

For elected officials and their chosen spokespersons to demonstrate that they understand OWS–for their empathy to have more meaning than last week’s reheated PR messaging–they need to stop defending the most obvious form of injustice in the current system and start embracing democracy protected from the destructive force of unhinged greed.

Nuclear bombs were not the cause of the Cold War, but to have stood up and called for the end of the Cold War while at the same time expressing indifference to ending the arms race–that would have sounded ridiculous and offensive.

The same is true for officials who talk about reforming Wall Street without expressing deep disdain for the systemic destruction caused by CEO payouts.

Nobody ever needed a billion dollar paycheck.  Nobody needs one, today.  And nobody will ever need one in the future.

If OWS is truly having an impact on our elected officials, abolishing obscene CEO pay must begin to enter our political discourse in earnest right away–including the political platforms that make of the collective 2012 election cycle–and must stay there until this problem is resolved.

If a candidate for President believes they can be elected while defending the right of a microscopic handful of people to drain oceans of global resources and call it a “paycheck”–let those candidates try.

But there are tens of millions of Americans who want to hear their candidates–incumbent or otherwise–stand firmly against one of the most destructive forces of our time.

You want support in 2012? Let us hear you say it without any dithering or qualification: Democracy and billion dollar paychecks don’t mix.


3 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. They can try to justify their billion dollar paychecks all they want, but what they are in steep denial about is that most of us are paying their paychecks in some form or another. Whether it’s through outrageous interest rates (and we get a pittance of 1% in return for “lending” the bank money through savings accounts), or ridiculous gas/oil prices & the out of control oil futures market that oil companies are rolling in the cash as a side benefit; they are bleeding us all dry. There’s no balance. They win, win, win…we lose. They pay little tax, we pay through the nose. And on top of that, we pay for their bailouts and they still have the ability to pay the billion dollar paycheck to their CEO’s. Not to mention the misuse of TARP funds & total lack of accountability by our government in how it was used (much like the lack of accountability with the money used to rebuilt Iraq, which is whole other can of worms).

  2. motherlawyer,

    Jeffrey, in addition to your point about the unsustainablity of billion dollar paychecks (with which I am in complete agreement) I would add that concepts of “sustainability” and “habitability” don’t move Americans nearly as much as the idea of injustice. Americans have been warned about the various dangers of deregulation (take your industry pick) for decades and most of us shrugged it off.

    Our government gave trillions of our tax dollars to the very corporations that created this mess. Those same corporate and government interests have since spent the last three years labeling people who wanted affordable health care or collective bargaining or clean energy or decent jobs or good educations “marxists” or “deadbeats” or “dirty fucking hippies.”

    That is something more than unsustainable–it is monmumentally unfair. It is unjust. That is why #ows continues to grow.

    • Well said. You may find an earlier post interesting–where I talk about the “injustice” frame. (“When a Message is Clear, But Some Don’t Get It”).

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