Looting the corpse of capitalism

2009-Feb-09

Yeah, I remember capitalism. I remember the fables that company officers have a fiduciary responsibility to manage the company for the benefit of the shareholders. Yeah, right. From the Economist, The bonus racket:

In its last three years, Bear Stearns paid $11.3 billion in employee compensation and benefits. According to its 2007 annual report, Lehman Brothers shelled out $21.6 billion in the three years before, while Merrill Lynch paid staff over $45 billion during the three years to 2007.

And what have shareholders got from all this? Lehman’s got nothing (the company went bust). Investors in Bear Stearns received around $1.4 billion of JPMorgan Chase stock, now worth just half that after the fall in the acquirer’s share price. Merrill Lynch’s shareholders got shares in Bank of America (BofA) which are now worth just $9.6 billion, less than a fifth of the original offer value. Meanwhile, Citigroup paid $34.4 billion to its employees in 2007 and is now valued by the stockmarket at just $18.1 billion.

So the “employees” got five or ten times as much as the shareholders. But, you say, doesn’t that mean that we got that money because we are employees? Nope.

For the last decade these companies and most others have been getting rid of all the “rank and file” employees they can, and replacing them with cheap foreign labor. Fifteen years ago most workers were Americans. Now the executives and middle management are American, but a huge percentage of the rest are guestworkers, except where whole operations have been offshored. (The janitors and such are often illegal workers now.) Most of the “employees” who are getting so much more than the shareholders are the CEO and top executives.

At a typical Fortune 500 corporation such as those listed above the project manager and a lead tech may still be American workers, but most the the rest of the staff, the analysts, the programmers, the systems administrators, the database administrators are now mostly contract workers rather than permanent staff. And the contract workers are mostly guestworkers. At my last gig, I was brought in on contract to a major financial services firm (not one of the above) to work on a major project. I found myself in a room of 90 people. Two of us were Americans, me and a secretary to handle the paperwork. All the rest were guestworkers, mostly from India, but the rest from a wide variety of countries. And that is the “new normal”. Not one was brought in because they had unique skills, and nearly all of them ended up getting canned after a few weeks because they couldn’t do the job they claimed. But they were brought in because they were being paid half as much as the standard wage for American workers. And all the money that was saved on employee expenses became bonuses for the upper management. Just look again at the Economist article. Who got the money and who got the shaft?

They don’t care about the shareholders, they don’t care about the quality of the products they create, they don’t care that when they lay off their workers that those workers they lay off can no longer buy their products. They care only about getting as much as they can get before it all comes crashing down.

And the time for it to all come crashing down is just about now…