After my post Friday on Speaker Ryan, at Barnes & Noble that night I found myself disrupted in my technology research by a couple railing on about public sector unions. The particular focus of their wrath were police unions that negotiated full-pay retirement packages starting at fifty. As is well known in the West, some officers exercise that option and then take another assignment elsewhere, effectively double-dipping.
Now I agree that this seems unethical, and you’d think that some legislator would find a way to define “retirement” as excluding “leaving to take work elsewhere.” And the six-figure salaries being quoted ($200K) don’t sound like the compensation expected by a beat cop. Again, you’d think that redefinition of terms would be beneficial. There does come a day when a man can’t chase down an eighteen-year-old any longer, but that doesn’t apply to those pushing figures around on spread-sheets.
What was astonishing to me, though, was the framing of the discussion that brought such outrage to the conversation. During the 2008 down-turn, because of the pension obligations, Pheonix couldn’t afford to hire officers to replace those taking early retirement. This was set against the context of civilians that lost their homes in the mortgage melt-down.
For some reason, the couple ranting against the police union seemed to feel that was the union’s fault. Really? Not the financial wizards on Wall Street that stole another $500 billion from the public purse? What gall, to redirect anger against corporate financial fraud against the unions that seek only to secure the survival of the middle class that lost their homes!
This is what drives me crazy about conservative business owners. They rail about regulation as though it’s a confiscatory plot by the poor. Yes, we have the onerous terms of Sorvanes-Oxley that put a CEO at risk of jail if the corporate annual reports contains false information – but that was motivated by Enron’s manipulation or energy markets in California. Yes, we have the Affordable Care Act that requires all employers of more than fifty to provide health-care benefits, but that’s against the context of insurance company manipulations that denied coverage to many with pre-existing or chronic health conditions. And yes, we have rising taxes on fossil fuels, but that reflects a race against time against temperature rises that threaten to wipe out civilization as we know it, a race that has been road-blocked by oil companies (led by the Koch Brothers) propagating fraudulent science in an attempt to prevent governmental action to stimulate replacement of fossil fuels with renewable sources.
Let me focus the point: did nobody in the business world know about these transgressions, some simply moral, but in the last case rising to the level of crimes against humanity? Where were your voices speaking in outrage? Or were you all among those business leaders celebrating the “success” of practices that allowed executives to build huge estates and buy private jets with the gains from stock options that transferred hundreds of billions of dollars from share-holders funds into personal bank accounts?
Corporate America benefits every day from the investment made by middle-class America in roads, schools, emergency services and governmental process. They provide a steady steam of educated employees. They ensure the free movement of goods and safe working conditions. Access to those benefits is not a right, it is a privilege. Securing great wealth from that system comes therefore with a responsibility: to raise your voice when your peers abuse the public trust. Do so, and you’ll find that a lot of regulation would go away, because the cost of cleaning up from long-running abuse would be modest compared to the benefits that accrue from a freely running economy.