On Monday, some of the most powerful businessmen and women in America gathered together and came to the conclusion that focusing solely on increasing shareholder value may not be the best thing for the American economy.
Gee . . . ya think?
We’re certainly not billionaires, like Jeff Bezos, the Amazon CEO who participated in the Business Roundtable, but we figured this one out way back in the 1980s, when David Stockman rolled out his trickle-down economic theory embraced by the Reagan administration . . . and when we saw that there actually wasn’t any trickling down, just trickling up.
A press release issued Monday stated that the Business Roundtable had a new statement of purpose signed by 181 CEOs, who “commit to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders — customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders.”
“Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term. These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans,” said JP Morgan Chase & Co. CEO and Chairman Jamie Dimon.
Wow, that sounds great! Until we remembered that it was Dimon who was embarrassed a few months ago by U.S. Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., when Porter asked Dimon how his tellers are supposed to live on the salary JP Morgan pays its full-time tellers. Dimon couldn’t answer, saying, “I don’t know, I have to think about it,” repeatedly.
Corporate CEOs didn’t suddenly realize that caring about the people who work for them is the right thing to do. What they saw was the writing on the wall.
Over the last decade or so, voters in more than half the states — 29, including Arizona — voted to increase the minimum wage above the federal minimum. It’s not because workers are greedy; it’s because there aren’t good-paying jobs anymore, because those corporate CEOs moved manufacturing jobs overseas, where they can pay third-world workers pennies on the dollar.
Those lower employee costs sure looked good on those quarterly earnings reports.
In addition to workers forced to vote themselves a raise — the only salary the CEOs have been raising is theirs — the U.S. House recently voted to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Nothing will happen on that unless the Democrats win the Senate in 2020, in which case, those CEOs can expect higher employee costs.
Speaking of politics, the idea of universal health care is gaining a great deal of traction among voters, as is debt-free college and even universal basic income — a monthly stipend just for being a citizen.
Why are voters looking at things that, a decade ago, would have been dismissed without a second glance as “socialist?” Because corporate CEOs, in their zeal for profit above all else, have widened the wage gap in the country to untenable levels.
Working people have finally had enough of hearing “you have to do more with less,” of having to do the work of two or three people because the company won’t hire to fill vacancies, of not getting cost-of-living raises for years, of having to receive assistance despite having a job and of being asked to choose between health insurance that covers less while costing more every year or having no coverage at all.
Most of all, workers are fed up with being told it’s their responsibility to tell consumers to “invest” in (buy) the company’s product when the CEOs refuse to invest in the workers or the product.
America’s CEOs had no choice but to say they’ve shifted focus from profit above all else to a more holistic approach to business, in which workers are treated with respect and a good product is produced.
Whether the CEOs actually mean it is something that remains to be seen.