"For us let it be enough to know ourselves to be in the place where God wants us, and carry on our work, even though it be no more than the work of an ant, infinitesimally small, and with unforeseeable results."
-- Abbé Monchanin

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Uncle Sam and the Panhandler

Recently my uncle saw an old friend panhandling on the street corner. This old friend had been quite successful, but hard drink and bad judgement had him homeless and hungry. He asked my uncle for some money to buy some food. My uncle wanted to help so he offered to give him some if he promised not to use the money to buy alcohol. The agreement was made and the money changed hands.

A short time later my uncle passed by again and saw the old friend quickly emptying a fifth of whiskey down his throat. My uncle was angry and confronted his former friend. "You promised not to use the money I gave you to buy alcohol!"

"I didn't use the money you gave me to buy this whisky!" replied the increasingly inebriated man. "I used your money to buy a burger. I bought this with the money I had been saving."

My uncle is Uncle Sam and his friend is the Wall Street banking establishment. When poor people use their existing resources to buy big screen TVs or such luxuries and then ask for public assistance to obtain food and housing, most hard working people are outraged. One must first use one's own resources to provide for the necessities of life. It is only when all of one's resources are insufficient that one can ask for help.

Does not the same principle apply to big business? Shouldn't the excessively remunerated executive have an obligation to reduce his own wage before depriving the industrious worker of his job? Shouldn't executive perks be eliminated before the business is driven into bankruptcy? Shouldn't a business cut ALL possible unnecessary expenses before asking for government assistance?

We must not limit our focus to the excesses of greedy CEOs. The boards of governors of these irresponsibly led companies must also be called to account. Shareholders must demand better management of their investments or replace these overcompensated incompetents.

Perhaps a good way to measure the relative value of workers and executives at a business would be the following: Let the executive officers stay away from work for 1 month and see the impact on the business. Let the hourly wage workers stay away for 1 week and see the impact. Whichever group's absence has the greatest impact should receive the greatest compensation. I doubt that those currently getting multi-million dollar bonuses will be missed. In fact, their assistants will probably do a better job in their absence.