There have been a number of submissions of late extolling or at least defending the virtues of our present day global economy. Jerome Gessaroli, who teaches in the School of Business at the British Columbia Institute of Technology and is a visiting fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute wrote: “There’s powerful evidence and history that corporations which prioritize shareholders and profits not only thrive, but contribute to the greater good. Replacing shareholder primacy will undermine market discipline that forces managers to act competitively and use corporate resources efficiently — the very elements that create wealth, GDP growth, and a flourishing society.” A motherhood statement veiled in the complete absence of supporting research that usually includes the manipulation of data, charts, surveys and projections.
The key element missing from Mr. Gessaroli’s statement is the fact that wealth and a flourishing society is targeting a very small segment of society, namely, company executives and shareholders. Ask a Tim Horton’s employee how shareholder value has increased his personal wealth. Ask the employees of General Electric, when Jack Welch ranked his employees and fired the bottom 10 percent annually. Ask the employees of the famously psychopathic dubbed “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap of Sunbeam, who adored layoffs and factory closures, how they feel about competitively using corporate resources.
Annual reports issued by large corporations proudly proclaim their fair treatment of employees as a core value. As loudly as a company touts the value of their employees, their financial commitment to employees is absent. In short, employees are valued like toilet paper. After it is used and discarded when no longer of value.
Susan Hargrove of Burlington makes another key point when she wrote: “Don’t forget inflation is global, not made in Canada so there is little more the government can do.” This when combined with the former discussion about employee value frames the root cause of our dilemma today.
The global economy has a systemic belief that the statements offered by people like Mr. Gessaroli should be accepted without question as a “sermon from the mount.” Governments worldwide are overwhelmed by the data, charts and predictions offered by economists paid to lobby on behalf of the corporations – the snake oil salesmen of this millennium. My favorite expression is that liars figure and figures lie. The general public is too concerned with how to get a first, second or third minimum paying job in order to meet their doubling housing and food costs to even think or care about it.
Heather Mallick, a columnist for The Star, recently wrote: “I yearn for the days when there were enough employed people to move things along with grace and dispatch.” This simply restates how businesses are unable to find, hire or retain employees.
I am thankful, no grateful, to be retired and was fortunate to work for almost 35 years at a time when the corporation for which I worked, contributed to my retirement through a defined benefit pension program. This among other employee benefits gave me the incentive to be loyal, work 50-60 hours a week (no overtime) for more than 35 years. The pension allows me a measure of financial stability in my remaining years. It seems strangely paradoxical that politicians are quick to point fingers at a working person and demand they save for their retirement and wait longer for Old Age Security benefits, while at the same time, taxes paid by the working poor fund the pensions of politicians that begin as soon as they leave office, regardless of their age.
So perhaps we might consider yearning for the days when people mattered more than profits and employee loyalty mattered more than shareholder value. Employee acquisition and retention would be far less an issue and the well being of society would be vastly improved.