Friday, June 17, 2011

Corporate America Really Really Cares About Its Employees (Really)

Scrape away the Human Resource Department rah-rah about "our mission" and how much your loyalty is "valued," and what's left? A paycheck and a sucking sound.

Let's state the heretical obvious: Corporate America, you suck. We could count the ways--subverting democracy via your lobbying and campaign contributions, your sabotage of competition via regulatory capture, and so on--but what really matters is how you treat your employees.

We know: you really really care about your employees. Really. The propaganda would be laughable if it wasn't so bald-faced. Do corporate managers really believe in the Big Lie theory, that the bigger the lie, the easier it is to sell?

Here is reader C's experience of Corporate America's transition to wonderfulness and caring. An outlier or "what everybody inside knows"?

I occasionally read your postings linked to Jesse's Cafe Americain and I just want to confirm what you posted about corporate bankruptcy. ( The Bankruptcy of Corporate America) I was disappointed with the Reagan administration which imo was the beginning of the takeover of our government by corporations and elites. Still, having a new family, I was fortunate to get an union job at the big telco and now work in the belly of the beast.

At first it was a great place to work, proud of our knowledge & expertise helping customers, but after 2-3 mergers, the overlords have increased our workload 100% (shutting down depts. in other parts of the country and giving us their work), reduced benefits, monitor everything and have rolled out methods & procedures that have totally dehumanized the workforce; we're just button pushers. Nearly everyone there is now miserable and it's a soul crushing, mind-numbing existence. Sorry that I have nothing good to say about it all, just hoping & praying for it get swept away and that my preparations to be free of the system work out ok.

Correspondent K.R. recently submitted this account, and some advice for young people:

In March 2000, I was working for a fairly large biotech company in pharmaceutical development, many of my co-workers were PhD's. When I got out of my car in the company parking lot one morning I saw many of my coworkers walking back the their cars. I asked "what's the matter?" What we discovered that morning is that if your swipe card that gave you access to the building did not work you were laid off. If your card worked and the door opened, you still had a job.

Best advice I could give a young smart person? Skip the corporate rat race altogether. Do not get car payments, mortgages and all the other debts that chain you to your debt enslavement. Enrich your life, work for yourself or for an important cause. Nobody should waste their life on corporate Amerika.

The modern global corporation devotes considerable attention to creating a simulacrum of common purpose via human resource department’s empty cheerleading. But participants know it is only a hollow, cynical ritual that everyone shuffles through in order to keep their jobs. The reality in Global Corporate America is that every employee is dispensable, and their position is inherently contingent. The purpose is the deliver profits to shareholders, and the corporation buys a facsimile of loyalty and presents a fa├žade of purpose to keep the work environment from becoming overtly depressing to the human spirit. The reason they must play this game is the profits, of course; dispirited workers aren’t very productive.

Given that 13% of global Corporate America’s revenues are pure profit ($1.67 trillion last year, or about 12% of the nation's GDP) and another significant percentage is overhead to support the grossly overpaid corporate bigwigs, a vast command-and-control structure and a costly Panzer division of crack tax attorneys to keep income taxes paid near-zero, then it’s clear that smaller enterprises could easily beat the Corporate America Plantation Store in price and service because a third of the corporate expenses are overhead needed by a massive, costly hierarchy and 13% net profit margins demanded by Wall Street and the Financial Elite owners.

Since the top 5% of households collect 72% of corporate profits and bond income and the top 10% collect 93% of the nation’s financial income, the immense profits skimmed from local communities do not flow back to the communities. They flow instead into the elite enclaves of those who own the vast majority of the nation’s financial assets.

The vaunted “efficiency” of Corporate America's cartels is largely a myth. The Plantation Store’s “edge” is not efficiency but these four factors:

1. exploitation of global wage arbitrage

2. access to cheap Wall Street financing

3. eliminating taxes and competition via capture of regulatory and legislative governance

4. a reliance on cheap oil to fuel their global strip-mining operations.

Take those away and much of global Corporate America is revealed as high-cost, uncompetitive sitting ducks awaiting slaughter by lower-cost decentralized competitors.

Local residents lose twice when global cartels collect much of the local income and send it to centralized corporate headquarters, as a percentage of the profits are spent subverting democracy with lobbying and millions of dollars in campaign contributions to political factotums. Local residents lose not only control of their income streams but of their political rights as cartels sabotage democracy by capturing regulation and elected officials.

A key feature of local enterprise is that it retains and recycles local income in the community, rather than sending it to some distant and unaccountable corporate headquarters tasked with maximizing profits globally. Thus even if local earnings decline in recessionary times, local enterprises can still thrive simply by taking some of the cartels' vast income stream and returning it to the community.

As investors, we have been brainwashed into seeing ourselves as disembodied zombies who float around the world, seeking higher returns wherever we might find them. We are disconnected from where we live, and are constantly told that our self-interest is only served by investing in fast-growing global corporations making money from goods and services generated elsewhere. Those who eschew investments in evil are mocked and derided; the only god for investors is maximizing profits, and how those profits are reaped and where they are reaped makes absolutely no difference.

This is how we end up with what we have now: a glorified Colonial Plantation Economy.

Ken R. submitted this story from the U.K.'s Independent on the reality behind the "maximizing profits is all that matters" facade: the human cost: Behind corporate walls, the masters of the universe weep:

In a recent blog post on the Harvard Business Review web site – and praise be to them for publishing it – Haque let rip on some of the absurdities of contemporary business and economic life. “Just ask yourself,” he wrote, “if you were to walk into any corporation, would you find faces brimming over with deep fulfillment and authentic delight – or stonily asking themselves, ‘If it wasn’t for the accursed paycheck, would I really imprison myself in this dungeon of the human soul?’”

That's a good question. What do think an honest answer would be for most employees?

Readers forum:

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