Wednesday, June 01, 2005


UP FRONT News June 1, 2005
Published by Tom Weiss
Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham

“The paper that can’t be bought and can’t be sold.”

The following are some of the causes of homelessness, a condition closely associated with economic deprivation: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alex Rodriguez, Bernard Ebbers, Martha Stewart, Puff Diddy, Kenneth Lay, David Letterman, Michael Eisner, Donald Trump, Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson, Paris Hilton, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Barbra Streisand, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Richard Grasso, James Gandolfini, and “Friends.”

This list, consisting of some of the most talented and greediest members of the ruling class, could, of course, be much longer. Although most fields of endeavor have greed merchants, it seems evident that many of the worst populate the domains of professional sports, film, politics (and its farm system, law), and business.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is selected because he was taking in a reported $30 million per gratuitous-violence-saturated movie before being elected governor of California, in which capacity he is now preaching austerity (and, presumably, in a further irony, abstinence from steroids). On the most direct level, the negative effect of the $30 million salary (for what is typically perhaps 4 months of work) is its contribution to the (at least in N.Y.C.) $10.00 movie ticket. The social consequences of this kind of egomaniacal reward go far beyond the movie theater.

Schwarzenegger is one of a slew of film stars who make up a very important segment of the ruling class, who have made it politically correct to demean the vast majority of human beings who struggle to make ends meet as well as those whose ends are unmet by demanding the kind of compensation associated with royalty. While there is much to be said for spiritual as compared with material value, unemployment, malnutrition, homelessness, are inimical to the health of the inner self. The material demands and acquisitions (“legal” as in, for example, A-Rod’s case, and illegal as is becoming persistently apparent with CEO’s in handcuffs) of those on the list above, among many others, skews the value of necessities and other comforts.

While there are numerous examples of greed at the top causing direct, and sometimes life-threatening, harm to those at or in the vicinity of the bottom (a case example being the power companies’ manipulation of electricity supplies and utility rates in California a couple of summers ago, the arena in which this kind of predatory relationship is the clearest is in real estate, which , since it is based on the ownership of the earth (and, presumably, soon, space) is the bottom line of economics.

There are any number of real estate greed merchants I could have chosen for the list above. Donald Trump was selected not only because of his acquisitiveness and Henry VIII life-style, but primarily because, despite the fact that he would not win any popularity contests among, for example, tenants associations, he has become a role model, essentially a charismatic spokesperson for the greed-is-good movement, a movement that gains new “apprentices” every second. The influence of Trump and his colleagues in New York real estate is enormous and, despite fluctuations (such as those generated by 9/11), it is always a sellers marker, in which the concept of decent, affordable housing is alien. Given these realities, and the fact that public funding for the many people who are economically disenfranchised from the housing market is marginal, it is little wonder that the number of homeless people, individuals and families, is increasing.

As a result little in the way of affordable housing is built and millions of units are demolished. In a world where the icons were under some kind of control acquisition-wise, development could be a definition for the improvement of conditions in and services to deteriorating communities, rather than the gentrification which essentially obliterates and replaces communities.

The subject of “executive compensation” (which includes A-Rod’s approximately $26 million/”yr” salary for a job that runs from March until – the Yankees hope – October, as surely as it includes the $150 million “compensation” package received by Richard Grasso courtesy of his friends at the New York Stock Exchange) is getting more attention in the media thanks to Enron’s position as the tip of the iceberg of lettuce. (As a measure of some almost serio-comical aspects of the Grasso-grab, a theoretically reformed NYSE reportedly asked Grasso to return about $50 million of the money, thereby implying that $100 million is okay.) But the only time the issue comes up is if there is a violation of law suspected (e.g. inflating earnings, insider trading, tax evasion). As far as I’m aware, there is no law preventing someone who has power to do so from receiving the kind of “compensation” that causes the kind of Trump-effect described above. I am hopeful that, beyond the matter of corporate crime, the key question of mega-salaries in the business, sports, entertainment, and other categories in the private sector world, becomes a political campaign issue.

Ralph Nader, who has talked about salary caps in business, suggested what is called the 30:1 ratio. Pointing out the cosmic difference between the lowest and the highest pay in many corporations, Mr. Nader has suggested that a law be enacted that would limit the highest salary in any company to 30 times the lowest. I would imagine that there might be many at the bottom of the wage scale who would suggest a smaller differential. And I’m certain that the boys and girls on the list would like to keep things just as they are.

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