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CEOs and other corporate officers are a small percentage of people statistically. The actual amounts of money they get in salaries, bonuses, stock options, and golden parachutes are not “huge” in the sense of “national debt huge”. But the money they get is a symptom of not just corporate thinking but American culture at its dumbest.

Is anyone “worth” say $10 million a year – is the job they do really equal to the pay they get? I would say no, and I’m pretty sure most people would – except everyone would like to be pulling-down that kind of green. It’s part of the fantasy of “making it big” that is part of American culture (at least – maybe just human culture at large). Our literature, art, movies, TV shows, and national mythology is full of people who just worked hard and believed in themselves and everything fell into place.

Except that’s really just mythology. For most of us you can work damned hard and believe in yourself like crazy and you will probably never be rich and you just might still lose your job and your home. The reason is everyone else is working damned hard at grabbing all they can, and everybody can’t grab everything.

Once you have “made it” it’s easier to keep making it – more and more of it – and it’s in your interest to do that no matter what the ultimate consequences. Thus we have the mortgage meltdown (which I saw the start of from the inside of the industry – pure greed fueled that). And we get oil companies that do everything they can to suppress alternatives. And politicians who do whatever the lobbyist with the biggest bag of money wants them to do.

No one person does that $10 million job alone. If they brought billions into their company there were many, many people actually involved in that – often in spite of the bad planning and decisions at the top. But the people at the top do get the huge rewards: it’s part of keeping the people below them hungry for more. But that’s ultimately a bad model, because it promotes short-term goals and motives over long-term strategies and planning.

The short, easy buck is always what everyone goes after, and that’s what has led to crap products and services, and disposable labor and management. My brother retired not long ago after more than 20 years at the same company. He’s only in his 50s, and he would have kept working, but the company laid him off by retiring him early. His experience and expertise weren’t worth as much as his salary. The company didn’t need that level of competence to get the job done because making, selling, and supporting disposable crap products had become their business model. Making something good that lasts is less profitable, in the short run, than making something cheap that people will have to replace before long.

And that’s the philosophy that America now stands for: ship crap and get the money, and move on to somewhere else before the crap comes home to roost. My brother was part of a dying breed who give their loyalty and best efforts to one company for most of their lives. Because now the people, the companies, the politicians, and the nation’s ideology are all disposable crap.