Pixel Tracker

Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 9:30 am | Fair 56º


Jim Hightower: Ending the Culture of Executive Entitlement

If ignorance is bliss, some in Obama's inner circle must be ecstatic.

I don’t mind losing when we lose, but I hate losing when we win.

Jim Hightower
Jim Hightower
One big reason that President Obama now occupies the big chair in the Oval Office is that he embraced the public’s rising indignation at the blatant greed of Wall Street bankers, striking the proper populist tone in last year’s election. After all, these slick financial elites crashed our economy, yet they kept enriching and pampering themselves, even as taxpayers were being forced to throw hundreds of billions of dollars at their failing institutions.

Having won and taken office, Obama proceeded to rip right into the bankers’ shameless avarice, denouncing their “culture of narrow self-interest and short-term gain at the expense of everything else.”

Great stuff! Go get ‘em, Barack!

A week later, however, Obama’s Treasury chief, Timothy Geithner, rolled out the administration’s plan to add more than a trillion dollars to the ongoing Wall Street bailout, and — Holy William Jennings Bryan — Obama’s populist bark had been reduced to a puppy whimper! It seems that Geithner and Obama’s top economic adviser, Lawrence Summers — both of whom have long been cozy with the very same greed-headed bankers who caused the financial mess we’re in — had been cooing into Obamas ears about the “danger” of “harshly” punishing executives and “spooking” private investors.

Thanks to them, even though populist politics won, populist policy lost. Gone from Obama’s proposal is the idea that top managers of the failed banks — the executives who made the foolhardy investments that brought the system down — should be ousted (if not tarred and feathered). Instead, our trillion-plus bucks are to be put right into those same hands! If ignorance is bliss, Geithner and Summers must be ecstatic.

The Soft-on-Wall Street boys also prevailed over those who pushed to impose strict limits on the pay of top executives whose banks are getting our bailout money. While Obama’s team did put a $500,000 annual cap on cash paid to the CEO, the restriction does not apply to Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and about 350 other banks that’ve already grabbed bailout funds. It only applies to those taking money in the next phase of the giveaway. Also, the executives who do fall under the cash cap can receive unlimited bonuses in the form of stock payments.

The worst part of this political cave-in is not in the details, but in the principle that was abandoned. Obama hit it on the head when he denounced “the culture” of executive entitlement that has infested America’s corporate world.

In the past couple of decades, the ethical notion that business leaders should be trustees for the enterprise — with responsibilities to future shareholders, employees and the larger society — has been displaced by a singular focus on amassing short-term wealth for the few by driving up the stock price, no matter what shortcuts must be taken to achieve that soulless goal. CEOs who can jack up those prices, by hook or crook, are hailed as geniuses and treated as royalty, no matter how much damage they’re doing to their company or our country.

This celebration of manipulated wealth has even fostered an absurd bit of conventional wisdom that we can’t get competent executive talent for a mere $500,000 a year. This stems from the prevailing (and pernicious) corporate fiction that the best are, by definition, the ones who’re paid the most. Yet 500K is 25 percent more than our country’s president makes, more than our top-rated nonprofit leaders receive, more than most community bankers take, and way more than America’s finest teachers are paid. Wall Street conveniently equates compensation with value — and since CEOs compensate themselves extravagantly, they’ve come to assume that they are America’s most valuable people. Indispensable, even.

It is this self-aggrandizing corporate culture that must be changed. Sadly, Geithner, Summers — and Obama — have instead advanced that culture by failing to hold some of its worst practitioners accountable for their enormously destructive actions.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.