“My Power” vs. “Empower”

In a July 10, 2017 Wall Street Journal Letter to the Editor, a reader commented:

Regarding Holman Jenkins’s “Seattle Aims at McDonald’s, Hits Workers” (Business World, July 1): At last, someone finally said it. It’s the people who work at McDonald’s today, not the “greedy corporation” nor our “unfair society,” who limit pay because they aren’t worth $15 in many cases. To earn $15 you must create a good bit more than $15 worth of value for your employer to cover the cost of Social Security, workers’ comp, your training, business and property taxes, capital investment, rent, and any other benefits such as paid vacation. This isn’t greed, it’s a fact of survival for any business.

The crux of Mr. Jenkins article is that as labor costs rise, industries would likely replace workers with automation, but it would still create jobs at $15 an hour for people whose productivity can justify $15 an hour. “The people who work at McDonald’s today, typically, would already be earning $15 an hour somewhere else if their productivity could justify $15 an hour.” I believe the essence of the reader’s argument was that most fast-food workers could not justify their value worthy of a $15 per hour salary.

So a question for the reader. In commenting that one has to create a good bit more worth of value for your employer, let’s review Yahoo’s former CEO Marissa Mayer. Did Yahoo receive more value from Marissa Mayer than earned through salary?

When a withered Yahoo was vacuumed up by Verizon Communications, the transaction completed a five-year tenure for Yahoo’s chief executive, Marissa Mayer. During those five years, Mayer gobbled up almost a quarter of a billion dollars in compensation while simultaneously presiding over Yahoo’s demise. Through her leadership, Yahoo ended up so weakened it was forced to sell.

Letter to the Editor supporters could justifiably note Yahoo’s stock was $15.65 the day Mayer started and ended at $50.60. As such, this would be a no-brainer victory for those claiming Mayer had indeed brought tremendous value. But Yahoo benefactors were mostly stockholders, not the average bread-and-butter workers and contractor eliminated in post-merger alignment. Thousands of jobs cut. Eh. Just a byline to broader stockholder value. For these workers, Mayer empowered nothing but shit, including months of pain, anguish and mental stress.

So was Mayer’s leadership worth a quarter billion? An article in Variety offers a different perspective.

“… as Yahoo’s finances have continued to deteriorate, it has become apparent that Mayer has wasted time and money with a lack of cohesive vision and a mercurial micromanagement style that paralyzed growth opportunities, according to former employees and industry execs.

As one shareholder wonders: “What the f— has Marissa Mayer been doing for the last three-plus years?””

Mayer also gifted additional value to 1.5 billion breached Yahoo users. Call it a “value-base security awareness” reminder to reset passwords and check credit reports. Surely, the “Letter to the Editor” writer would note this was damn good value. And let’s not forget the secretly built custom software program Yahoo used to search user emails for specific information provided by US intelligence officials. Proponents should surely claim the additional safety value for Americans nationwide.

Seriously? “Value?” By whose standards?

According to the Economic Policy Institute, U.S. CEOs earn an average of 300 times more than their workers. Fifty years ago, the ratio was closer to 20-to-1. Yet, management continues to bemoan employees who want such luxuries as a living wage, to send their children to a decent school, a decent place to live and some form of health benefits. In truth, many CEOs empower themselves while simultaneously devaluing regular every day workers. And sometimes, CEOs’ get help.

Many times, state legislatures will openly assist in “de-valuement” (yes I know this is not technically a word). Take Missouri. Rather than just bemoan St. Louis’ $10 per hour minimum wage, Missouri state legislators forced St. Louis businesses to reduce any hourly salaries above the state minimum wage of $7.70 back to $7.70. For all you boys and girls following along at home, that’s a net decrease of 23%.

Here’s the back story. In 2015, St. Louis city council passed an ordinance raising the minimum wage to $10 while raising it to $11 in January 2018. This led to a legal battle that wound up in the Missouri Supreme Court. The city won. However, Missouri’s Republican governor said the St. Louis ordinance would “… kill jobs, and despite what you hear from liberals, it will take money out of people’s pockets.”

Damn those fricking liberals. They provide no value.

So Missouri state legislators cut a deal to appease business special interests and supporters and rolled back hourly wages to state minimum wage of $7.70. Strange … Missouri’s Republican governor did not sign a law limiting executive pay packages for those like Mayer.

In reality, there are no easy answers to the CEO/employee pay disparity and the value of a worker. Is Mayer wrong? Was Yahoo wrong for paying such an outrageous sum? Not sure either way. What I do understand is that there will always be money in any complex society. Yet, we need to have some kind of system for measuring how we consume, produce, and share. And any human who wants to pay the rent has to learn the rules of budgeting. I get all of that.

What’s not thought of is how money itself interconnects the world. The Buddhist in me thinks about how money connects you to other people. From a Buddhist standpoint, you should think about how to use money to not only empower yourself, but others as well. We can be awakened, but unless you’re like Ms. Mayer, everyone has to make a living. The real question is could have Mayer empowered her employees to become better? How could McDonalds? Lastly, how can you empower the babysitter, the gardener, the hairstylist, your children?

Life is not about “my power,” it’s about “empower.”



Categories: Social Justice

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