Saturday, January 31, 2009

And, as an extra-added bonus...

Here's another side of the whole bonus/executive-compensation issue that you may not have given due weight or even been aware of. (I knew that many people aside from CEOs received bonuses and "depended on them" to one degree or another, but I was unaware of the breadth and complexity of the situation.) Though the ink tends to go to the Wall Street bigwigs taking home millions on top of their already generous salaries, the omnibus figure of $18.4 billion that Obama derided as "shameful" includes many lesser bonuses paid out to scores of employees as part of, in essence, "regular" compensation. Further, the $18.4 billion figure was down 44 percent from 2007.

I'm not saying that this added info should be regarded as persuasive; and I'm certainly not putting it forward as a winning rebuttal to any of what we said last time, or have been saying all along about this country's corporate excesses. But it does provide some context that you may find worthy of incorporating into your overall feelings on the matter.

Again, in the end, I think one's opinion is going to come down to a trio of related questions: (1) How much is "enough," (2) Does the government get to make those calls?, and (3) Then who does, if anyone?


Elizabeth said...

I dunno, Steve... You know that the financial matters are not my strength (to put it mildly), but I have to agree with Obama: this whole thing is shameful. Without quotation marks.

An aside, we got rid of shame in the feel-good era of SHAM, but I think we are paying for it dearly. (Ron may disagree.) It is a useful emotion, IMO -- and much underappreciated in the US, especially these days. We may see its comeback, though.

RevRon's Rants said...

We didn't get rid of shame... only redirected it and replaced it with more benevolent-sounding synonyms.

Useful? You're right, Elizabeth. I don't think it serves any positive purpose. Individuals who act with integrity might feel regret, but have no real need for shame. And those who lack that integrity wouldn't feel it, anyway... no matter how much they might feign the emotion.

I think that in the final analysis, shame is but a leftover tool from the repertoire of frustrated parents and religious dogmatists.

Anonymous said...

If the corporation is not seeking public funds, then the owners of the corporation determine salaries and benefits for the employees, executive or not.

The Wall Street bonus numbers that created such a bogus firestorm didn't even differentiate between those companies that took taxpayer funds nd those that didn't. Why should Obama care what Fidelity or Eaton Vance paid if they didn't need the bailout?

Show me the bonus figures for only those Wall Street firms that took public funds and you'll have not much of a story.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon: So the let me ask you--and this is not a rhetorical question; I'm just asking--do you see nothing ethically wrong with the idea of paying millions in bonuses to executives while lesser workers get nothing or next-to-nothing--and some even get laid off?

Cal said...


And not to mention some of these golden parachutes these executives get when they leave the smoldering ruins of these companies.

Ex-Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain has tried to justify the bonuses by saying that some parts of these business did well, so the employees in those businesses need to be compensated.

I would like to see a breakdown per Anon's comments. But their actions smack of stupidity to me, a la the CEOs of the Big Three flying corporate jets to Washington to get a handout.

Elizabeth said...

It's the same Thain, Cal, isn't it, who just redecorated his office for a mere, what, $10 mil?

Speaking of money, shame and SHAM (in a round-about way), what is it with public figures using the word "disappointed" in their public apologies for their private and not-so-much screw ups? This is a curious fad, I think -- and a funny one too (in a sad way, somewhat).

Charles Barkley said recently that he was "disappointed" with himself after being caught DUI.

Tom Daschle says he's "disappointed" about his failure to pay more than $120,000 in taxes.

There were others recently, though I cannot recall the names at the moment.

C'mon, disappointed?

Elizabeth said...

P.S. I feel compelled to piggyback on my last comment and tie it in with Ron's response to my point on shame (at the top of the thread).

I'm reading about Daschle and thinking,
"No, we are disappointed; you, sir, should be ashamed."

Which brings me to a realization that this curious use of language has a very serious purpose -- avoiding personal responsibility and shame that should naturally follow in such situations.

This is typical for our era of cultivated narcissism. Narcissists are deeply sensitive to shame and do their absolute best to avoid acknowledging and experiencing it. Shame is potentially fatal to a narcissist's overblown ego. It can puncture it and deflate it in a nanosecond, and reveal the scary void underneath.

Thus we do not hear public figures, who almost by definition are narcissistically inclined, say, when caught red-handed, "I'm ashamed of myself (my behavior)."

They are "disappointed,"* as if their misconduct did not really apply to them but was committed by someone else and they were barely innocent observers dismayed by watching his/her misbehavior. Or at best, they are embarrassed -- a lesser, more palatable and acceptable (to them) version of shame, but also typically one that does not begin to address the depth of their transgression; however, it does reveal the shallowness of their regret.

By saying they are "disappointed," they distance themselves from their misconduct, responsibility for it, and, ultimately, from their real selves, which can remain intact in their grandiose self-perceptions.

It's a non-apology apology, akin to that infamous phrase "I'm sorry IF what I said/did hurt your feelings," or even worse, an "apology" that directly blames the victim, "I'm sorry if you misinterpreted my words/actions in a way that caused your hurt feelings."

"Sorry," my ass (oops!:). Welcome to Narcissists R Us.

*Wasn't Spitzer disappointed too?

Dimension Skipper said...

Directly on point with Elizabeth's comment (Spitzer ref and all), Language Log has spent a lot of time over the last few years documenting not-so-apologetic apologies as well as the art of the true apology and even the matter of what purpose apologies ultimately serve. With a quick skim over them, I'm not sure if they touch specifically on the "disappointed" angle or not.

Many of the posts have a significant humorous aspect about them, so they're not just informative, they're entertaining imo. I'll link in simple reverse chronological order (i.e. going backwards through time), but they include the Spitzer case and a couple related to baseball...

The art of the (non-) apology
(Sep 1, 2008)

A non-apology of the first kind
(May 24, 2008)

Spitzer limps through a public apology
(Jul 30, 2007)

"Sorry" Spectacles
(Apr 16, 2007)

Apologize already
(Sep 18, 2006)

Air quotes and non-apologies
(Jul 4, 2006)

Pete Rose and sorry statements of the third kind
(Jan 13, 2004)

There may be other LL posts re apologies, but those seem to be the highlights. Their posts are often a maze of branching links to past related LL posts as well as other sites of interest relevant to the content under current discussion. It's easy to get lost in the links. (Note that their searchable archive is split into posts before or after April 8, 2008, because that's when they changed their blogging setup.)

Elizabeth said...

Wow, DimSkip, that's a treasure trove of (non)apologia! Thank you!

Don't you just love those titles? :) It's going to be an entertaining read, I'm sure.

The "disappointment" angle is a new development in the genre, as far as I can tell. And a mighty curious one, too, not to mention wickedly entertaining. Now I'm just waiting for Michael Phelps to say how "disappointed" he is with (being caught) doing drugs.

And yes, Spitzer too was "disappointed" (see below). I remember going HUH?? when I heard him say this on teevee. It stuck in my mind, because I immediately started to wonder at what point of his adventures with the prostitute(s) he became so "disappointed." Was it during, or right after? He did not sound disappointed in those phone call transcripts ordering his favorite hooker, but then sometimes it's hard to read disappointment in a transcript. Of a phone call. To an escort agency. ;)

Did he have any inklings of the upcoming disappointment when he was being, er, entertained by Ms. Dupree? Or when he had to pay thousands of $$ for her services? Or maybe when he lied to his wife, making up stories about his trips out of state? Any hints of disappointment at those times? No, we didn't think so.

In any case, it was rather difficult to feel his pain, I mean, disappointment.

Here is Spitzer himself:

“Today I want to briefly address a private matter. I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and violates my, or any, sense of right and wrong. I apologize first and most importantly to my family. I apologize to the public, whom I promised better.

“I do not believe that politics in the long run is about individuals. It is about ideas, the public good, and doing what is best for the state of New York. But I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself. I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.

“I will not be taking questions. Thank you very much. I will report back to you in short order. Thank you very much.”

Elizabeth said...

This from "Apologize already" ref'd by DimSkip:

My blogospheric friend argotnaut had an interesting post yesterday about the pope's "apology" to the world's Muslims. She quotes the following from this Yahoo! News article:

"I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address ... which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims," the pope said during the traditional Angelus blessing from the balcony of his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.

To which argotnaut fairly responds:

"I'm sorry YOU went bonkers over what I said" is far, far, far from any kind of real apology, such as "I'm sorry I said that."

LOL, indeed! This is the "blame the victim" kind of "apology," also known as adding insult to injury. The Popes are notorious in this respect. I remember John Paul II's "apology" to women, on behalf of the Catholic Church, for long centuries of misogyny and persecution. It knocked my socks off, it was so non-apologetic and avoiding real responsibility. And it was extremely revealing, IMO, because JPII, of all popes and people, was exceptionally sensitive, empathetic and gifted in the use of language; he was an accomplished poet and playwright in his pre-priestly life. So to hear him say those words that distinctly lacked genuine contrition was eye-opening and, well, disappointing, but in a way not surprising.