Disneyland is the Happiest Place on Earth! Millions of families visit the theme park every year to enjoy the magical place of rides, spectacular shows and cheerful cartoon figures. Everything is clean, perfect and joyful. Unless … you realize that Cinderella might actually be homeless. That’s right, 10% of Disneyland’s employees are actually homeless, many more are on food stamps, and 75% struggle to make ends meet.
Does this ring familiar? Think of America. Behind the façade of being the greatest country on earth with the largest GDP and the wealthiest billionaires, there are tens of millions of Americans who are left behind just like Disney’s employees.
This neo-feudalistic model isn’t isolated to Disney or Walmart, it’s systemic. For example, the bus driver at Apple – which has $280 billion in cash – is forced to sleep in a van because he can’t afford the Silicon Valley rent; Facebook’s cafeteria workers live in a garage; and thousands of American Airlines’ employees are forced to depend on food stamps.
America is being eaten alive by corporate greed; and Disneyland has been taken over by Scrooge.
Let’s look at some Disney Inc. statistics.
Total profit per year: $9 billion
Total employees: 200,000
Notice that the profit reflects what’s left after all the expenses, including the salaries, have been paid. So, in a utopian world, the Disney management will do the math ($9 billion / 200,000 = $45,000) and send a check for $45K to every employee, Mickey included. That kind of profit-sharing would really make Disneyland the happiest place on earth.
Does that happen? No way! Does Cinderella get a check for perhaps $20K, $10K, $5K or even $1K? Nope, nope, nope, nope. Cinderella gets nada, zero, zilch. She should be content with the $12/hour salary and must smile happily for the kids. In Disneyland, Cinderella never gets to meet her prince.
Disney’s CEO gets paid $46 million a year, which translates to $23,000 an hour. Imagine Disney’s CEO coming to work on Jan 2nd. He wishes a few people “happy new year,” orders coffee, sits on his desk, makes a few phone calls … and he has already made more money than what Ariel would make during the rest of the year.
Of course, the CEO should get paid more, but does he deserve a salary that’s equivalent to 2,000 Disney employees? If the CEO doesn’t show up for work for a day, Disneyland will continue running. If 2,000 employees take a day off, the park would be shut down.
In the 1960s, the CEO-to-worker salary ratio was 25. Today it’s often 600 or more, sometimes even more than 1000 (for example, at Walmart). Much of the executive compensation comes in the form of stock options and bonuses based on stock performance. In a rational and unrigged world, the CEOs would increase their revenues and profits to get bonuses. Not anymore.
Now, they simply use a no-brainer solution to boost the stock prices – it’s called stock buybacks or share repurchases. This involves a firm using corporate profits (or even use borrowed money) to buy its own stocks. BTW, this used to be illegal until the 1980s.
Since 2007, U.S. corporations have spent trillions of dollars on stock buybacks. In 2018 alone, they will spend $800 billion on this financial engineering tool (which has also led to a massive stock market bubble). They won’t use the billions to hire Americans, boost wages or innovate new products. Instead, the CEOs will buy yachts and tell you that Chinese or Mexicans stole your jobs.
Do the low-wage employees of Disneyland get any shares or stock options? A silly question, indeed.
Thus we have a situation where American employers ruthlessly exploit American workers. This isn’t a good model for a country. China and Mexico don’t make us poor. Corporate greed does.
Maximizing profit has become a fundamentalist dogma. You can imagine a conversation among the factory-farming executives:
Guy #1: Why the heck are these chickens roaming out in the farms? We would save so much money if we lock them up in cages.
Guy #2: Brilliant idea! Let’s lock up five chickens in a cage. We will save more. More is always better.
Guy #3: I really don’t understand why we feed them expensive salads and healthy stuff. Let’s feed them cheap GMO corn and GMO soy from my friends at Monsanto.
Guy #4: Experts tell me that if we give them caffeine and anti-depressants, the chickens will stay awake longer, eat more, and get fatter.
Guy #5: And when they get sick, load them up with antibiotics and steroids.
Guy #5: These stupid chickens are also so small. Let’s drug them with some growth hormones. I am getting a lot of pressure from the private equity funds about profits per chicken.
Apart from being inhumane and psychopathic, this system forgets or ignores the fact that we have to eat these chickens. Sick chicken = sick people. Call it Karma or “revenge of the chickens.”
Similarly, poor workers = poor country. And you can imagine a similar conversation among corporate executives regarding workers – “cut their wages and benefits”, “make them work overtime”, “hire part-time employees rather than full-time” and so on.
You can’t grow the economy if American workers don’t get paid enough, especially by profitable multi-billion dollar corporations. 2/3rd of our GDP is based on consumer spending. It’s no wonder that in the last ten years, the U.S. economy cumulatively grew only by a dismal 35%. Compare that to China, which grew by an astounding 200% during that same period.
The solution for low wages primarily lies in the hands of corporate elites. Labor unions are almost non-existent in the private sector these days; and the government doesn’t have much control over corporate America. Free market doesn’t have to translate to cancerous greed and extreme exploitation. Free market also means that corporations are free to share their profits with their employees. Finally, free market can and must also incorporate patriotism, responsibility to the society and strategies for sustainable prosperity.