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Print view: We seem to be mired in a culture of greed. But is there anything wrong with it?
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IS THERE ANYTHING WRONG WITH IT! We seem to be mired in a culture of greed. But is there anything wrong with it? // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 22, 2011

Our second non-annual fund-raising drive continues: Below, our second non-annual fund-raising drive continues apace, with appropriate insults dished all around. We hope you’ll consider using PayPal or what the heck writing a check. To do so, just click here.

Why we continue to type (knowledge is consensual): A familiar old political card was played on Monday’s O’Reilly Factor.

CBS News has just hired Norah O’Donnell to serve as its White House correspondent. In response to this underwhelming news, Mr. O and his guest, Brit Hume, played the most reliable card in the entire deck. “Obviously,” Hume declared, the mainstream press corps will favor the Democratic candidate:

O’REILLY (6/20/11): Joining us from Washington, Fox News chief political analyst, Brit Hume. So Brit, am I wrong the media is going to play a huge role in the upcoming election?

HUME: No. The media always have an important role in these elections. But I think it will be utterly secondary, Bill, to the conditions in the country both real and perceived. The media may have some effect on how the conditions in the country are perceived.

[…]

O’REILLY: CBS hires Norah O'Donnell. Norah O'Donnell—and for those viewers who don't know her, she worked at NBC News, a lot on MSNBC. She has called President Obama quote, "a pragmatic centrist". She has called Newt Gingrich a racist.

The woman has a long track record of left-wing opinion. And now she is the primary Washington correspondent, White House correspondent in the election year. And you're telling me that the media isn't going to have a big, big sway on this thing?

HUME: Well, they will have, they will— Obviously, the president will get friendlier coverage from, from the mainstream media—

O'REILLY: Norah O'Donnell!

HUME: —than will the Republican nominee. That's been true for a long time.

Twelve years after the war against Gore, it remains the safest card in the deck. “Obviously,” Obama will get friendlier treatment than the GOP nominee, Hume declared. “That's been true for a long time.”

Obama may get friendlier treatment next year, though such things are usually hard to measure. But it’s amazing that this card remains so useful twelve years after the trashing of Gore. This remains a highly reliable card due to the consensual silence of the career liberal leaders who have agreed that they mustn’t discuss the journalistic history of the Clinton-Gore years, including the press corps’ astonishing treatment of Candidate Gore.

These children have betrayed your interests—and they’ll continue to do so. (It’s not that they don’t know the truth. They do know, as we’ll show you tomorrow.) Here at THE HOWLER, we discussed the war against Gore in real time—and over at our companion site, we’re recording the full history of that remarkable two-year episode. We strongly recommend the newly-completed chapter 5 of our on-line book, How He Got There. This is a long but brisk account of the press corps’ reaction to the news that Naomi Wolf was advising Candidate Gore. (To read chapter 5, just click here.)

For an excerpt from that astonishing chapter, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/17/11. But we strongly recommend that you complete a long hard slog through the whole gruesome chapter. People are dead all over the world because of the conduct described in that chapter. And the kids have agreed to keep still.

We know—we liberals love our tribal leaders! We like to pretend that they’re on our side, that we’re part of a wonderfully pure moral team. But why are Mr. O and Brit still able to play that card with such fervor? Due to the continuing silence of the career liberal world! That said, we hope you’ll consider contributing to this site to help us document the history of that remarkable campaign for the White House. Someday, the liberal world may not lie in the hands of today’s career players. How He Got There will give those future citizens one key to the shape of their world.

Knowledge is consensual! You can’t force people to acknowledge or discuss even the most obvious truths; your liberal leaders will never tell the truth about this recent history. Nor will they discuss the history contained in the Lyons and Lyons/Conason books—books which record the journalistic history of the earlier Clinton years. Such leaders! As they maintain their silence, they keep themselves “viable within the system.” Mr. O is thereby empowered to keep playing that famous old card.

Truly, the use of that card never ends! Here’s Mr. O a bit later on Monday, speaking with Bernie Goldberg about O’Donnell’s hiring. Eventually, Bernie made a flamboyant statement. Can you spot the high irony here?

O'REILLY: Now, just talking to Brit Hume about CBS hiring Norah O'Donnell to be the White House correspondent. And we said, "Well, you know, this woman has a long track record of liberalism."

[…]

GOLDBERG: Right. When the new management took over [at CBS] a few months ago, they held a big, big staff meeting. And Jeff Fager, the head of CBS News, said, “If you have an agenda find another place to work.” That's a good thing to say. I've known Jeff Fager for—

O'REILLY: And he's a good guy. He's a good guy.

GOLDBERG: Right. And he cares about this kind of stuff.

O'REILLY: He does.

GOLDBERG: So maybe—so maybe he told her, “Hey, keep your liberal opinions to yourself when you're at the White House.” But Bill, there's a much bigger, much more important point to make. No network would hire, as its chief White House correspondent, someone as far to the right as she is to the left. Because if you're even a little to the right, you're going to stick out in the newsroom.

Is Norah O’Donnell way far “to the left?” To judge from her work, not that much—although she has indeed played a few silly games as she got herself in line with MSNBC’s pseudo-liberal templates. But did you note the irony here? According to Bernie, no network would hire a person this far to the right to serve as its chief White House correspondent. In fact, one major network already did: ABC News, when it hired Brit Hume back in the 1980s!

The press corps always favors the Democrat! It’s amazing to see that this card still plays twelve years after the war against Gore. (Let’s not even talk about Candidate Kerry.) Your career liberal leaders, through their rapt silence, have kept this potent point alive.

Over at our companion site, we’re recording the actual history. We hope you’ll consider a contribution to this ongoing project. In chapter 6, the die will be cast. Looking ahead to a more truthful day, the full story should be recorded.

Special report: Greed became good!

PART 2—IS THERE ANYTHING WRONG WITH IT (permalink): By now, it’s a fairly well-known fact. Over the past forty years, inequality of income has soared in the United States.

On the front page of Sunday’s Washington Post, Peter Whoriskey examined various aspects of this dramatic societal change. At one point, he offered a rather striking fact:

WHORISKEY (6/19/11): Whatever people think of it, the gap between the very highest earners and everyone else has been widening significantly.

Income inequality has been on the rise for decades in several nations, including Britain, China and India, but it has been most pronounced in the United States, economists say.

In 1975, for example, the top 0.1 percent of earners garnered about 2.5 percent of the nation's income, including capital gains, according to data collected by University of California economist Emmanuel Saez. By 2008, that share had quadrupled and stood at 10.4 percent.

The phenomenon is even more pronounced at even higher levels of income. The share of the income commanded by the top 0.01 percent rose from 0.85 percent to 5.03 percent over that period. For the 15,000 families in that group, average income now stands at $27 million.

In world rankings of income inequality, the United States now falls among some of the world's less-developed economies.

According to the CIA's World Factbook, which uses the so-called "Gini coefficient," a common economic indicator of inequality, the United States ranks as far more unequal than the European Union and Britain. The United States is in the company of developing countries—just behind Cameroon and Ivory Coast and just ahead of Uganda and Jamaica.

Not that there’s anything wrong with it! According to that so-called Gini coefficient, the U.S. now ranks behind Cameroon and the Ivory Coast! And no, we aren’t talking World Cup soccer!

From 1975 to 2008, the top 0.1 percent of American earners quadrupled their share of the nation’s income. In his detailed, instructive piece, Whoriskey examines the possible reasons for that change in our national culture. According to Whoriskey, research has established that the bulk of folk in that top one-tenth of one percent are corporate executives or financial managers. In the case of those corporate execs, their compensation has massively risen even as compensation for their companies’ workers has stagnated or even slipped.

What explains this change in our national culture? At one point, Whoriskey hits upon an unflattering term as some analysts explain this cultural change. Uh-oh! Could this change in income distribution reflect a triumph of “greed?” In this passage, Whoriskey introduces that impolite term into his discussion:

WHORISKEY: Acceptable greed

Defenders of executive pay argue, among other things, that the rising compensation is deserved because firms are larger today. Moreover, this group says, more packages today are based on stock and options, which pay more when the chief executive is successful.

Critics, on other hand, argue that executive salaries have jumped because corporate boards were simply too generous, or more broadly, because greed became more socially acceptable.

[…]

What the research showed is that while executive pay at the largest U.S. companies was relatively flat in the '50s and '60s, it began a rapid ascent sometime in the '70s.

As it happens, this was about the same time that income inequality began to widen in the United States, according to the Saez figures.

More important, however, the finding that executive pay was flat in the '50s and '60s, when firms were growing, appears to contradict the idea that executive pay should naturally rise when companies grow.

This is a "challenge for the market story," Frydman said.

Executive pay remained flat in the 1950s and 1960s, even as firms were growing. Whoriskey offers anecdotal evidence about the reasons for the more modest pay structure of this long-gone era. In this passage, he quote a high-flying CEO of that earlier era—and he cites Kenneth Douglas, CEO of the little-known Dean Foods (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/21/11):

WHORISKEY: [B]ack in the '70s, something was holding executive salaries back.

Harold Geneen, the president of ITT, then one of the nation's largest companies, told Forbes in 1975 that while he might be worth six times as much to the company as he was making, he hadn't sought a raise.

"No one moved up there, and I didn't dare do it alone," he explained.

Over at Dean Foods, Kenneth Douglas was likewise resistant to making more. Most years, board members at Dean Foods wanted to give Douglas a raise. But more than once, Douglas, a former FBI agent who literally married the girl next door, refused.

"He would object to the pay we gave him sometimes—not because he thought it was too little; he thought it was too much," said Alexander J. Vogl, a member of the Dean Foods board at the time and the chair of its compensation committee. "He was afraid it would be bad for morale, him getting a big bump like that."

This is anecdotal evidence, but it suggests that a different culture may have obtained in American firms surrounding issues of pay at this time. In the following passage, Whoriskey uses that unpleasant term once again, suggesting that we’re now dealing with a changed culture—with a new culture of greed:

WHORISKEY: The case of Dean Foods appears to bolster the argument that executive compensation moves with company size: Dean Foods' profit in 2009 was roughly 10 times what it was in 1979, adjusted for constant dollars. Engles's compensation has averaged 10 times that of Douglas.

"It's a different company today," company spokesman Jamaison Schuler said. He declined to comment further.

But some economists have offered an alternative, difficult-to-quantify explanation: that the social norms that once reined in executive pay have disappeared.

This new attitude, according to this view, was reflected in epigrammatic form by the 1987 movie "Wall Street," which made famous the phrase "greed, for lack of a better word, is good."

Are we closing in on Uganda because of a culture of “greed?”

Most liberals will disapprove of this rise in income inequality. Liberals and progressives will be inclined to see this growing inequality as a major political problem—a problem which should be addressed by political action. But how will voters respond to these issues? More specifically, what is the politics of this new culture of “greed?”

Gordon Gekko got a rise from the crowd when he announced that greed was good. “Greed” sounds like a very bad thing. That was the point of his statement.

But as a simple political matter, is there anything wrong with this “greed?” How do these issues of compensation play within our American politics? Beyond that, how do these basic issues play within the American press?

Are voters disturbed by a culture of “greed?” In our view, you can feel fairly sure that your “journalists” aren’t.

Tomorrow: Will voters listen? What will they hear?

Friday: Greed and the press