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Tycoons are not to be trusted

July 18, 2002|by TIM ROWLAND

All right, so what's the big lesson we all have learned over the past couple of months? That's right, you can't trust big, mega-wealthy, corporate tycoons.

Um.

OK, and ...? As in, "you can't trust big, mega-wealthy, corporate tycoons, and Jennifer Lopez is engaged to the Dalai Lama's love child."

The Man sticks it to the little guy. As a colleague of mine used to bellow every time he was forced to attend a less-than-riveting press conference, "Where's the news?"

People pooh-pooh the tabloids, but I'm starting to think they're the ones with the superior news judgment. For example, you'll never see a headline in The Star that says "CEO Buys New Suit, Aspen Chalet, as Employees' Real Wages Decline For Sixth Straight Year."

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I'm not so sure I get why you people are all of a sudden so fired up over this. Did you sleep through the Industrial Revolution segment of your American history class? Well yes, if you're like me you probably did.

Corporate exploitation is as American as apple pie. And well it should be, I say. I like my steaks rare, my methadone straight and my tycoons ruthless. And as tycoons go, I personally think our present-day crop is a pretty sorry lot.

Ken Lay. What a wimp. Do you think Andrew Carnegie would have apologized and expressed sorrow over the travails of his steelworkers? Would Leland Stanford have fretted over the status of 10,000 Chinese railroad workers' 401(k) accounts? Would Jay Gould have let his wife - his wife! - take his place in front of the television cameras and plead for the public's love, telling us all how he's really a kind, caring, misunderstood man?

Humph! I weep when I consider to what depths our tycoon class has fallen. Those little nerds from Arthur Andersen scurrying about like scared mice, all pointing paws at each other ... the dweeb from WorldCom taking the Fifth Amendment before Congress ... President Bush himself squeaking about his own financial favored-son status "Eeeek, I didn't know, eeek, it was a gray area, eeeek, it's my accountant's fault, eeek, it's my lawyer's fault, eeeek, it's such a long time ago, I just don't remember ..."

What a bunch of babies. Come on George, be a man. Be like Vanderbilt, who thundered from the mountaintops, "The public good be damned!" Even Clinton, heaven help us, would have had the guts to glare into the camera, wag his finger at us and without shame declare "I did not have sex with that accountant."

I blame two things: 1.) Polls. 2.) 401(k) accounts.

Because before polls, the fat cats didn't care how the people acted, and before 401(k) retirement accounts, the people didn't care how the fat cats acted.

These were two separate worlds that never should have been united. But now we know that 44 percent of the people think the president is in the pocket of big business. This prohibits the president from doing something he should have done a long time ago: Ignore the whole situation.

As for us small fry, 20 years ago we never would have given a hoot about companies like Adelphia or Global Crossing. We would have thought that Qwest completed the cereal triumvirate of Quisp and Quake.

It's our own stupid fault for willingly hitching our wagons to a class of individuals that, since at least 1880, we have known has scruples just to the south of C. Montgomery Burns.

And I'm weary of all those teary-eyed news stories that start off: "Phil and Wendy Flubber once had a nest egg of $39 million and dreamed of an early retirement in the Hamptons. But yesterday, as they made a thin stew out of floor sweepings and the family cat, they said bitterly that it now appears they will have to work to age 62, and at best will only be able to afford a retirement home in Hilton Head."

Poor kids. And they all blame Cisco. Never mind that Cisco was what got them that $39 million in the first place.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or e-mail him at timr@herald-mail.com.

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