Sunday, June 7, 2009

Chris Berg, CEO remuneration, hateful politicians, hurtful finger pointing unions and ungrateful wretches

Valiant Chris Berg is fighting the good fight in only the good way the good folk at the Institute of Public Affairs can.

Hurling invective at CEOs over salaries is a bit rich, he cries, but at least he shows a sense of humor in his bemusement and befuddlement.

Why the anger about executive salaries? Sure, that question might seem just a little naive. ("Multimillionaires, the long-term unemployed — why can't we all just get along?")

A little naive? Oh surely not, unless you believe that believing in Santa Claus is a little naive. We just love rewarding folks in the private sector with squillions for running the economy so well.

But Berg is a canny player. To prove how open minded he is, he answers his own question with an answer as obvious as dogs' balls.

After all, even as companies are moulting employees like dog hair, the upwards pressure doesn't seem to have gone off exorbitant executive pay, at least from the perspective of Joe Mortgage-Stressed. The economy isn't technically in a recession, but it's quite ill — perhaps the oligarchs could ease off the foie gras and Dom Perignon?

What follows is then a long and maudlin explanation - rather like a drunken toff sobbing into his Dom Perignon - about how the unions are nasty and the wonderful cash grabbing CEOs are just well ... wonderful.

And Berg spends an inordinate amount of time explaining how nobody can regulate CEO remuneration. Obviously not politicians who get into temper tantrums about inflight food and fisticuffs in party-room meetings and resign over conflicts of interest. Parliament is full of people who hate each other, unlike business, which is full of people who apparently love each other.

Oh jerk my chain and flush the toilet.  So okay it's not the politicians, but the boards and the shareholders who should be doing the dirty work. You know, the owners of the firms. 

Except of course that boards, especially higher up the food chain, constitute an old boys' club with snouts firmly in trough, while shareholders are relatively powerless to do anything about the likes of Telstra splashing $30 million on a blow-in like Sol. Even when the institutional shareholders get together, they can't always club the big spenders into anything approaching thrift. Instead they talk about a world market for key talent, which since the key talent managed to fuck over the world, makes you wonder exactly why we should spend so much on this crap international talent, and pay a fortune to bring it here so it can fuck over the local market.

Which is why Berg is on exceptionally glib ground when he lays it all on the shareholders:

Shareholders — who directly own Australia's biggest companies — should perhaps turn a more sceptical eye to the salaries of the executives. After all, they have just as big an interest in the future of their company as its employees.

Oh yes, and pray tell what mechanism they should use, oh specious one, to work this miracle? If Berg were really serious, he might just explain the how and the what and the way he's proposing to give shareholders a real say in executive recoupment. 

Like sell their shares in a bout of righteous indignation to teach them all a lesson?

Or actually get to vote on remuneration? Watch the rats run from that sinking ship of an idea like a departing CEO heading back home with a bag full of loot.

Oh yes, it's crocodile tears from Chris Berg, as he exudes pity and concern for the big players at the big end of town, so hard done by I almost shed a few tears myself. Life is just so unfair.

Anyway, who seriously believes that the level of CEO pay in Australia had anything to do with the subprime crisis that set off this whole mess? It is really easy and popular to throw abuse at CEOs.

Nothing to do with us? Why am I reminded of a child caught with their cookie laden paw in the cookie jar?

Ah yes, that abuse would be from those shifty, evil, morally bankrupt, hateful politicians as they threw money at the banks to underwrite their splendid piety in a world driven down strictly by the Americans - and got abused for their pains. 

It'd be just too easy to wonder exactly why the banks needed this kind of underpinning, just as it'd be too easy to wonder exactly why ABC Learning went into a tail spin which you wouldn't expect from the silver Mercedes sports car the one-time CEO loved, with its distinctive 'Bullets' numberplates, strangely irrelevant now that the NBL franchise is sadly demised.

But still we can live in hope:

Future corporate remuneration committees will be rethinking the salary packages that have led to some executives getting huge bonuses even as their company collapses around them.

Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus. Chris Berg tells me so. He's so even handed I almost weep at his kindness. They'll set up a committee to look into the matter. Gee, a bagful of hateful politicians in Canberra couldn't have done it better. A committee? Is that your answer to it all? A committee? Why not 42? Or a fair pay tribunal like the rest of the mug punters have to endure?

I'm not trying to suggest that executives pulling in $30 million a year are in any way underdogs.

Not underdogs? Why at 30 mill, I'd call them paupers. Especially when vindictive, spiteful, reprehensible, jealous regulators eye their entirely proper earnings the way a fifteen year old boy might eye the goods in a whorehouse! 

Surely the lot of CEOs of major institutions in Australia is an unremitting tale of woe, only leavened by the occasional story of Swiss bank accounts - and even then the bastards are trying to shut down these few remaining pleasures.

I guess that generosity of spirit is why Berg feels inclined to take a crack at the unions, especially those representing those no good bludgers on the minimum wage:

So when Sharan Burrow stood up last week to proclaim that "the shameful reality is that not only have there been no apologies and no jail sentences but outrageous multimillion bonuses", she was actually telling the rest of Australia two things: 1. We should all work really hard to keep the union movement from being in any position to alter the Crimes Act; and 2. the nation's most senior union official doesn't know how to respond to the economic downturn with anything other than angry finger-pointing.

Which leads me to think that Chris Berg really has no idea how people flung out of work (even if paid a pittance for the pleasure of making others rich) get really pissed off at CEOs who get paid a fortune to fuck up their companies. Perhaps the indignation is a bit stronger in the United States, where the bail out cut deeper and was more obvious, but there's a lingering fury at the likes of a Sol Trujillo being rewarded for cutting jobs and the share price, and the likes of Berg doing a Pontius Pilate with a bowl of water and a towel made out of the finest Egyptian cotton.

When finger pointing is all you've got left - confronted by impotence at the way the world works - expect a bit of finger pointing.

But that's why Berg's flinching a little. When you've been on your high horse for years explaining to the world the benefits of the way things work in a neo liberal world, things get a little difficult when the glue runs and things come unstuck. Which is why all he's got left is a bit of mealy mouthed finger pointing of his own:

And when Rudd decided that this was the time to crack down on corporate compensation, he revealed his crude populism — the Government seems just as eager to blame "greed" or executive salaries or "neo-liberals" for the crisis as it is to actually tackle the causes. You'd expect that from the unions, but you'd hope for better from the Prime Minister.

Oh jerk my chain, crude populism? As if any kind of populism isn't crude? And when we all know it was just the aliens that did it, and it had nothing to do with the neo liberals or executive salaries or rampant greed. Well newsflash. Rudd's crude populism surely is the talk you'd expect to hear back in the days of Marie Antoinette, and right now it rings the till with a nice loud ding.

Still Berg's column is as fine a piece of self serving opportunism and feigned disinterest in the interests of the well off as I've read in recent days. But I guess if you've made out like bandits in the past, you have to expect - nay demand as a right - that you should continue to make out like bandits in the future.

As for the mug punters? Let them eat cake I say, even if it's cake which as an expired date on it, and flung into dumpsters out the back of the supermarkets. 

Phew, crisis averted. I say boy, bring me some of that foie gras - the sort you get by shoveling food down the goose's throat the way boards shove remuneration down the throats of CEOs - and a generous glass of champagne (and no I'm not talking about that sparkling crap they can't call champagne in the colonies).

(Above and below: excerpts from First Dog on the Moon calendar for 2009. You can buy First Dog memorabilia here. Hell someone should get rich from the current crisis in capitalism. Now it might be a long weekend, but back to work you fucktards, and no, time and a half or double time was only for the good days).

No comments: