A Wealth of Riches, a Poverty of Morals

Jim Hightower, A Wealth of Riches, a Poverty of Morals

Despite the pandemic, the wealth of billionaires is zooming, though they suffer from a poverty of morals.

Let’s say you’re a millionaire. That’s a lot of money, right? Now let’s say you’re a billionaire. That’s a lot more money! But how much more?

Think of all those dollars as seconds on a clock. A million seconds would total 11.5 days — a nice stash to have in the bank of time. But how much time does a billion seconds buy you? Nearly 32 years. Rich is nice, but billionaire-rich is over the moon.

So, no doubt you were as thrilled as I was to learn this month that, despite the global COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crash it’s causing, the wealth of billionaires is zooming out of this world. There are nearly 2,200 of these uberrich dudes, and this summer — in the midst of raging disease and mass business closures — a bank survey found that the wealth stashed away by these elites hit a new record, averaging more than $4 billion each. Indeed, since 2018, they’ve pocketed on average an extra half-billion bucks! How’s that measure up to your take-home the past couple of years?

Bear in mind that these fortunate few did nothing to earn this haul. They didn’t work harder, didn’t get one digit smarter, didn’t create some new breakthrough product to benefit humankind. They could just crank back in their gold-plated La-Z-Boys and let their money make money for them.

Then there are multimillionaire corporate chieftains who are cashing in on their own failure. Having closed stores, fired thousands of workers, stiffed suppliers and creditors, taken bailout money from taxpayers and even led their corporations into bankruptcy, the CEOs of such collapsing giants as Hertz, J.C. Penney and Toys “R” Us have grabbed millions of dollars in — believe it or not — bonus payments! The typical employee at J.C. Penney, for example, is held to part-time work, making under $12,000 a year. Thousands of them are now losing even that miserly income as the once-mighty retailer is shutting 154 stores, Yet, the CEO was paid a $4.5 million cash bonus before the company filed for bankruptcy this year.

Still, the corporate establishment wonders why the people consider it a club of heartless, greedy bastards suffering from a poverty of morals. Unfortunately, it’s their Grab-All-You-Can-and-Run ethics that are tainting what were fairly innocent pursuits.

As a Texas high schooler many moons ago, I was the 115-pound outside linebacker on the Denison Yellow Jackets football team. Go bugs! We won very few games, but we had spirit and some fun. Our coach, a down-to-earth fellow paid a modest public school salary, tried to instill a bit of the sporting ethic in us: “Win or lose, give it your best”; “There is no I in team”; “Cheaters never win” — stuff like that.

So, laugh at my naivete; call me a Pollyanna; and whistle me out of bounds in the game of real life, but I’m somewhere between sad and disgusted that the self-centered corporate ethic — Survival of the Greediest — is becoming the guiding spirit of even amateur games. The decline is most prevalent in big-time college football programs, where the top executives (athletic directors, coaches and such) draw absurd paychecks and gin up gabillions of dollars for the schools, while workers — i.e., the actual athletes — are paid nothing and regularly face crippling, even life-threatening, injuries.

But then came the pandemic, and college professors, students and workers were being fired and shortchanged because of budget squeezes. Luckily, the old school spirit kicked in and highly paid college football coaches stepped up to make widely publicized sacrifices, voluntarily accepting personal pay cuts of 15% to 20%. Yea, Coach!

Only it was a scam. Their “cuts” only applied to the chiefs’ base salaries, not to their full compensation. The University of North Carolina coach Mack Brown, for example, draws $750,000 in base pay — which ain’t bad — but his full paycheck is $3.5 million a year. So, he’s still banking nearly $2.8 million this year.

But wait, the scam gets scummier, for the supposed cuts actually are just deferments in pay. The coaches are to get all of their “sacrificed” pay back! University of Texas coach Tom Herman, for example, hauls in an estimated $6 million a year, but he was glorified this year for accepting a 15% reduction of his much smaller base salary. In agreeing to take even that cut, he made the university promise to give the sum back to him within three years.

Some philanthropists, huh? And what a model of sporting character they are, teaching young people that it’s not how you play the game that counts but whether you win or lose.

Jim Hightower