Blind to Crony Socialism
Whenever a failed CEO is fired with a cushy payoff, the outrage is swift and voluminous. The liberal press usually misrepresents this as a hypocritical “jobs for the boys” program within the capitalist class. In reality, the payoffs are almost always contractual obligations, often for deferred compensation, that the companies vigorously try to avoid. Believe me. I’ve been on both sides of this kind of dispute (except, of course, for the “failed” bit).
People are usually struck by the seeming injustice of CEOs running companies into the ground and then getting paid obscene amounts in the form of “golden parachute” type good-bye presents. Often there is no other way to get rid of a bad CEO though – if his or her employment contract guarantees a large termination benefit, the company may have little choice in the matter. As a rule, private shareholders are bearing the cost of such transactions, and they are in this position voluntarily (after all, they could sell their shares or vote against generous CEO payment packages at shareholder meetings). We realize of course that in the age of crony socialism, one usually has to judge such things carefully on a case by case basis. Still, it is a far cry from the misuse of taxpayer funds, which are appropriated by coercion and offer those bearing the costs no opportunity to “opt out”.
So where’s the liberal outrage with a story like the pension swindle in El Monte, California? This is about a dying town, with a per capita income of $10,316 and a quarter of its population below the poverty line, that is paying a pension to one of its retired (at the age of 58) city managers of more than $250,000 per year. Adjusted for inflation. With medical for him and his wife. And survivorship benefits. And to which he contributed nothing.
Or another retired city manager who collects $216,000 per year, allowing him to “take some things off his bucket list” such as golfing at the Old Course at St Andrews. And it looks like the public is paying for more than just green fees. His retirement came shortly after he was swept up in an anti-prostitution sting operation.
More broadly, with Trump’s cabinet nominations and his presidency, there is currently an enormous amount of discussion about conflicts of interest in the public sector. All of these discussions completely ignore the most flagrant example.
Squeezed by cronyism
Public Sector Union Thugs
Many politicians, especially Democrats, get elected with huge support from public sector unions. When it comes to negotiating the compensation of public employees, the unionists sit, in essence, on both sides of the table. The politicians buy the support of the unions with public money.
The favorite coinage for this corrupt bargain is pension and other retirement benefits since the real cost of the bribery is easily obscured with bogus assumptions, especially about expected investment returns. The end result is public pension plans that are underfunded by trillions and the occasional bankruptcy in a place like Detroit.
The costs of surreptitious vote buying via the detour of public sector unions supporting politicians, who then provide enormous taxpayer-funded benefits to union members have become increasingly obvious to the tax cows in recent years. Ever since the bubble era has begun to be frequently shaken by financial crises, many pension funds had to abandon their fictitious return assumptions. Suddenly it became clear that maintaining the generous benefits and pensions of a great many “civil servants” would require vast sacrifices. Alas, those asked to do the sacrificing can only dream of receiving even remotely similar benefits.
This is such a glaring conflict that I have tried to find if there are any laws against it. So far, I have found nothing. I have, however, found an Atlantic article by a clearly left-wing journalist who started off very sympathetic to public unions but who had a Damascene moment when he was a reporter in a small California town:
“Over the next couple years, I nevertheless came to see the several downsides of the union’s influence. Contract negotiations were held in private, with the City Council representing Rancho Cucamonga residents and union reps representing the firefighters. This posed a structural problem, for the interests of elected officials weren’t particularly aligned with the public, whereas the union negotiators had a personal stake in whatever compensation package was adopted.
“To be more specific, if a City Council member behaved in a fiscally irresponsible manner, it wouldn’t matter for at least a few years, by which time ambitious pols would have moved on to a county post or the state legislature. And lavish compensation packages could easily be obscured by combining what appeared to be a reasonable salary, the only number the public was likely to hear, with exorbitant pay for overtime or over the top fringe benefits.
“But if a City Council member crossed the fire union? The consequences were immediate. As soon as the next election rolled around, they’d face a well-financed challenger. On his campaign mailers, he’d be photographed flanked by handsome firefighters. On weekends, friendly guys in fire-coats would go door to door on behalf of their would be champion. “We’re very concerned that Councilman X is endangering public safety by refusing to do Y,” they might say. Or else, “Challenger Z is a crucial ally in our effort to make this city safer.” The incentives were clear.”
The left goes nuts when a private company is contractually obliged to use its own money to pay off a failed CEO. Or the leftists dust off their little-used copies of the Constitution and start quoting the Emoluments Clause when there is the prospect of a foreign visitor to the presidential inauguration taking a bag of peanuts from the minibar in a Trump hotel.
But when left-wing politicians collude with their public union supporters to rack up unpayable pension bills in the trillions, we get… crickets.
So I ask…where’s the outrage?
Well – at least someone is outraged. Sorry, “boss” – but you actually have no say in the matter.
Image captions by PT
1] Probably even accurate accounting would not be sufficient for voters to apply effective control. Voters only really pay attention when something hits their wallets through taxes. Therefore, they are unlikely to control future promises even with accurate information. What is required is 100% pre-funding of these liabilities on a completely arm’s-length basis, in cash and when they are granted. Or, as the private sector is increasingly doing, the conversion of defined benefit to defined contribution pension plans.
Roger Barris is an American who has lived in Europe for over 20 years, now based in the UK. Although basically retired now, he previously had senior positions at Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch and his own firm, initially in structured finance and latterly in principal and fiduciary investing, focussing on real estate. He has a BA in Economics from Bowdoin College (summa cum laude) and an MBA in Finance from the University of Michigan (highest honors).
You may have noticed that our so-called “semiannual” funding drive, which started sometime in the summer if memory serves, has seamlessly segued into the winter. In fact, the year is almost over! We assure you this is not merely evidence of our chutzpa; rather, it is indicative of the fact that ad income still needs to be supplemented in order to support upkeep of the site. Naturally, the traditional benefits that can be spontaneously triggered by donations to this site remain operative regardless of the season - ranging from a boost to general well-being/happiness (inter alia featuring improved sleep & appetite), children including you in their songs, up to the likely allotment of privileges in the afterlife, etc., etc., but the Christmas season is probably an especially propitious time to cross our palms with silver. A special thank you to all readers who have already chipped in, your generosity is greatly appreciated. Regardless of that, we are honored by everybody's readership and hope we have managed to add a little value to your life.
Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke
3 Responses to “Where’s the Outrage?”
Most read in the last 20 days:
- Speculative Blow-Offs in Stock Markets – Part 1
Defying Expectations Why is the stock market seemingly so utterly oblivious to the potential dangers and in some respects quite obvious fundamental problems the global economy faces? Why in particular does this happen at a time when valuations are already extremely stretched? Questions along these lines are raised increasingly often by our correspondents lately. One could be smug about it and say “it's all technical”, but there is more to it than that. It may not be rocket science, but...
- Speculative Blow-Offs in Stock Markets – Part 2
Blow-Off Pattern Recognition As noted in Part 1, historically, blow-patterns in stock markets share many characteristics. One of them is a shifting monetary backdrop, which becomes more hostile just as prices begin to rise at an accelerated pace, the other is the psychological backdrop to the move, which entails growing pressure on the remaining skeptics and helps investors to rationalize their exposure to overvalued markets. In addition to this, the chart patterns of stock indexes...
- India: Still the Fastest Growing Large Economy?
India’s Currency Ban - Part X It has now been four months since Narendra Modi declared about 86% of monetary value of currency illegal. Linked here is the last in my series of updates, which was written soon after the deadline to deposit the demonetized currency. Most of the banned currency was eventually deposited, making a mockery of Modi, who had claimed that unaccounted money would not reach the banks. Perhaps 3% of the cash never reached the banks. A cunning plan...
- Gold Sector: Positioning and Sentiment
A Case of Botched Timing, But... When last we wrote about the gold sector in mid February, we discussed historical patterns in the HUI following breaches of its 200-day moving average from below. Given that we expected such a breach to occur relatively soon, the post turned out to be rather ill-timed. Luckily we always advise readers that we are not exactly Nostradamus (occasionally our timing is a bit better). Below is a chart of the HUI Index depicting the action since the January...
- They're Worried You Might Buy Bitcoin or Gold - Precious Metals Supply and Demand
Bitcoin Mania The price of gold has been rising, but perhaps not enough to suit the hot money. Meanwhile, the price of Bitcoin has shot up even faster. From $412, one year ago, to $1290 on Friday, it has gained over 200% (and, unlike gold, we can say that Bitcoin went up — it’s a speculative asset that goes up and down with no particular limit). Bitcoins are a lot less tangible than this picture implies, but they are getting a lot of love recently...
- Welcome to Totalitarian America, President Trump!
Trump vs. the Deep State If there had been any doubt that the land of the free and home of the brave is now a totalitarian society, the revelations that its Chief Executive Officer has been spied upon while campaigning for that office and during his brief tenure as president should now be allayed. Image adapted from the cover of “Deep State #5” - depicting an assassin from the future President Trump joins the very crowded list of opponents of the American...
- The Long Run Economics of Debt Based Stimulus
Onward vs. Upward Something both unwanted and unexpected has tormented western economies in the 21st century. Gross domestic product (GDP) has moderated onward while government debt has spiked upward. Orthodox economists continue to be flummoxed by what has transpired. What happened to the miracle? The Keynesian wet dream of an unfettered fiat debt money system has been realized, and debt has been duly expanded at every opportunity. Although the fat lady has so far only...
- Boosting Stock Market Returns With A Simple Trick
Systematic Trading Based on Statistics Trading methods based on statistics represent an unusual approach for many investors. Evaluation of a security's fundamental merits is not of concern, even though it can of course be done additionally. Rather, the only important criterion consists of typical price patterns determined by statistical examination of past trends. Fundamental considerations such as the valuation of stocks are not really relevant to the statistics-based trading...
- Searching for Truth
Heresy or Truth? RANCHO SANTANA, NICARAGUA – In the fifth century, Christian scholars counted 88 different heresies. Arianism. Eutychianism. Nestorianism. If there was a way to “offend” God, they had a name for it. One group of “heretics” argued that there was no such thing as “original sin.” Another denied the trinity. And another claimed Jesus was not divine. Which one had the truth? Depiction of the first Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, convened by Emperor...
- Why the 21st Century Sucks - Turtles All the Way Down
A Truly Sucky Century BALTIMORE – What an awful century! Worst we’ve ever seen. Household incomes are down. Employment is down, with 7 million people in the U.S. of working age without jobs. Productivity growth is down. GDP growth is down – to only about 0.5% per capita last year. Even life expectancies are down. Drug overdoses are up. Suicides are up. One out of every eight children lives in a family getting food stamps. One of out every eight adults takes psychoactive drugs...
- Gold and the Fed's Looming Rate Hike in March
Long Term Technical Backdrop Constructive After a challenging Q4 in 2016 in the context of rising bond yields and a stronger US dollar, gold seems to be getting its shine back in Q1. The technical picture is beginning to look a little more constructive and the “reflation trade”, spurred on further by expectations of higher infrastructure spending and tax cuts in the US, has thus far also benefited gold. From a technical perspective, there are indications that the low at $1045.40,...
- India: The next Pakistan?
India’s Rapid Degradation This is Part XI of a series of articles (the most recent of which is linked here) in which I have provided regular updates on what started as the demonetization of 86% of India's currency. The story of demonetization and the ensuing developments were merely a vehicle for me to explore Indian institutions, culture and society. The Modimobile is making the rounds amid a flower shower. [PT] Photo credit: PTI Photo Tribal cultures face...