Contact:David K. Clarke – ©
Also see Ethics, Contribution and Societal dysfunction and cancer.
Every Australia Day we hear a lot about the importance to Australia of volunteers – those who work with no expectation of payment and the aim of making their society just that little bit better. They look after the elderly, the sick and injured, the disadvantaged; they fight our fires, get trapped people out of car wrecks, help to bring storm damage under control, improve our environment, raise money for charities, and make many other valuable contributions.
Exactly opposite the spirit of the volunteer is that of the bosses of our big companies. They demand obscene amounts of money for their time; they divert money into their own pockets from people who are less well off than themselves; in place of the volunteer's altruism, the corporate bosses have selfishness. They use their positions of power to amass levels of wealth that are far beyond what they will ever need. Where the volunteers give, the corporate bosses take; where the former are admirable, the latter are contemptible.
The CEOs take a significant skim off the top of the profits of the big corporations. If they took less there would be more for the employees and the investors. The superannuation funds invest a large part of the money that they have the responsibility to look after in the big companies. All those who place money in a superannuation fund, or who have retired and are living from their superannuation, are paying a portion of the bloated incomes of the big bosses. In effect, the battlers are paying the wealthy.
The average package for the 100 highest paid CEOs in Australia in the 2001-2002 financial year was $2.6 million a year. Consider this: if a particular CEO was to decide that he (there are very few shes) could get by on $600 000 a year and put the rest back into the company funds, that $2 million a year would be enough for a thousand investors to each get a thousand dollars more each year and a thousand employees to get a pay rise of a thousand dollars per year. Enough to make quite a difference to many volunteers, I imagine. And that's only one company.
In late 2010 the price of gold is at an all-time record. People have been taking money out of shares and putting it into gold because they have become disenchanted with investing in companies. How much of this disenchantment is due to a perception that those who are running the companies are not doing so for the benefit of the shareholders, but for their own short-term selfish aims? It is more than a perception, the total value of the companies on the share markets has stagnated or declined at the same time as the corporate bosses take out larger and larger cuts.
There is ample research indicating that beyond sufficient income to provide a comfortable living, more money does not lead to more happiness. The same research confirms that, on the other hand, too little money certainly causes misery.
The huge incomes of the corporate bosses and board members don't come out of the blue; we pay them. Most ordinary Australians are paying toward the maintenance of their life-styles and the size of their bank accounts.
Australia and the USA have, in the past few decades, had a history of an increasing gap between rich and poor. If the gap becomes sufficiently big, revolution will result.
Ethically the grasping CEOs are no better than embezzlers or bank robbers. While they may obey the laws, they take away from many who have much less than themselves, and they do not need what they take. They take it because they can!
The share of the nation's wealth in the hands of the richest 10% increased greatly during the Howard years, just as the share of the nation's wealth in the hands of the poorest 10% decreased. The incomes of the wealthy increased steeply, those at the bottom of the heap were lucky if they kept their heads above water. The gap between rich and poor in Australia must be wider now than for a very long time. Will the Rudd government turn this around? I'd say that the early signs are not promising.
We should be more vocal in our condemnation of greed – for the good of our society.
Who are the worst thieves?If a robber steals five thousand dollars from a bank we tend to think badly of him; and rightly so, because if our society is to function well people can't be allowed to help themselves to other people's property.
But surely the corporate bosses are much worse than my hypothetical bank robber. The CEO mentioned above, who is paid two million dollars a year more than he needs to live happily, can be thought of as stealing a thousand dollars a year from each of a thousand small investors and stealing another thousand dollars a year from each of a thousand workers. Yet there is a tendency for the plebs to admire such a man, rather than condemning him! Why?
Climate change deniersClimate change is, by a large margin, the greatest threat to the world today. The bosses of the multinational corporations that make their profits from those industries that are the largest producers of greenhouse gasses don't want anything done that might reduce their incomes. They have, therefore, very effectively mounted a campaign of misinformation to make the more ignorant of the people doubt the reality of climate change and its link to Man's activities.
They do not do the climate change denying themselves, they use their public relations people to fabricate environmentally responsible images for their companies, and then they employ others to do the dirty work of lobbying politicians and funding complient 'experts'.
Future generations will suffer from the failure of our generation to fix the climate change problem; a large part of the blame for that failure will rest with the corporate bosses.
Australia's coal miners
Deaths to be expected from proposed coal mines
in the Galilee Basin, Queensland;
Wikipedia gives world coal extraction as 7 865 million tonnes (MT) per
year and total Australian extraction as 431MT.
Think of the good that could be done in this world with US$55 million!
Wikipedia reports that over three billion of the world's people live on less than $2.50 a day. That is $912 a year. So 60,000 people could live on $55 million dollars for a year!
Related external pagesThe Bucks Stop Here: Private Sector Executive Remuneration in Australia; a report written for the Labor Council of NSW by John Shields, Michael O'Donnell and John O'Brien.
Available on the Net as a pdf document
In addition to listing the remuneration packages the CEOs of some 100 to 150 of Australia's largest companies the report found that:
The Conversation: Australia's rich give little, by Bronwen Dalton and Elizabeth Cham, 2016/08/18.
Queensland (Australia) Courier Mail: Australian multi-millionaires the meanest in the world for charity, written by Daryl Passmore, 2016/01/10. "... the average total amount donated to charitable causes by Australian UHNWIs [ultra-high net worth individuals] over their lifetimes is just $9.5 million – compared to the global average of $41 million."
Doing an Internet search on something like "How much do wealthy people donate in Australia" gives some interesting results.
Related pages on this siteA list of pages relating to ethics (in an international context)
A list of pages relating to ethics (in an Australian context)