When did making a profit turn into greed? Greed has been around from the beginning of time, but my guess would be it was unleashed in the1980s when American voters bought the farce that wealth would trickle down to them. There was no proof of this theory, but politicians kept saying it over and over until a majority of people began voting against their self-interests: Electing congressional representatives who approved lower corporate tax rates and numerous business deductions, but were against that job killer, increasing the minimum wage.
The fear tactic
When companies downsize, the actual work does not go away. One employee leaves; her co-worker takes up the slack, receiving extra duties. Or technical assistance is transferred to a phone bank in India. The fear tactic is deathly subtle: Either work harder and longer hours or you’ll be out of a job. Result: less overhead, more profit. Improving procedures and workflow? Not in the picture because that worker picking up the slack will stay at the same pay. What’s to change?
The early-out two-step
Older workers on the cusp of reaching retirement are offered a quick out — with reduced benefits. The work remains but will be done by lower-paid rookies. Conservatives in Congress refuse to compromise on solutions to fully fund Social Security. Their best thinking is to push up the retirement age and reduce benefits. Does anyone who’s been out looking for a job after age 40 really believe you can find one after 50? 60? Or even 70?
I retired on an early-out offer at 51. In the succeeding 20 years I have worked in several full-time jobs and a half-dozen part-time ones. My job experience: toll booth operator; free-lance writer; warehouseman; multiple-choice question writer; online accounting system tech writer; AmeriCorps writing mentor; law firm runner; para-educator; sole business owner writing and selling books; writing coach; creative writing instructor; concierge; writer-in-residence. There were pluses and minuses. I wanted to write after I retired, so the keyword “writing” is sprinkled among my various jobs. But among the good experiences was a nasty confrontation with exhaust fumes in that toll booth — it was either that or wear a Donald Duck costume and walk around Walt Disney World in 90-degree heat. Worse was physical exhaustion in the warehouse doing a job designed for someone 30 years younger. Yet I discovered the joy of writing at home and selling a few books.
Something different is needed
A paradigm shift in thinking would lower the retirement age, not raise it. Consider this: What if the tax code favored workers who wanted to retire early, even at 45 or 50? Going further: What if big business/large corporations got a tax deduction only if they created jobs? Moving us older workers into retirement earlier makes room for younger folks. Let’s tell it like it is. Is it more cost-effective to pay hundreds of thousands of workers unemployment insurance or to rewrite the tax code making it feasible for older workers to leave earlier? Perhaps more would sample the work world as I have done and create their own job. Or start a small business.
Slurping at the federal trough
Entrepreneurs know where the big money is, in that trough filled with our taxes; politicians need money to keep their jobs. It has become a traditional tradeoff. The push for an independent Congress requires getting money out of elections. Changes to thinking, especially for a tax code favorable to American workers, require publicly funded elections, setting term limits and abolishing political parties. While we’re at it, let’s throw open primary and general elections to all voters no matter their political affiliation. No one really won the 2012 general election. Less than 24 hours after the votes were counted, stalemate returned, or really, simply remained. Does anyone really like gridlock? The work of Congress has become winner take all. Any vote is not for the people but for the particular party’s ideology. Meanwhile political spin managers try to convince us that our friends and neighbors we know to be moderate and independent are actually out to destroy our country. Preposterous.
Bill Ellis is a local author and can be reached at