Why I wrote Farewell Fantasyland...


...and my first three books.

Degeneration of Corporate Culture

I'm a retired management consultant, and I've seen from the inside what big corporations, with the support of conservative politicians, are now doing to their middle and lower level employees.

Over the past few decades, millions of employees put their best efforts into "quality circles," productivity improvement teams, and special task forces in order to help large corporations become more efficient and more profitable. When they expressed concern that their greater efficiency would lead to headcount reduction, they were promised that, no, that wouldn't happen.

Management consultants like myself, and high level executives explained that, as productivity and profits went up, and as the economy grew, everyone would benefit. Work would become less stressful and people would have a better quality life at home with their families. Eventually, they may even get more vacation time, and possibly a 35-hour work week.

At the time, I did not believe that I was lying. After all, hadn't that been the trend during the 40s, 50s, 60s, and into the 70s? I also had the privilege of working for some of the most socially responsible corporations in America at the time.

Now that productivity and profits have skyrocketed, however, the philosophy of conservative politicians, business owners, investors and high level executives has mysteriously changed. Once the balance of power shifted totally in their own direction, they decided that fairness has no place in business decisions.

Today, the CEO's only responsibility is to the stockholders. Workers have the same status as machinery and have no human rights whatsoever—no matter how much time and effort they have invested in the enterprise.

So, improvements in equipment don't mean that work becomes easier and less stressful for employees. It means that half the workforce is fired and those who remain must now work harder than they did before—with incomes that don't keep pace with inflation—"because competition demands it." Of course, executives and stockholders exempt themselves from the competition and get fabulously rich in the process.

Competition and "Free" Markets

Which brings us to the competition issue. Sure, competition and free markets are good for our economy, but only if they are based on moral standards.

In other words, moral investors and business persons must be able to compete with each other on the bases of who:

  • has the best access to raw materials,

  • has the best location in the distribution chain,

  • has developed the best technology,

  • has trained the best managers and workers, and finally,

  • offers the best product at the lowest price.

Unfortunately, however, conservative politicians didn't give us this kind of free market. They gave us "globalization," which rewards those who compete on the basis of who is willing to treat their lower level employees the most brutally.

If you think that "brutally" is too harsh a word, consider the manufacturing plants in Guatemala. Their armed guards have sawed-off shotguns and they won't allow international inspection teams into their facilities. With monotonous repetition, we read in the daily papers about human and environmental rights being violated in Mexico, Indonesia and other third world countries.

As long as there are investors and corporate executives who are willing to violate basic moral standards relating to the fair treatment of workers, those who would respect moral standards cannot compete. In effect, the market becomes "free" only for the immoral.

And that is exactly what is happening to our manufacturing industries. Even the high level managers who honestly believed their promises of fairness to workers are being betrayed. After employees build a profitable corporation, it is likely to be taken over by unscrupulous new managers or a corporate raider, and all promises of fairness are forgotten.

So, What Really Caused Income Disparity?

Apologists for the wealthy and powerful have convinced us that manual labor is no longer a valued activity, and workers whose mamas and daddies didn't send them to college don't deserve a decent income. Reason: there are starving people in Indonesia who will do anything to have enough to eat.

Besides, if the poor working drudges in our country made enough to actually live here, it would cause inflation and we can't have that. (Forget the runaway inflation in the prices of land, homes and rent that the wealthy cause, and that severely penalizes middle and low income Americans.)

Values were quite different 40 years ago when I began management consulting. Loyalty meant something, and most people believed that it was earned and owed, by both employee and owner. There was an implied contract with the moral force of, shall we say, "Christian values"? It was the binding that created a sense of community in organizations.

Many businesses succeeded and prospered because uneducated employees started with the business and accepted low wages and hard working conditions. The implied promise from the corporate executive or the business owner was: "Work hard with me, grow with me, and you will share in my prosperity."

Then, the 1980s arrived with a vengeance. Although you can't legislate morality, you can legally require behaviors that voters consider moral. You also can destroy legislation that protect those moral values, and that is exactly what pro-business politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, have done.

So, if you are a middle or low income American, don't buy the popular delusion that today's income disparity is the result of natural economic forces that should not be controlled. This delusion leads to a sense of futility and the search for scapegoats, and makes it impossible to attack the origins of the problem.

Fact is, apologists for the wealthy and powerful have sold a set of values to the voting public that has allowed pro-business anti-worker politicians to get elected. They, in turn, have changed our economy from one that used to benefit both investors and workers, to one that now benefits investors at the expense of workers.

Investors are now confiscating the wealth that workers, professionals and all levels of managers have produced over the decades and taking it out of the country—purely to benefit themselves, and with no regard to justice for those who produced the wealth.

And don't blame technology, competition, or education for the shrinking standard of living for the bottom half of America. Don't count on Christian values for fairness in the workplace.

All that counts in today's economy is power and greed and the laws that control incomes. And before the year 2010 arrives, voters had better figure out which politicians have the interests of our total society at heart, rather than just the established rich and powerful.

—Chuck Kelly