There are lots of insidious ways in which the unfettered greed and inequality of 21st Century capitalism is infecting and damaging our government. The most obvious and direct, of course, is the way in which billionaires and giant corporate interests can literally purchase so many of the people who run it.
Sadly, however, direct purchases of this kind are far from the only instances in which Wall Street values have infected and afflicted our public structures and services. For decades, American presidents and governors have complained of their inability to woo successful corporate executives into public service because of the gigantic compensation packages their prospective appointees would be forced to leave behind and the “sacrifice” that comes with eking by on a six figure public salary.
N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory infamously made addressing this kind of CEO “pay gap” one of his first steps upon assuming office last January when he immediately bumped up the salaries of several top state officials who were already slated to earn top 1 percent money. Since that time, he’s taken other incremental steps to soften the terrible “blow” of public service for select employees – including young P.R. staffers who and officials who leave after just a month on the job.
If there’s a poster child, however, for the way in which the pay expectations of the top 1% have perniciously wormed their way into the McCrory’s administration over the past year it would have to be a recently departed contract employee of the Department of Health and Human Services by the name of Joe Hauck. As came to light in several reports and commentaries in recent days, Hauck pulled in $310,000 from the Department of Health and Human Services over the past year under a personal services contract to embattled HHS Secretary Aldona Wos. As AP’s Michael Biesecker reported:
“All told, Hauck was paid $41,000 more than the annual salary of the department’s highest paid state employee, who is a medical doctor.
Ironically, one of the primary money-saving measures Hauck is credited with during his time at DHHS is a proposal to curtail the agency’s reliance on highly paid temporary contractors and costly overtime by hiring more full-time state employees and reducing high turnover.”
It’s hard to know what’s more troubling in all of this: the fact that a supposedly civic-minded person would accept such outrageous amounts of money or that public officials would presume to dispense such largesse in all of our names in the first place. Whichever the case, both are sadly indicative of what happens when people with Wall Street values take over on Jones Street – the home of North Carolina government.
In the twisted world of modern capitalism, the imperial CEO is ruler of all he or she surveys – able to command royal sums even as average workers are downsized, outsourced and forced to accept lower pay and reduced benefits. “This is the way of the market,” we are told by those same overlords and their apologists in the far right think tanks.
And so that same mindset infiltrates public service like some kind of especially toxic and destructive form of intellectual kudzu. Raised as they are in a world of “greed is good,” “grab all you can get” casino capitalism, it’s no wonder that businessmen and women bring the same delusional “me-first” attitude to government. “This is the key to efficiency and running government like a business,” goes the mantra. “I deserve to be paid top dollar.”
So, is this noxious mindset here to stay? Is there any antidote to the “if it’s legal, it must be moral” ideology of the market fundamentalists who currently stand astride the North Carolina policy arena?
A look around indicates that there is still reason for hope. For all of the conspicuous consumption and noxious inequality that permeates the modern economy (and the cynicism it has bred in so many circles), most members of the 99 percent still know the score. They know that the Joe Haucks of the world symbolize a societal illness and ache for leaders who will fight against it.
As the amazing popularity of Pope Francis I and his campaign against the excesses of modern capitalism have made clear, most people know instinctively that the corporate emperors (and their errand boys and girls in the world of politics and punditry) wear no clothes. All that’s needed to dispel the present illusion is for a handful of voices to shout out the truth.
Let’s tune up our voices.
Rob Schofield is the Director of Research and Policy Development at N.C. Policy Watch.