Sunday, January 20, 2013

Work Till You Drop


As a small time entrepreneur in San Francisco with my own indie record label I never thought about money except in terms of meeting our responsibilities to our artists and creditors and building the company. Money goes into small business startups, not out of them. For years my take home pay was $100/week. This was considerably before San Francisco's Mission District, where I lived and had my office (in a somewhat renovated firehouse), was gentrified. By the time we sold the company to SONY my take home pay had doubled. I felt rich.

Then everything changed. TimeWarner hired me to run one of their labels and I was in an environment where executives complained bitterly about making only six figures. (My direct boss complained bitterly about only making seven figures.) I was feeling like the richest guy in the world and no one around me was happy even though many made many times what I was making. It was an important life lesson.

Later I rose in the company and became a Warner Bros divisional president. I felt like a kid in a candy store and got to work with artists whose work I had worshipped, from the Ramones, Lou Reed, Depeche Mode, The Smiths to Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Eric Clapton, while helping young artists like Green Day, the Barenaked Ladies and Enya develop their careers. What could be better? And I was making seven figures-- plus benefits. Sometimes I had trouble justifying that much money to myself. My tax-free annual expense account was more money than my father ever made in his life. I watched more than a few executives practicing a kind of potlatch syndrome-- not burning up canoes and totem poles and their worldly possessions, but snorting up their six-figure incomes in the form of cocaine. Did they feel guilty about making so much money? No one I ever talked to about did. Everyone, consciously at least, left they deserved every cent of what they got-- and more. I justified my salary to myself as well, though it always made me uncomfortable. I used to be the first one in in the mornings and the last to leave and I worked my ass off for our artists and our employees and our customers. But... seven figures is a lot for one person, no matter how you slice it... and I did have the best job in the whole world.

Thursday Matthew Yglesias pointed out that tough times have dealt JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon a harsh fate-- only $11.5 million in 2012 (down from $23 million in 2011). Nevermind that he did a horrible job and helped bring his hated company into further disrepute and tarnishing an already severely damaged brand. He's entitled.

Friday Ezra Klein subbed for Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC's The Last Word and he really did an excellent job pointing out the kind of plutocratic entitlement that led directly to the French Revolution and, for many plutocrats, Madame Guillotine. But Ezra, as you can see in the clip up top, wasn't talking about the French Revolution (nor about executing banksters like Dimon); he was simply pointing out that the wealthy executives who love their jobs and are so well paid to do those jobs, should perhaps feel a little more empathy for workers who don't feel like kids in candy stores and who aren't quite so well-compensated. Raising the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare is swimming against the grain of history and unless the Jamie Dimons of the world figure that out... well, no telling what could happen if people get angry enough. Empathy-- maybe people in Congress and the media should think about it too.

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At 3:08 AM, Blogger Jill said...

And what exactly would we do? We allowed George W. Bush to steal two elections. We are about to allow Republicans to change the electoral rules so that no one but wing nuts can win. They have convinced a sizable number of Americans that guys like Jamie Dimon are "makers". And who will safeguard regular people? Democrats? It is to laugh.

At 7:04 AM, Anonymous Zappatero said...

Bravo, DWT! I would say your salary was completely justified in that you were critically involved in the artistic process that provided entertainment to millions who sought it out and were willing to pay to hear those artists.

You shouldn't feel any guilt.

Now, the CEO's who screw their customers and employees while making that money, they are another story.....and should feel guilty and should be indicted when facts warrant.

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

Jill, I am afraid that Dub, short for W, only stole the first election. The second should have been a crushing defeat of that previous 4 year debacle and it was not. This is NOT the country that you think it is.

Jaimie, "Toxic Asset", Dimon models the worst of this country's "leaders" and since we have two crappy political parties, they BOTH embrace that kind of performance.

Good job Howie, you turned out nice.

At 2:28 PM, Blogger John said...

I'd suggest that this is NOT the country it advertises itself to be.

John Puma


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