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Noblesse Abused

by Julia Sneden

The “Non Sequitur” cartoon in my morning paper was nothing short of delicious. It’s a single panel showing the devil, pitchfork in hand, standing amid the flames of hell, and a chubby man in a business suit being spewed out of a large sewer pipe into the fire. There’s a sign that reads, simply:

“FINAL LANDING WITH A GOLDEN PARACHUTE.”

Oh, yesssss!

Everyone seems to agree that things have gotten totally out of hand in the corporate world ... everyone, that is, except for the happy recipients of those parachutes.

First there was the whole Enron scandal. Ken Lay and others “retired” (read: fled) with generous compensation packages. Before he had to repay the workers he cheated, Lay died, and his millions went elsewhere.

Then there’s Home Depot’s Robert Nardelli, who, when he resigned, received $210 million in cash and stock options, despite the fact that in the preceding year he had earned something over $30 million in compensation plus more stock options. Was the Board of Directors that approved the package afraid he’d run out of money and have to go on relief?

The world has gone nuts, and it’s not just the corporate world, either. In the academic world, college administrators now insist on having golden parachutes written into their contracts, just in case they aren’t any good at their jobs. I know of at least three former chancellors and a couple of deans who are sitting pretty after having severely damaged their institutions.

And then there are doctors, who justify their obscene earnings with the claim that they have had to spend several years in school, and need to repay student loans. The doctors I know earned enough to repay just about anything within the first five years of practice. Compare them to school teachers who may have done a couple of years of graduate work, and must continue to take summer courses every year to keep their teaching certificates current, for the whole of their working lives. They wind up having spent at least as much time in school, albeit spread out, but their salaries remain pitiful.

Maybe it’s time to start a new crusade. If we can’t change those corporate windfalls, let’s start demanding golden parachutes for the common man.

The first retirement bonanza on my list would go to the people who clean our houses and offices. A working lifetime of wiping other people’s hair (pubic and other) from bathtub drains surely deserves a few millions, and that doesn’t even take into consideration the scrubbing of toilets and scouring of sinks, or dusting, vacuuming, and carrying out the trash.

Police and firemen, after 40 years on the (literal) firing line, surely deserve enough cash to keep them happy on some beach. So do secretaries, who deserve more than the fancy title “Administrative Assistant” to take with them into old age.

And how about nurses? Not only do they empty bedpans, but they have to take orders from snippy doctors.

And then there are those saints of the world who volunteer for just about anything — Meals on Wheels, Habitat, Adult Literacy Teachers, Information Desks, etc., especially if they are retirees who may be living on small pensions during inflated times, but are nonetheless happy to help others.

Pizza deliverers, fast-food workers, convenience store clerks, paper boys, the men who pave roads or fix roofs on sizzling summer days — the list goes on and on.

The term noblesse oblige means that those to whom much is given have the obligation to treat the rest of us fairly. It’s an old doctrine, but Mr. Lay and Mr. Nardelli were obviously ignorant of it.

It’s time for big business board members, and their stockholders, and the courts, and Congress (whose golden parachutes are also pretty decadent) to look around them and recognize the level of disgust the excessive golden parachutes have engendered. And then, to quote Nancy Reagan, Just Say No.


Julia Sneden is a writer, friend, teacher, wife, mother, Grandmother, care-giver and Senior Women Web's Resident Observer.  She lives in North Carolina and can be reached by email.

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