Universal Translator

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Past is Prologue: Corporate Executives Would Mount a Coup to Protect Compensation

There was a story in yesterday's Washington Post that has been garnering a lot of attention, chiefly for this nugget: "Of last year's 100 highest-paid corporate executives in the United States, 25 earned more in pay than their company recorded as a tax expense in 2010." In other words, the top CEOs in some of America's largest companies pay themselves more in compensation than they have their companies kick back in taxes to all the rest of us. Somewhat perversely, this immediately made me think of that time back in 1953 when the United States and the United Kingdom got together to topple the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh.

You see, at the time the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (we know it today as BP) was reaping enormous profits from prior oil deals it had entered into with Iran. Indeed, in the years leading up to the US/UK coup d'etat the-oil-company-now-known-as-BP was paying more in taxes to the British government on the incredible profits it was reaping selling Iranian oil than it was paying Iran in royalties for obtaining that oil in the first place. Mossadegh's party was tired of watching Iran's natural resources being drained away for mere pennies, and demanded that the-oil-company-now-known-as-BP renegotiate a more equitable arrangement for Iran's mineral wealth. Of course, the Western Powers were not prepared to put up with that kind of insolence, and so Mossadegh had to go.

And today we see an analogous situation playing out here -- it is only that the players have changed. Just as BP was able to exploit Iran's natural mineral resources to generate enormous profits while paying only a pittance back to the Iranian people, today our largest companies are able to exploit America's system of legal rights and property protection (and, of course, its omnipresent military force) to generate enormous profits while paying only a pittance back into that system itself.

I wonder just how far this analogy can be stretched. When the Iranian people, through their democratically elected leader, called for a fairer deal, the more powerful Western governments shot them down and eliminated that leader. What would happen here, do you think? If the American people, through their democratically elected leaders, called for a fairer shake from our corporate overlords, d'you think those corporate overlords would be able to mount a political coup?

In the wake of Citizens United, I'd venture to say "yes." That's probably why it is so difficult to get any of our democratically elected leaders to talk about this.

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