Friday, April 24, 2009

The It Can’t Happen to Me World of Big Business

Yesterday in Canada’s biggest city, retired autoworkers from Chrysler and General Motors gathered downtown, and sang and danced, hoping the government would listen to their pleas.

The former autoworkers protested in front of Queen’s Park in downtown Toronto, begging the provincial government to step in and fund their pensions, should either of their former employers go bankrupt.

You’d have to be buried under a really large rock to not know about the global economic crisis, but come on – not another government bailout request – please!

It is horrible when companies let people go and just as bad when companies go bust. However, it isn’t the role of government to consistently pick up the pieces when these things happen.

Governments can – and do – put programs in place to re-train and re-educate people displaced by layoffs. So those comfy middle-class blue collar workers that kept putting the same screw on the same bolt, on the same production line, for the same automaker for over 25-years and don’t know how to do anything anywhere else, they can learn to do something else, somewhere else.

Though one can also argue that those too lazy to learn, develop and grow on their own, to constantly improve themselves, their career and maybe their bank book, brought their own problems onto themselves.

Then again, when you work for a massively large corporation like General Motors, chances are the thought that one day your employer will go bust, leaving you naked in the wind, just doesn’t happen.

It is like working for IBM, Coke-a-Cola, Microsoft or any of a handful of mega-large businesses. Those who work for these companies develop a mindset commonly associated with teenagers. The mindset is: “it can’t happen to me.”

Teenagers are the ultimate risk takers. They are young, energetic, and so far removed from the painful realities of life, that they often think “it can’t happen to me.”

We warn teenagers about – say – the risks of drinking and driving. That it’s not only dangerous to get behind the wheel if you’ve had something to drink, but it’s just as dangerous to get into a vehicle with someone who’s had something to drink.

Still, every year, hundreds of teens across North America die from motor vehicle accidents where alcohol is found to be a contributing factor to the crash.

Most of us outgrow the “it can’t happen to me” mindset as we age. When we’re young and don’t know any better, it really isn’t a good excuse. But when you are an adult and should know better, the “it can’t happen to me” excuse is the weakest one possible.

We all live in the economy, and we all know about its ups and downs. These are not new things.

Our economy has been a cyclic one long before Marx and Engels wrote their manifesto on Communism over 162-years ago. Even if you’ve never read that manifesto – which explains the nature of markets, and supply and demand – just by being alive, you are involved in the market, and should know better than, “it can’t happen to me.”

So, those working for big corporations, despite the constant ups and downs in the global economy, get cozy. And despite seeing their colleagues, friends and maybe even their family suffer, they think: “it can’t happen to me.”

However, “it can’t happen to me” is not an excuse worthy of taxpayer bailouts.

“It can’t happen to me,” would never hold up in a legal court – and certainly not in the court of public opinion – for a drunk driver. So why should we accept it for current or past employees of big businesses that bomb?

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