Hot Air, Stuffed Turkeys, and the CEOs’ Hansel-and-Gretel Feast

Richard Eskow

Macy’s is sponsoring a big holiday-season event in which empty but glittery baubles are filled with hot air and sent heavenward, then dragged through the streets before cheering and unthinking crowds. You can’t miss it: Breathless reporters will devote massive amounts of air and print time to this trivial and meaningless Macy’s spectacle.

They sponsor a parade too.

TheThanksgiving Day Parade has been taking place for 86 years and is generally considered a harmless and fun (if increasingly materialistic) way to publicize the store. But this year Macy’s is putting its corporate resources behind another overhyped and over-reported spectacle – one that’s not harmless at all. Under the leadership of Macy’s CEO Terry J. Lundgren, the retail chain is participating in a cynical and self-interest “Fix the Deficit” campaign promoted by Lundgren and roughly 80 of his fellow CEOs.

The proclamations of these self-interested and under-informed parties has received even more coverage than the \parade, despite having less content than a pumpep-up balloon. But a statement signed by 350 economists – experts in the field who, unlike these CEOs, have little personal stake in the outcome — has received very little coverage.

These economists understand that the deficit must be addressed at some point, but they unanimously agree that our highest priority today is investment in job creation and economic growth. They know that the best long-term cure for deficits is a growing economy. But that’s not in the interests of the self-serving signatories of that CEO letter, a group which includes some highly-paid executives who wouldn’t be CEOs of anything if the American taxpayers hadn’t bailed them out.

Among them is Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan, whose fraud-riddled and grossly mismanaged megabank wouldn’t exist – and therefore wouldn’t be able to overpay him – if not for a combination of massive Federal bailouts, an indulgent Justice Department, and massive giveaways from the Federal Reserve.

And speaking of the Federal Reserve – that’s the institution designed to serve the public, not the bankers, and yet has richly served the latter while ignoring the rampant unemployment that is half its mandate. That mismanagement is due in large part to a Board of Directors that’s heavily weighted toward the same bankers it so generously rescued, along with big-corporation CEOs like … well, like Terry Lundgren of Macy’s, who’s been on the Federal Reserve Board since September of 2011.

The Macy’s Corporation may soon be remembered more for the political machinations of its CEO than for the wholesome fun of its parades.

The CEOs’ “fix the deficit” campaign is designed to build support for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, along with other destructive reductions to vital government programs. That paves the way for even lower taxes for these CEOs and their mega-corporations. But, as Robert Kuttner notes, if you “fix the debt” you will “destroy the recovery” — a recovery which has yet to reach more than 20 million under- or unemployed Americans, and which has yet to improve the lives of a middle class battered by stagnant wages, underwater mortgages, and increasingly bleak futures for themselves and their children.

And yet the recommendations of those 350 economists continue to go ignored, while the selfish prescriptions of CEOs like Lundgren get more press coverage that an inflated Spiderman doll on Fifth Avenue. (For a good breakdown of this absurd missive, see Felix Salmon: “CEOs self-serving deficit manifesto.” Campaign for America’s Future has a facts page about it. And Americans for Tax Fairness addresses selfishness factor in detail.)

Not to be unkind about it, but who cares what these CEOs think about our fiscal situation, anyway? It doesn’t take economic know-how to become the top dog at a mega-corporation. Sure, it takes ability. Some, like Lundgren, are sales-driven go-getters. Others are like Bank of America’s Moynihan, who previously served as the bank’s top attorney while negotiating the bank’s massive crime spree into a series of shamefully cushy settlement deals. Those deals addressed misdeeds which the bank continued to commit, and were paid for by often-deceived investors rather than by the perps themselves.

That’s a talent, all right — but it’s not one that qualifies you to weigh in on the nation’s problems.

These CEOs aren’t altruistic, either. Take Macy’s: Miriam Krule and Noam Prywes point out that the Macy’s Parade squanders massive amounts of helium (not hot air), and that helium is an important substance whose world supply is expected to be used up in the next forty years or so.

Thanks for ruining a little holiday fun, Miriam and Noam. But we need to know these things – among other things, to be reminded how little the nation’s big-corporate CEOs care about protecting the planet. Their creation, the US Chamber of Commerce, is dedicated to despoiling it so they can continue their unimpeded pursuit of short-term profits.

And now, just in time for Thanksgiving, America’s top CEOs are offering a Hansel-and-Gretel economic menu that would help them stuff their turkeys with even more cash – and featuring you and your future as a side dish. They’re fattening us up with economic proclamations that have about as much gravitas as the squeaky voice of somebody breathing helium.

If we fall for it, we’re the turkeys.

Sure, these CEOs influence the economy – by their executive decisions, and, increasingly, by perverting the political process with campaign cash. Some of them created the very damage we’re trying to recover from today. But that doesn’t make them economic experts, any more than being a professional wrestler makes you an expert in orthopedic surgery.

And yet the real experts are being ignored while the WFF wrestlers of our national economy receive massive media coverage. Why? That goes back to Mr. Lundgren’s real area of expertise: salesmanship. That, along with tens of millions of dollars, will buy you all the coverage you want.

This is a good time to watch the television coverage of that parade and ask yourself which is filled with more hot air – excuse me, helium: the balloons in that parade, or Mr. Lundgren’s self-serving manifesto and those who inflated it until it soared into the holiday skies.

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