The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘employees’ Category

CHIPOTLE MEXICAN GRILL

Perhaps I’m one of the few people in America who hasn’t eaten there but I haven’t.  My friends who frequent Chipotle regularly tell me it provides a far better dining experience than its competitors.  And while I enjoy Mexican food, I don’t go out of my way to get it.  Now open a great dim sum restaurant and we’re talking a whole other story.

The genesis for this story has nothing to do with the quality of food or the dining experience at Chipotle.  It has to do with the compensation of the company’s CEO, Steve Ells.  In an advisory vote, the majority of shareholders recommended that the Board not increase Mr. Ells annual compensation to approximately $25 Million.  Apparently, several unions and others who hold the stock in pension plans were responsible for the overwhelming “No” vote.  As shareholders, that is their right and that they exercised their voice is their responsibility.

This story, which has received more coverage on the Huffington Post than the scandal at the VA which apparently has now spread to include eleven separate facilities, also generated far more comments than the second story.  Most of those comments applauded the vote and went on to comment about how CEO’s are overpaid to the detriment of the poor schlub counting out twenties at your local bank or slinging guacamole at your local Chipotle.  I engaged in a conversation with one person who left such a comment.

In response to this individual, I asked, “If $25 million is too high, is $1 a year too low?  If so, what would you consider to be equitable and how would you determine what is fair?”  While I was waiting for him to get back to me, and I still am, I decided to try to look at this situation in as objective manner as I could.

The first thing that occurred to me is that many who have not been in the situation personally can only theorize, if they take the trouble, to understand what it is like first to conceive of a business and then to make that vision turn into a reality.  If they had done this themselves, they might have more respect for those CEO’s whom they denounce.

What if Mr. Ells had never had either the moxie or the good fortune or the work ethic to start this company which now employs 45,000 people?  Where would these individuals be going to work on a daily basis?  In this Obamaconomy where new business start ups are few and established companies are laying off and trimming the fat, would they even have a job or just join the ranks of the gainfully unemployed?

But then I thought, not that it’s my business since I’m not a Chipotle shareholder, what if the company reduced Mr. Ells’ compensation by 90% to $2.5 million a year and the $22.5 million difference was passed along to Chipotle workers in the way of pay increases.  How might that impact their lives?

Well, it would result in a $500 a year annual increase for each of the company’s other employees.  Of course, after they paid Federal income tax, FICA, Medicare Tax and in many cases state income tax, that pay increase would shrink to about $350 per year.  That works out to a little less than $7.00 per week or, based on a forty hour work week, seventeen cents per hour.

Now the people who man those fast food lines at their outlets earn more per hour than the typical fast food restaurant worker who makes minimum wage.  But if we were to apply their percentage increase in earnings attributable to stripping Mr. Ells of 90% of his income, we would not be talking about raising the $7.25 minimum Federal wage to $10.10 per hour but to $7.34 per hour.

There are two other points we should consider.

The first is that should the Board enact the hypothetical pay plan I created and Mr. Ells agreed to work for a 90% smaller salary, it might occur to him to put forth only 10% of the effort that he previously expended in his job.

Instead of opening 100 new outlets this year, he might decide only to go ahead with 10 of those – if any at all.  After all, the company is doing very well so why rock the boat?  Why go through all the trouble of doing site surveys, negotiating leases, overseeing construction, purchasing equipment, interviewing and hiring and training employees and management, negotiating contracts with new wholesale grocers, conducting on-site audits to make sure that these new facilities were meeting high corporate standards?  Why indeed?  That would leave approximately 2700 prospective employees who might have been hired for jobs in the 90 restaurants that were never opened sitting home collecting unemployment – if it hasn’t run out.

The second point is that no one is forced to work at any job they don’t like or want.  In our current Obamaconomy that is more theoretical than real since this administration has not only not encouraged the creation of new businesses, but has done everything possible to make starting a new venture difficult if not impossible.  If we had a vibrant economy, a worker who was dissatisfied with his job could find another one – or even accept a second job if he were so motivated

So if we want to have a debate over the minimum wage, we should focus our attention not on “greedy CEO’s that want their employees to suffer” but to a government which has made sure that they will.  This may be one of the few times that I agree with the president when he said, “You didn’t do that.  Someone else was responsible.”  He’s right – it’s him.

WHINERS

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time you may remember that for a six month period of time I took leave of my executive search business to work as the manager of the fulfillment center for a record company in which I was an investor.  The first responsibility of this assignment was recruiting one hundred individuals who would process orders that we received through our advertising efforts.

While I was comfortable with the interviewing and hiring process from my search business, I realized that there would be a challenge hiring this many people.  These were full time jobs – but they only were going to last for the first quarter of the following year since we did eighty percent of our business in that time period.  Most people either wanted a full time permanent job or were interested in working for only a few days a week.  As a result I realized that although these were relatively low skilled jobs, I would have to offer more than the going wage in order to fill all the openings.

At the time, the minimum wage was $2.60 per hour.  I began hiring people at a rate of $4.50 an hour and after the first wave of applicants were interviewed, I still had sixty openings between the two shifts we were to be open for business.  I continued to advertise and in order to entice additional workers, raised the wages they were offered to $5.00 per hour.  That still left me with thirty open positions.  Finally I hired ten more people at $5.50 per hour.  To fill the remaining openings, I contacted an agency that assisted people who wanted to work but were wheelchair handicapped.  They were able to refer twenty of their clients who accepted positions with us at that final higher rate of pay.

January came and we were, as we expected, extremely busy.  I worked both shifts and moved into a local hotel so that I could oversee the facility’s activities, returning home only for one day after the end of the second Saturday shift.  I continued that until we started gearing down in April.

Several weeks after our busy period began, my assistant informed me that one of the new employees had asked to speak with me.  She showed her into my office.  I asked her how things were going and was pleased that she seemed to enjoy the work.  However, she did have a question.

If you’ve ever worked in an office environment then you know that the matter of who is making how much is information that employees ferret out from one another in no time.  That was what had happened in this woman’s case and was the reason she had requested to see me.

As it turned out, she was one of the few employees who had been hired at the highest rate – and she had discovered that many of her co-workers who were hired before she signed on were earning a lesser amount.  She had come in to let me know that she felt that was “wrong.”

I explained how I had begun hiring at one rate and the people who had accepted employment at that rate apparently felt that salary was fair or they would not have accepted the position.  I certainly had no ability to coerce them into taking the position – that came about as a voluntary decision on their part.

This woman went on to say that, “she didn’t feel it was right that she was making more money than others for doing the same work they were doing.”  We went back and forth on this for about ten minutes and I could see that I was making no headway in changing her opinion.  So I said, “You know, I can appreciate what you’re saying and I certainly don’t want to create an atmosphere where any of my employees feels uncomfortable.  In order to resolve this, would you feel better about working here if I reduced your hourly rate from $5.50 to $4.50 per hour?”  She responded that would not be something she wanted and she went back to work.  I never heard anything more about wages from this employee.

Perhaps this employee was just ahead of her time.  Like so many people of her mindset, she had the highest ideals and wanted justice for all – until it affected her personally.  If she is still alive today, I’m sure she would applaud a decision by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights requiring that a high school in Canton, Michigan remove the bleachers that parents installed on the boys baseball field because they are of a “higher standard” than the bleachers in the girls softball field.  This came about after an anonymous complaint alerted the Feds to this horrific situation.

The fact that the material and labor for the bleachers was paid for and contributed by parents did not matter to the DOE.  They were consumed with the lack of parity between the two fields and the fact that the girls field was not as nice as the boys field after it was renovated.  I can’t help wonder if it were the girls parents who had installed new bleachers and someone had filed an anonymous complaint about the boys field whether they would have taken the same action.  But that is a matter of nothing more than conjecture.  As is the question of why the parents of girls on the softball team, were they similarly offended, didn’t make the same effort to upgrade their children’s playing field.

We live in an age, encouraged through government fiat, of finger pointing.  Rather than attempt to find ways that we can improve our own situation, we waste our time looking at those who have more than we have and shout, “unfair.”  Somehow we look at tearing down others and feel empowered if we can find a government agency who will make their lives difficult and perhaps precipitate their downfall.  That is incredibly pathetic.

By the way, if you remember back to those last twenty employees who were handicapped, when I hired them I realized that it would be difficult if not impossible for them to work for me because there were, at the time, no handicapped accessible facility requirements that were mandated and the way our warehouse was constructed, they would have had no access.  I did find a solution for this issue.

I was able to find a steel ramp which we put in place when their bus arrived and removed when they were all inside.  We repeated the process when they left after their shift ended.  I didn’t need a government regulation to figure this out – just common sense.

But the truth of the matter is that if I wanted to hire these people today, I’m sure that the federal government would not accept my very workable solution and would have prevented me from hiring them – and most likely would have demanded that until I retrofitted the entire entrance I would have to shut down – thus eliminating the positions not only of our handicapped employees but all my other employees as well.

To paraphrase an old expression, “Whiners never quit.”  But in today’s climate and culture, there is no dearth of government bureaucrats willing to listen to their complaints.  America, what a country.

HOW TO SETTLE THE MINIMUM WAGE DEBATE – ONCE AND FOR ALL

In today’s press conference, President Obama said Republican opposition to Obamacare is mean-spirited and stems from the core of the Republican philosophy which willfully tries to deprive thirty million Americans of health insurance.  In other words, they are nasty people who are selfish and have only their own interests at heart.

In contrast, that would lead one to believe that liberals who hold a diametrically opposed opinion are just the opposite – warm, caring, loving people who want the best for all of us.  Well, let’s run with that theory and see how it impacts one discussion that is currently on our radar screen – the Federal minimum wage.

The recent strikes by McDonald’s workers over their wages and the statements that the company itself has made “that they don’t know how people can support a family at the minimum wage rate of pay” have fueled this discussion.  Certain of our concerned liberal friends have suggested raising the Federal minimum wage from the present $7.25 per hour to as much as $12.50.  I believe these people are missing the point entirely.

The Federal guidelines prepared by HHS show that a household of four, (in the old days they described these as a family of four), would need an income of greater than $23,550 per year in order to avoid being classified at poverty level standing.  An increase in the minimum wage to $12.50 would put the bread winner at an income of only $26,000 per year – assuming a forty hour work week.  That is just 11% over the poverty level.

Is this the American dream that our liberal friends have in mind for our minimum wage workers?

If we really want to inspire people to get to work and feel fulfilled in their chosen vocation, I believe we need a greater incentive than barely exceeding the poverty level to get people on board.  Therefore, I suggest that we raise the Federal minimum wage to no less than $50.00 per hour.  And if we really want to make an impact then we should make it retroactive say back to 2009 when the Chump in Charge first took office.

Consider the benefits we would gain by doing this.

First, we would give incentives to people who currently can enjoy unemployment benefits for 99 weeks to get off their duffs and go out and look for work.  The savings in reducing the number of unemployed people might just pay for this program in and of itself.

Second, those pesky foreigners who are willing to work at low pay, taking the jobs that Americans spurn as being beneath them, would be put out of the market and would probably go home.  This will save us countless hours of loud and cacophonous debate over immigration reform which will probably be too confusing to listen to anyway and just might interfere with our schedule of viewing reality television.

Third, (and I admit this is my favorite), there wouldn’t be a single fast food restaurant left open in America which just might cause us all to learn how to cook more nutritious food and, in the end, would save us from the self-inflicted diseases which our poor food choices bring upon us – thus bailing out our healthcare system.

Who says that conservatives don’t have a full supply of largesse running through our veins?

SO, HOW MUCH DOES HAVING NO JOB PAY PER HOUR?

In just a few short months I will be celebrating my 30th anniversary – of not setting foot inside or eating the food prepared at McDonald’s.  The actual date is December 18th.  While it used to be an off again on again place for me to get something to eat, I really can’t say that I have missed it – in the least.

When I was a college student it was sort of the norm to grab a bite there from time to time.  I never felt that the food was exceptional – or even really good – but it was fast and it was cheap.  I imagine it’s still fast but from the reports I’ve gotten, eating at Mickey D’s. or most of its competitors is now getting rather pricey.

Well, the point of this post is not to critique the value or quality of food at our fast food chain outlets.  Rather, it is to discuss the economics of being in the fast food business.

Ray Kroc was a genius.  He realized that by taking simple products like burgers, fries and shakes and standardizing their preparation, he could teach virtually anyone how to prepare an order for a customer.  The genius that Mr. Kroc had was that he developed a system – and that system could be duplicated, over and over and over again.

There was a part of the system which was essential for the delivery of a fast and inexpensive meal.  That was inexpensive help.  Fortunately, there was no lack of supply of poorly skilled workers available who relished the idea of a job – at any hourly wage – and who flocked through the doors of McDonald’s’ franchisees to apply.

A lot of these early employees were high school students who were looking to save some money for college or for other purchases they had in mind.  But a lot of these fast food employees were people who had so few skills that their work options were limited.  They found a home in various fast food company outlets, flipping burgers, salting fries and pouring drinks.

Perhaps you read that there has been a strike at various McDonald’s in NYC and other locations throughout the country.  The minimum wage workers are demanding an increase in their salaries – in some cases to double what they are presently being paid.

Now I’m not going to bore you with the old economists’ arguments about whether raising the minimum wage actually helps or hurts the employee.   (There is an immediate escalation in income combined with a consequent reduction in the number of workers as companies find ways to automate jobs formerly held by humans).  But let’s look for a moment at the fast food industry and how, should the strikers’ demands be met, management might counter.

The best statistic that I can garner is that there are presently about 160,000 fast food outlets in the country.  These include familiar brands like Wendy’s; Burger King; Starbucks; Taco Bell, ad infinitum.  That’s a lot of real estate and a lot of food.  In fact, according to the industry trade association, one out of six of us visits one of these outlets each and every day.  It’s an industry projected to have revenues approaching 200 Billion dollars this year.

Now you would imagine that a business that cumulatively employs people at 160,000 locations would employ a lot of people – and you would be correct.  But the number of outlets/number of employees is a bit misleading.  You see, quite a few of them are open 24/7 (at least for drive through purchases) and virtually all of them have two shifts of workers per day.

So for sake of discussion, let’s assume that there are 300,000 people who, on a daily basis are engaged in one single activity – taking orders.  (If you’ve been inside a fast food restaurant you know that there are usually several people doing this – plus one dedicated to the drive through window – so this number is ridiculously low).

What, other than saying, “Hello and welcome to X” does this person do that a machine cannot do (with the assistance of a little customer input)?  Absolutely nothing.

We have long been acclimated to using ATM’s for our financial transactions.  It took us a little while to get used to them but we did it.  Now, punching in our PIN and waiting to deposit our check or receive our withdrawal is a normal part of life.  Those machines replaced tens of thousands of tellers across the country.

There is absolutely no reason that the fast food industry could not implement the same sort of ATM-like equipment to accept orders and voìla – 300,000 jobs (again this is an incredibly low estimate) have just disappeared.

Think about the savings.   No payment of FICA, FUTA, health insurance or all the other things that are peripheral costs to the employee’s actual salary.  That machine is never going to file a Worker’s Comp or Unemployment claim.  It’s never going to ask for a day off or expect pay for an earned vacation.

I suspect that the cost of converting this function and purchasing the equipment  could be recovered in one year’s time or less.  And any businessman knows that is a good investment.

So when Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and all those minimum wage workers hold their banners high, demanding a hike in their wages, they might want to give some consideration not to the rhetoric but to the possibilities which may lay ahead.

There is something else I would call to their attention.  The “Emancipation Proclamation” freed the country from the bonds of slavery.  There are no indentured servants or slaves working at our fast food restaurants.  People work there because of their own choice – not because someone is threatening their life or the lives of their families.  If they can find a position at twice their present wages, I would be the first to encourage them to accept that better job.

But to those who are sympathetic to the workers’ plight I would like to offer a suggestion that would help out the person who takes your order and will, at the same time, assuage your conscience.

Leave them a tip as an expression of your concern and gratitude.

FINDING A JOB

During the twenty-five years I was in the executive search business, I read a lot of resumés.  I’m guessing the number could have been close to one hundred thousand or so.  As a result, I know a little bit about resumés and resumé writing.

Of course, this was back in the days when people committed their thoughts to paper, typed or “word processed” them with only a limited benefit from “spell check” and then folded this vital document, placed it in an envelope, used the USPS to deliver it and then hoped that the recipient would actually care about the contents of their communication.

People generally share the opinion that writing a good resumé will get you a good job.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  But I can assure you that writing a poor resumé will result in your never being called for an interview for that good position.  Allow me to explain.

My normal efforts to recruit for a specific position were to use contacts with whom I had a good relationship and work through a referral network to identify appropriate candidates for a position vacancy.  Sometimes those efforts would come up short and I would run a “Blind Box Ad” in the “Chicago Tribune” to bring in a new field of potential candidates.

During times of economic prosperity, an ad would generally yield about two hundred responses.  During bad economic times, the number of responses might be three to four times that great.  In either case that was a lot of reading.

If I did nothing but read all these responses thoroughly, I would have had no time to address myself to the ongoing management of my business.  So I developed a system for sorting through this correspondence  to minimize my time devoted to reading them.

I thought of it as the “Goldilocks System”.

My essential view of resumés is that they bear a lot of similarity to a striptease.  They should whet the appetite – but not necessarily be all-revealing.  That is the purpose of a personal interview.  So those resumés which were sent to us that were as heavy as the first volume of The Encyclopedia Britannica normally went directly into the circular file without being opened.

On the other hand, there needs to be enough material for the person reading the resumé to make some sort of judgment about the individual’s background  to decide whether to call him in for an interview.  So those resumés which were so light on information that it was impossible to make a reasoned evaluation were also sent into the wastebasket.

This process reduced the number of resumés by at least thirty percent – which still left a daunting number to be reviewed.

Then I applied the “Precision Factor”.  Those resumés in which I found typographical mistakes (sometimes including the misspelling of the name of their current or previous employers) met the same fate as those which failed my first two sorts.

We were dealing with financial personnel and my logic for giving these resumés a failing grade was that if a person were not correctly able to spell the name of the company that wrote his paycheck, what kind of work product would he deliver in dealing with a corporation’s finances?

I was raised in an era in which we were taught grammar and spelling.  Perhaps it is a personal bugaboo but I still believe that accuracy and attention to detail matter.  (This is one reason that my two year stint working for government resulted in my starting my own business.  It drove me crazy watching slip shod, sloppy work pass for a quality product).

At last I was down to the serious business of actually reading and “vetting” the remaining candidates.  I only wanted to interview and submit to our client those candidates who had the capability to discharge the duties of their new position in an effective manner.  I did not want to waste my client’s time by referring people to them who were not appropriate and I had a sense of professional pride in being able to sort the wheat from the chaff.  After all, that’s why my clients had hired me in the first place.

It is within the context of reviewing candidates’ credentials that I began reflecting on the results of the Presidential election of a few days past.  I wondered what sort of an ad I would write were I retained to fill that position and I came up with the following:

OPENING FOR PRESIDENT OF A MAJOR COUNTRY

Our country is in need of a new leader to replace our CEO.  The individual we select will have shown a proven ability to be a problem solver, work with a diverse group of individuals, arrive at simple, effective solutions to complex issues, and will have demonstrated a successful track record throughout his or her professional career. 

Our culture requires a person who has a firm grasp of economic, social and foreign issues and will be able to reach out to our diverse citizen base in an inclusive manner.  A strict adherence to our fundamental governing document, our Constitution, is required.

For consideration, please submit your resumé to the citizens of the United States of America.

Perhaps before the general election in 2016, we can offer a crash course to our voters on how to read and evaluate a resumé.  It might produce a better result for all of us.

Certainly, we could do no worse.

RICHARD HAYES SPEAKS (AND WE SHOULD LISTEN)

Perhaps the name Richard Hayes doesn’t ring a bell with you.  No doubt in the next few days that will change.  Mr. Hayes is a Sanitary Engineer (garbage collector) who apparently works on the route that includes Mitt Romney’s house in San Diego.

AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) has produced a new attack ad featuring this gentlemen.  The copy reads:

“My name is Richard Hayes, and I pick up Mitt Romney’s trash.  We’re kind of like the invisible people, you know. He doesn’t realize, you know, that the service we provide, you know, if it wasn’t for us, you know, it would be a big health issue, us not picking up trash.”

“Picking up 15, 16 tons by hand, you know that takes a toll on your body.  When I’m 55, 60 years old, I know my body’s going to be break down. Mitt Romney doesn’t care about that.”

I’m not quite sure what the thinking was that AFSCME employed in creating this ad using one of their members.  I know that the going rate for salaries for people in Mr. Hayes’ profession range nationally between about $35,000 – $55,000 per year, depending on the area.  So Mr. Hayes would be required under Federal Law to file an income tax return and presumably pay some amount of Federal Tax to the Treasury.  Thus, he is one of the 53%  – not the 47% that Mr. Romney described as “committed to voting for the President,” – although I think that might well be his intent.

Perhaps we’ll find a little more about their thinking later as there are apparently two additional ads which are forthcoming – I presume with the same theme.  And what is that theme?  Mitt Romney is an insensitive, uncaring SOB who is out to rape the poor of the last dime of their entitlement dollars.

In truth, I wouldn’t want Mr. Hayes’ job if it paid three times the amount he earns performing his duties.  And I probably don’t have the physique to be able to discharge his responsibilities in a satisfactory manner.  I believe he makes a valid point about the potential health threat if he and his fellows were to walk off the job.  In fact, it was exactly for reasons of public safety that Sanitary Engineers in several major cities were ordered to cease and desist from the strikes on which they embarked during the last several decades.  On this point he is absolutely correct.

Furthermore, I believe his statement about having a broken body when he is older is also probably true, unfortunately.  We have seen the relatively short professional life spans of NFL players due to on-the-job related injuries, including brain traumas.  At least pro football players receive significant compensation for risking their bodies and their futures – a risk that I’m sure they evaluated before they made the decision to play the game.

Perhaps it is ironic but today, when I first saw this ad, it happened to be one of the semi-weekly garbage collection days in my neighborhood.  What is more ironic is that I actually had something at the curb to be picked up.  I had managed to accumulate one half of a medium-sized garbage can and had it out and waiting for the crew.  That was the first time I had placed any refuse outside in five pick ups.

I work diligently to buy things with minimum packaging and to recycle and compost as much as I possibly can – for environmental reasons.  The fact that this makes life easier for Mr. Hayes’ fellow Sanitary Engineers here in Las Vegas is a definite plus.  To me they are not invisible – as I always remember them with some homemade preserves during the Holidays and frequently offer them a cold beverage in the summer heat.

But let’s return to the point of the commercial – that Mr. Romney must be a hard-hearted and uncaring person because he doesn’t have an intimate relationship with those who provide scavenger service at his various residences.

Is there any reasonable person out there who believes that Madonna, Warren Buffett, Lady Gaga, Tiger Woods, Lee Saunders (the President of AFSCME who just won election over a reform candidate who pledged to reduce the salaries of the union’s top honchos), or Presidents Clinton or Obama are on a first name basis with those who provide the same service to them?  Let’s get real people.  I doubt that any of those I have named even knows when their garbage is collected.

However, despite the main thrust of the ad at disparaging Mr. Romney, there is an important lesson to be learned from it.  That is with regard to Mr. Hayes and all the others whom he believes have been “dismissed” by Mr. Romney.

If you’ve been a reader for several months you may remember that at one point in my life I had my own executive search and temporary help business.  The search business dealt with mid to upper management white collar individuals and the primary focus of the temp business was on support staff for people who held mid-level corporate positions.

Although I would be hard pressed to document it, I am guessing that during my twenty-six years in that business, I interviewed no less than ten thousand people, both for our clients and for my own staff.  After the first thousand or so, if I say so myself, I became pretty good at interviewing.

Now, if I as an interviewer were to review Mr. Hayes’ statement (transcribed exactly as it appeared on Yahoo News) as his introduction to our firm, I would give him the courtesy of a cursory interview, because I believe that we ought always to be courteous, but I would never have considered him for any positions which we had available.  I would probably have recommended that he would have better opportunities if he were to apply to a firm specializing in people who had greater numbers of job openings for which he might qualify – a firm such as Manpower or other day labor temporary help agencies.

This would not have been a dismissal of Mr. Hayes as a human being.  Rather, it would be a realization that the gentleman had either received or chosen to accept only a very limited and probably not very good education.  His speech told me that without needing to review his application.  I know because I have taken my time to interview many Mr. Hayes’ – and if I doubted that assessment I would only have had to look at their applications to confirm my conclusions.  I guarantee that basic words which we use every day would have been misspelled and that the handwriting would have been difficult to read.  I’ve seen it hundreds of times.

Does that make Mr. Hayes an “unimportant” human being?  I don’t believe that any of us has the right to make that sort of assertion about anyone.  But it does make him a poorly educated one – a man with few employable skills.  That is most likely the reason that he is doing the work he is doing – not because Mitt Romney “looks down on him” or has “dismissed” him.

There is a lesson we should all take from Mr. Hayes and all the other Mr. and Ms. Hayes’ in America.

Fundamental to our problems in America is that the quality of education for which we were once renowned has fallen – and it’s fallen dramatically.

We are willing to give movie stars and professional athletes millions of dollars a year to entertain us, paying them directly through the money we spend on tickets.  But we are not willing to recognize those gifted teachers who are educating the next generation by offering them incentive raises based on the quality of the work they provide.  That is because we apparently, as a nation, consider entertainment far more vital than education.  Could this be one of the reasons that so many American jobs have moved overseas to be done by workers who were better educated than our own?

I think that Mr. Romney is too much of a gentleman to “retaliate” with a similarly negative ad to the ones that AFSCME has produced.  But I can’t help but wonder what someone riding the garbage truck that services the White House would have to say to him, should he encounter President Obama.  That is, if the President weren’t attending to important matters of state on the golf course.

YOU DIDN’T BUILD THAT – (BUT YOU PAID FOR IT)

First we had nature – she gave us cowslips;

Then we had President Obama’s election – he gave us pink slips;

And now the President has created his very own special brand of gaffes which I have named in his honor, Obamaslips.

“You didn’t build that,” has now become a household phrase in the vocabulary of everyone who believes the President’s greatest achievement after nearly four years in office has been to make former President Jimmy Carter look good.

But let’s take the man at his word (great leap of faith required here) and say that this comment was taken completely out of context.  I can almost buy into that since I’ve been listening to the President’s attack ads and I believe his staff has mastered this technique and knows what “out of context” is all about.

Okay, what the President was really saying was, “Small business people didn’t build the infrastructure which enables them to engage in their livelihoods.”  By the way, it also enables all the rest of us who expect to see water when we turn on the faucet or flush the toilet; expect that when we drive we are going to be able to cross bridges that are safe and roads that don’t have pot holes; and when we flip on the magic light switch, we expect to find our rooms and our lives lighting up.  We didn’t build those either.

Well, by building the infrastructure I mean we didn’t (or most of us didn’t) go out and pick up an axe or a shovel and start the process that once represented the greatest achievement seen on earth since the Romans.  No, we didn’t physically build it – but we paid for it to be built.  That is true of the person who works for someone as well as for the owner of a small business.

When I bought the house in Las Vegas in 2001 it came with a separate special present.  That was a bill for the infrastructure that had to be built as the city spread out further and further from the Strip.  The City advanced the money in order for this to be completed.  But the ultimate cost of funding it was borne by the individual homeowner or rental apartment building or the person who took the chance to construct a small shopping mall so that your favorite fast food restaurant was only a short drive away.

As I recall, this originally amounted to about $8,000 for my house, but I don’t know the exact number as I wasn’t the original owner.  By the time I inherited this bill it was down to a little over $6,000 – and while the City had floated a revenue bond and was paying interest of 4.5%, the homeowner was being charged 8% on the outstanding balance.  (It’s kind of like big bank borrowing/lending – but not as profitable).

Well I paid off the balance since it was hard to get a guaranteed return of 8%, but I always wondered, how much competitive bidding went into this infrastructure build out?  After all, if you’re going to pass the costs along to a third party who has no say in the matter, does it really concern you whether you’re getting the best workmanship at the best price since someone else is paying for it?  But that’s a conversation for another time.

Let’s get back to the fantastic highway system that President Eisenhower constructed, connecting us from east to west and north to south.  This was a project that was admittedly undertaken by the Federal government and not by small businessmen (or any of the rest of us).  It was one of the great American achievements of the 20th century.  But where did the money for this project come from – and how was it paid for?

Well, the part of the equation that President Obama doesn’t understand and I suspect never will is that the American taxpayer may not have been out digging ditches or operating heavy equipment to move boulders and mountains, but we, each of us paid for it with our tax dollars.  And more than anyone, small businesses contributed the most to this enterprise.

The decades of the 1950’s through the 1980’s saw an explosion in the number of small mom and pop, entrepreneurial business come into being.  They couldn’t have existed before the interstate highway system was developed.  But they could exist and thrive once that system was in place.

As they grew, they paid more and more taxes because they earned more and more income.  And their numbers grew and they hired more people to work in their roadside fruit and vegetable stand or at the little gas station that they had opened.  And the economy exploded into one of the greatest periods of prosperity in the history of our country.

That highway system paid great dividends – and people realized the benefit that they had received and were happy to pay taxes for something which had given them an opportunity for a new and better way of life.  Respect for those in Washington was probably at the highest level since George Washington was in office.

Today we find ourselves with a group of political Aristocrats who exhibit, with few exceptions, none of the greatness and little of the pride that was widespread and commonplace among our legislators and presidents of fifty years ago.  We find small-minded people, bickering over who is most deserving of the best and biggest piece of meat to be carved from the still barely breathing wounded animal.  So absorbed in their petty fighting, they do not see that the buzzards are circling overhead what soon will be merely a carcass.  And the buzzards will strip it to the bone.

I guess what President Obama said is in fact true – “We didn’t build that.”  But if we continue to elect men and women to public office with miniscule mindsets and self-serving petty agendas, “We will all pay for it.”  And the price will be dear.

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