Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Framing and Shaking

My comment, reposted from the Faith and Leadership site:


This may be beside the point of why the link was posted, but I object to the way the AIG bonus problem is being characterized. The Columbia professor takes a significant ethical failure and treats it as a PR challenge.

Part of the problem is that Wall Street has a different understanding of the word “bonus” than normal people do. (By “normal people” I mean honest taxpayers. In fact Wall Street categorizes a portion of salary as “bonus” to help them weasel out of paying their full share of income taxes.) The public outcry is due to the perception that AIG managers are being rewarded for massive failure, a failure for which “normal people” are picking up the tab.

The argument that we have to pay AIG employees handsomely so they’ll stick around to undo the mess they made, the mess that only they can straighten out – well, now it feels like they’re not simply cheating me, they’re shaking me down.

Business schools’ reputation has taken a beating this year, and I don’t believe this essay does anything to improve that.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Paul Harvey

Paul Harvey died the other day. He was an occasional companion who insinuated himself into my affections when I was a kid; I think of his voice coming out of a car radio, me in the back seat riding with my parents. An obituary (which I can’t seem to find right now) quoted a radio industry personage marveling at Harvey’s gift for and mastery of the medium, which sounds right, come to think of it. His “and now you know... the REST of the story” audio essays were miniature classics of a kind, corny and unfashionable but hard to resist, the spoken-word equivalent of a Norman Rockwell painting or an Irving Berlin song.

The obituary also included the eye-popping statement that Harvey received a contract extension for 10 years and $100 million at the ripe age of 82.

The news of Harvey’s death put me in mind of the Bose Wave Radio, for years a faithful sponsor of Harvey’s show. My brother, a musician and audiophile, has a well-rehearsed screed about the Bose radio: about what a fraud has been perpetrated on the American public by Madison Avenue to entice any of us to spend $700 or whatever on a slightly souped-up clock radio. Our father, normally a parsimonious fellow, succumbed and bought a Bose several years ago, and goosed his younger son’s blood pressure about 20 points. The solid-state amp and hand-built speakers that we heard growing up are still in fine shape, gathering dust in Dad’s rec room. He mostly listens to that little white plastic box, the Bose Wave Radio.

Over the years, to my knowledge, Bose has had two main advertising venues: Parade magazine and the Paul Harvey show. I never give either of these much thought, yet they’re as ubiquitous in America as high-fructose corn syrup. For years, both have been welcome if unobtrusive presences in the homes and hearts of white middle America. Both have a distinctly conservative political bent, but sweetened so the audience hardly notices. But white middle America is a declining demographic. Paul Harvey and his show are gone (he was sui generis; the franchise definitely dies with him), and I imagine Parade is endangered, since its fate is tied to that of print newspapers. Both were commercial powerhouses in their day. That day is ending.