Do-overs are all the rage. President Obama and Chief Justice Roberts did it with the presidential oath of office. Yo-Yo Ma and Ishtak Perlman did it, in a backwards way, by string-syncing their inauguration performance to their pre-recorded tape. John Thain, formerly the CEO of Merrill Lynch, did it with his office, which must have been in terrible shape since the do-over cost $1.22 million.
Inspired, I embarked on an office do-over of my own last weekend. I went to Lowe’s. The final bill was about $167.89 for a couple of “real simple” bookcases and a new desk chair (the wheels had come off my venerable Ikea chair, a hold-over from the last century; please resist the urge to see a Meaningful Metaphor here!). Oh, and one of those flat plastic thingies that the chair wheels around on (or, as grammatically correct Justice Roberts might say, on which the chair wheels around…)
Don’t worry, I didn’t spend a dime of Trinity’s money on this shopping spree. In fact, I haven’t spent a dime of Trinity’s money on my office in 20 years of occupancy (and some would say, “It shows.”) I don’t believe in spending student tuition dollars on things that would make me more comfortable — heck, only reluctantly will I spend my own money for that reason! But the fear of impalement on the lopsided broken-wheeled chair finally forced my hand.
I was thinking, as I screwed together the metal rods of the bookcases, that I could teach John Thain how to do useful work now that he’s out of a job. Here’s a man who, last year, spent $1.2 million redecorating his office even as his company was crashing and burning around him. I guess he needed a $1400 trashcan to hold the ashes. He paid $87,000 for a pair of chairs; this is a man who truly needs my introduction to the Ikea “As Is” room!
Thain’s spending spree shamefully epitomizes the era of unrestrained greed that inflated the economic bubble whose spectacular explosion now drenches all of us in its toxic recessionary rain. This is the kind of childish, selfish acquisitiveness that President Obama called his fellow citizens to abandon in his inaugural speech.
New York Times columnist Frank Rich neatly parsed Obama’s speech in light of the grasping greed of too many corporate ceos and clueless subprime mortgagees during the last decade. Rich wrote on Sunday, “…there’s a reason that this speech [Obama's inaugural] was austere, not pretty. Form followed content. Obama wasn’t just rebuking the outgoing administration. He was delicately but unmistakably calling out the rest of us who went along for the ride as America swerved into the dangerous place we find ourselves now. Feckless as it was for Bush to ask Americans to go shopping after 9/11, we all too enthusiastically followed his lead, whether we were wealthy, working-class or in between. We spent a decade feasting on easy money, don’t-pay-as-you-go consumerism and a metastasizing celebrity culture. We did so while a supposedly cost-free, off-the-books war, usually out of sight and out of mind, helped break the bank along with our nation’s spirit and reputation. We can’t keep blaming 43 for everything, especially now that we don’t have him to kick around anymore. On Tuesday the new president pointedly widened his indictment beyond the sins of his predecessor. He spoke of those at the economic pinnacle who embraced greed and irresponsibility as well as the rest of us who collaborated in our “collective failure to make hard choices.”
Yesterday, on January 26, 2009, more than 75,000 Americans lost their jobs as company after company announced layoffs in the wake of abysmal fourth quarter financial reports.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration had to bring extraordinary pressure to bear on clueless Citigroup executives to scrap plans to spend $50 million on a new corporate jet. These same execs thought nothing of taking $50 BILLION in bailout dollars — not monopoly money, but real dollars that come from us, the taxpayers of this nation.
See the CBS report on YouTube.
What were they thinking? What’s wrong with these guys? Corporate America needs a complete do-over — an overhaul of its values, priorities and commitment to the common good of this nation. Nobody’s posterior needs an $87,000 seat.