the politics of greed

A specter slate of numbers is haunting teh internets. Thus “Going for Broke – Will Legislate For Food”, posted on 4 July 2011 by gmyers2112, purports to illustrate the “Ratio of Pay CEO : Avg Worker” in several countries:


Regrettably, in an ongoing discussion, the blogger credits “the entrails of a still born calf” as his source of information. Thankfully, another prolific replicator is more forthcoming:


In “The Real American Exceptionalism”, posted on 18 April 2011, David Morris credits this substantially similar chart, purporting to illustrate the “Multiplier of CEO Pay to Average Worker Pay”, to a Management 510 class presentation, given at Louisiana Tech University on 17 November 2005 by Adam Choate, Dana Rowzee, and Jerrod Tinsley. The numbers quoted by Choate, Rowzee, and Tinsley are identical to those posted by gmyers2112, and likewise unsourced.

Another set of international pay ratios was assembled under the heading of “Growing Sense Of Outrage Over Executive Pay” by Heather Landy for The Washington Post on 15 November 2008. Restricting her analysis to S&P 500 CEOs, Landy tallies the ratios of their pay to the average wage of the American worker, as 42:1 in 1980; 107:1 in 1990; 525:1 in 2000; 364:1 in 2006; and 344:1 in 2007. But her international comparisons are far from the foregoing:

How American CEOs Compare With CEOs in Other Countries: “a 2005 analysis of the ratio of CEO compensation to the pay of production workers in the manufacturing sector showed U.S. chief executives taking a clear lead”:

  • Australia: 15.6;
  • Belgium: 18;
  • Canada: 23.1;
  • France: 22.8;
  • Germany: 20.1;
  • Italy: 25.9;
  • Japan: 10.8;
  • New Zealand: 24.9;
  • Spain: 17.2;
  • Switzerland: 19.3;
  • Britain: 31.8;
  • United Slates: 39.

Landy’s charts suggest that Choate, Rowzee, and Tinsley were comparing the ratio of pay between celebrity chief executives of the U.S. S&P 500, to their garden variety counterparts abroad. This contrast makes as little sense as singling out Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as model U.S. actor representatives in international income comparisons biased towards bit players world-wide.

More to the point, on 6 October 2011, Business Insider reported that the U.S is the #39 most unequal country in the world, based on the CIA compilation of Gini coefficients. The U.S. has more income inequality than Russia (#51) and China (#52). It ranks far worse than Portugal (#71), which rates as the worst in Western Europe. In consolation, the adjoining list of “The 16 Most Creative Countries In The World”, based on a recently released study by the Martin Prosperity Institute, counts United States as #2, right below Sweden counted as #1, replicating its achievement of the most egalitarian distribution of family incomes in the aforementioned ranking. In so far as these metrics are equally credible, creativity needn’t depend upon, or be stymied by, inequality. To complicate matters further, according to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and The Washington Post, 52% of American respondents say that it is incorrect to think of the country as divided between “haves” and “have-nots”, while only 45% say that it is divided this way. Thus a solid majority of U.S. citizens is turning a blind eye to the facts of its ostensible disenfranchisement.

One reason for this blindness is the effect of institutionalized ambitions. Twelve years ago, Ted Ownby identified the American dreams of unbounded consumption, shared by the poorest black Mississippians. They craved an abundance of freely chosen and perpetually renewed material goods, shared regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or class. They claimed the right to fashion individual life styles unconstrained by meddlesome standards of their social betters. In the context of such cravings and claims, economic inequality becomes ambivalent. For dedicated consumers, the availability of the 475:1 earnings ratio is a true inspiration. For dissidents nursing spiritual notions, what reason could there be to obsess about it? As our unalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness vest in the humble toiler, so they do in the rapacious one percenter. To socially responsible entreaties of moderation, the American consumer puts forth an irresistible retort: “Can you let me go to Hell the way I want to?”

The perdurance of American Dreams tends to frame the protests sweeping across our nation as still-born ramblings of discombobulated malcontents. After failing to anticipate the Arab nations moving from stability to turmoil, our beleaguered POTUS is attempting to surf the wave of protests sweeping suddenly across the nation. Yet this is the same Chief Executive who has received more money from Wall Street than any other politician of his generation; who publicly declined to begrudge the bonuses of Wall Street bigwigs; and who now depends on their largesse for a third of his reelection campaign contributions. It is tempting to hope for a politically effective counterpart to the Tea Party emerging from the American Left. Regrettably, this hope will not be realized by the occupiers of Wall Street.

selected mementoes of true love responding to hard-earned cash

    A recent Wikipedia controversy concerns claims of Blixa Bargeld, the leader of pop music ensemble Einstürzende Neubauten, having married Erin Zhu for money that she earned under her father and ex-boyfriend Min Zhu, thoroughly degraded in the wake of his recent banishment as an executive and director of WebEx, an Internet conferencing company that he had co-founded. The attached emails shed light on these events.
    At the time these emails were written, Erin Zhu described Michael Zeleny to all and sundry as her best friend, encouraged him to read her amorous correspondence, and sought out his advice in connection with wooing her illustrious beloved. Copies of these emails remain on file as public record. They can be found in the Santa Clara Superior Court case files of Zeleny v. Zhu & WebEx, Zelyony v. Zhu, and Affeld v. Zhu, all settled by the defendants in 2004. Erin Zhu has authenticated them under oath in her depositions taken in these cases.


Erin Zhu and Blixa Bargeld

    Erin’s narratives lend themselves to fascinating sound bites that shed light on the juncture between victimology and starfucking:

I was not born and raised a nice girl — after all I am my father’s daughter, and I inherited so much from him, his murderous rage, his overwhelming ambitions, his sarcastic contempt, his sadistic streak.
I will not be a monster like my father; I am determined and sure of that much.
— Erin Zhu to Blixa Bargeld, 25 Nov 99 20:14:42 PST

She then explains the monstrosity:

the summer when I was fourteen, my father suddenly changed his tune when my mother left for an extended visit to China. he took off my clothes, praised my naked form held up to a bathroom mirror, and devoured my body with his lust.
I wanted to die; I tried to kill. I did not succeed in either.
— Erin Zhu to Blixa Bargeld, 27 Dec 99 13:40:45 PST

Shortly after presenting her childhood rape claims against Min Zhu Erin accepts her parents’ offer of fraudulent settlement. The next day she informs her beloved:

I have always identified myself with creative, bohemian, fringe elements of society, yet I was driving to a local office of a major investment bank the other day to meet a vice president from their “private wealth management” division.
— Erin Zhu to Blixa Bargeld, 21 Mar 00 04:14:11 PST

The next week, Erin signs the settlement papers. The same day she tells Blixa Bargeld how she made her fortune:

What happened? I sold the technology for the main business I was working on to a Hollywood-backed Internet entertainment site that is going public in a couple of months. As with all such deals, since what I actually get is primarily in their stock, the final price is highly variable and still unknown at this time, I won’t have much cash probably until the end of the year, and it’s unlikely that what I built will actually see the light of day since they bought me out to eliminate competition. But even so, even after paying off the legal teams and the investors and the huge amount that goes to taxes, assuming the stock market and economy does not completely crash this year, I will have enough left to never have to work for money again.
— Erin Zhu to Blixa Bargeld, 30 Mar 00 20:17:31 PST

And she never did. Erin Zhu married Blixa Bargeld soon after her financial disclosures. As described in the referenced lawsuits, the newlyweds celebrated their nuptials by maxing out the credit card that Isaak Zelyony had loaned to Erin to tide her over while she was waiting for her blood money from Min Zhu. Since then, Einstürzende Neubauten has credited her as their executive producer and webmaster.
    The Mounties always get their man.

Received: from 204.68.24.39 by www0j for [209.79.189.211] via web-mailer(M3.3.1.96) on Mon Dec 27 21:40:45 GMT 1999
Date: 27 Dec 99 13:40:45 PST
From: Eryn Zhu
To: Blixa Bargeld
Subject: loneliness
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kills the soul, they say.

what can they know of it, I wonder, they who have never lived
in my skin, listened to my thoughts, dreamed in my mind? yet
they are able to write about loneliness with such conviction,
such empathy, that even from the distance of the printed page
I am touched by the spirit of their words, and find my own
loneliness eased by the distant sharing.

such are the powers of the word, the thought rendered concrete,
so that even without its original human context, displaced by
the passage of time, flattened into the rigid form of text,
ghosts of strangers from bygone eras can whisper in my ear and
remind me more acutely of my ties to the rest of humanity than
all the flesh and blood people I live amongst.

once upon a time when I still lived in China, I wanted to be a
writer; the cultural and linguistic uprooting and the demands
of practicality managed to put an end to that soon after.
perhaps I will want to be a writer again. perhaps I will try
to write. I have always been more comfortable in the realm of
pure thoughts and words than anything material; the result of
many years of living in my head and feeling detached from my
body, I suppose.

in my occasional forays into philosophy I’d always been
fascinated by the eternal questions around the mind and truth:
the mind body duality, the question of other minds, the
paradox of the liar, etc. I have never felt a great deal of
necessary connection between my mind and my body; never mind
the question of which body part(s) the essential “I” may or
may not live in, it seems a purely accidental fact that I
even come bundled with this physical shape. yet I suspect
that I would cease to exist if this body died… the other
questions are somewhat easier to resolve: I can escape
solipsism because I have met enough people out there who do
not think in a way that I understand at all; I can deal with
the liar paradox by turning to the meta-theories of mathematics.

I have never been particularly comfortable with my body.
since I was a child my parents told me that I was plain,
that my face deviated in too many ways from the Chinese
standards of beauty. when I reached puberty I was told that
I’d have to rely on my brains to make my way in the world,
since I’d never get anywhere based on my looks. so I wore
my brother’s castoff clothes, sympathized with the ugly
stepsisters, and never dreamed of handsome princes on white
horses.

the summer when I was fourteen, my father suddenly changed
his tune when my mother left for an extended visit to China.
he took off my clothes, praised my naked form held up to a
bathroom mirror, and devoured my body with his lust.
I wanted to die; I tried to kill. I did not succeed in either.
instead I learned to disassociate my mind, to build walls in
my head so that I do not feel.

I live with the residuals to this day: a lingering discomfort
with my body; the need to retain control, and an inability to
stop thinking, even in the most intimate situations; a body
that cannot feel pleasure with anybody I did not completely
trust. The latter has been remarkably effective in protecting
my virtue: the few attempts I’d made at casual sex ended as
spectacular failures.

maybe this helps explain why I did not expect to sleep with
you in New York; and why I said that I did not, generally
speaking, trust men. trust makes me vulnerable, a condition
I react badly to because I have been scarred before. until
you touched me, I did not think that I would trust you: my
body is a drawbridge to my soul and I am not in the habit of
granting entry to strangers.

I don’t quite know why an exception was made for you; that’s
one reason why I keep writing, I suppose, and why I want to
know you better.

I don’t know how meaningful it is to you, that you are one of
only a few people in the world that I trust, and none of them
my own family.

I hope you will not give me cause for regret.

perhaps I’ve said too much already?

Erin

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Received: from 204.68.24.51 by www0v for [209.79.189.211] via web-mailer(M3.3.1.96) on Fri Nov 26 04:14:42 GMT 1999
Date: 25 Nov 99 20:14:42 PST
From: Eryn Zhu
To: Blixa Bargeld
Subject: memories
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Crossing the busy streets of Hong Kong the other day, my mother
held on to my hand, a gesture that reversed roles we’d played
so long ago. She trusts me, her estranged and prodigal daughter,
to guide her safely around the reckless vehicles, I think to
myself, and am strangely touched by the thought. I had never
been particularly close to my mother; growing up she had always
openly favored my brother, and had little patience or affection
for me. It was only after I’d left home and became a grown
woman that she started making overtures of friendship. To think
that we had to come half a world away to renew the tenuous ties
of blood between us…

It surprises me still, how much I want her to at least accept me
and approve of what I do, even after all these years when I told
myself that I did not care.

She and I sat in the dark watching the glittering Hong Kong
skyline, and spoke of our disparate rememberances of the past.
Left unspoken between us was the fact that neither of us could
think of any happy memories of my childhood. She told stories
of me as a baby; I told her small pieces of triumph from my
more recent past; the long years that stretched between age three
through sixteen went untouched, bypassed with a shake of the
head and mutterings of “there were historical reasons”…

Eventually she wanted to know if I was going to find myself a
nice boy, preferably Asian of course. I did not have the words
to tell her what I thought: I lived with a nice boy, mama;
when I found myself more lonely in his arms than without I told
him to leave… He was too nice for me, mama; I could not even
tell him what I really thought for fear of damaging him. I was not
born and raised a nice girl — after all I am my father’s daughter,
and I inherited so much from him, his murderous rage, his
overwhelming ambitions, his sarcastic contempt, his sadistic streak. Sure,
talk to my friends and acquaintances and they will tell you, I
am a nice person, considerate of other people’s feelings, loyal to
my friends, generous with my money and assistance, though somewhat
anti-social and a persistent loner. Little do they know the degree
of control I maintain to lock away the undesirable impulses; it is
after all better for me to turn away and seek refuge in my books and
my work than take it out on real live people.

I will not be a monster like my father; I am determined and sure of
that much. I also cannot, I discovered, live with a man who does not
have a basis for understanding why I wake up with violent nightmares
and the constant restraint I exercise to not hurt him. And I do not
want anyone that reminds me of my father, of course… So I keep to
myself a great deal, and give my mother a vague little response about
how I am in no hurry.

You asked me once why I wrote to you; I’ve met very few people in my
life that can understand the contradictions in my head. That I am
aware of, and am drawn to, many dark areas of the human psyche,
but am sufficiently rational and responsible to be a good person.
That I have faith in basic human decency, even though I did not come
to that by way of innocent naivete or blind religious compliance.
And I thought that perhaps there was a slim chance that you might
understand, that communication might be possible despite the vast
ocean of differences between us. That would be worth far more to me
than any sort of physical intimacy. Does this make any sense?

I think I’ve said enough for now.

yours,
Erin

Received: from 204.68.24.50 by www0u for [207.214.220.88] via web-mailer(M3.3.1.96) on Tue Mar 21 12:14:11 GMT 2000
Date: 21 Mar 00 04:14:11 PST
From: Eryn Zhu
To: Blixa Bargeld
Subject: me, myself, and I
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Forgive me for returning to the format of a monologue about
my life and state of mind.

It is 3:30 in the morning, I’ve recently awaken after a couple
of hours of sleep with a vague feeling of dread, and know from
experience that I must keep myself awake until this state passes
or else my slumber would be disturbed by fullbown nightmares.
The curse of memory, of the past clinging to life in the hours
when the unconscious rules supreme.

In my late teens I was forced to re-evaluate almost everything
I thought to be self-evident about myself and my life because
of some choices I had made; but I was a poor student then,
my head filled with dreams of Platonic ideals, and many decisions
were easy.

The past several months, I have felt the need to reconsider the
distance between my present reality, my perception of myself,
and the possibilities for the future. The gap between reality
and perception is perhaps the most troublesome. It exhibits
itself in small things, for example in my conscious appreciation
of sleek wide open modern architectural styles of steel,
concrete, glass, and wood, but at home I find myself most
comfortable when I have a cozy area to curl up with a book. Or
the fact that I have always identified myself with creative,
bohemian, fringe elements of society, yet I was driving to a
local office of a major investment bank the other day to meet
a vice president from their “private wealth management” division.
Or for that matter, me thinking that I might like to settle down
into comfortable couplehood, while in fact turning away several
possibly realistic boys and finding myself attracted to someone
completely unsuitable.

So: I will be taking the occasion of my upcoming birthday to
contemplate an alignment between perception and reality — to
figure out not just who I want to be, but who I should be, and
to impose that over all relevant aspects of my life, in both
action and desires. Whether it’s my Asian need for spiritual
exercise, or an unrequited manifestation of dialectical
materialism, I cannot say.

Perhaps it is only the brightness of the full moon high in the
heavens, which for the Chinese has always been a bringer of
melancholy meditations and homesickness.

regards,
Erin

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Received: from 204.68.24.81 by ww181 for [63.202.80.134] via web-mailer(M3.3.1.96) on Fri Mar 31 04:17:31 GMT 2000
Date: 30 Mar 00 20:17:31 PST
From: Eryn Zhu
To: Blixa Bargeld
Subject: backwards glance
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Dear Blixa,

Thank you for your note.

I’m back at home. Signed the papers, drank a glass of
champagne, sold out successfully.

What happened? I sold the technology for the main business
I was working on to a Hollywood-backed Internet
entertainment site that is going public in a couple of
months. As with all such deals, since what I actually
get is primarily in their stock, the final price is
highly variable and still unknown at this time, I won’t
have much cash probably until the end of the year, and
it’s unlikely that what I built will actually see the
light of day since they bought me out to eliminate
competition. But even so, even after paying off the
legal teams and the investors and the huge amount that
goes to taxes, assuming the stock market and economy does
not completely crash this year, I will have enough left
to never have to work for money again.

It feels very strange to be sitting here on the last day
of my 25th year waiting for that fact to actually sink in.
It is a problem with the modern economy that I don’t even
have anything more concrete than sheets of paper to make
it feel more real.

I am sorry I have been so touchy and on edge recently;
this entire process has been very wearing on my nerves.

And I miss you.

Erin

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