is the author of Stupid White Men, and Dude, Where's
My Country. He also wrote and directed the films Roger
& Me, and
Bowling For Columbine. Face It, from
Dude, is published with the permission of
Of great riches
there is no real use,
except it be in the distribution;
the rest is but conceit. Francis Bacon.
the biggest success in the war on terror has been its ability
to distract the nation from the corporate war on us. In the two
years since the attacks of 9/11, American businesses have been
on a punch-drunk rampage that has left millions of average Americans
with their savings gone and their pensions looted, their hopes
for a comfortable future for their families diminished or extinguished.
The business bandits (and their government accomplices) who have
wrecked our economy have tried to blame it on the terrorists,
they have tried to blame it on Clinton, and they have tried to
blame it on us.
in fact, the wholesale destruction of our economic future is based
solely on the greed of the corporate mojahedin.
has happened right under our noses. We've been force-fed some
mighty powerful "drugs" to keep us quiet while we're
being mugged by this lawless gang of CEOs. One of these drugs
is called fear and the other is called Horatio Alger.
drug works like this: you are repeatedly told that bad, scary
people are going to kill you, so place all your trust in us, your
corporate leaders, and we will protect you. But since we know
what's best, don't question us if we want you to foot the bill
for our tax cut, or if we decide to slash your health benefits
or jack up the cost of buying a home. And if you don't shut up
and toe the line and work your ass off, we will sack you - and
then just try to find a new job in this economy, punk!
drug is nicer. It is first prescribed to us as children in the
form of a fairy tale - but a fairy tale that can actually come
true! It is the Horatio Alger myth. Alger was one of the most
popular American writers of the late 1800s. His stories featured
characters from impoverished backgrounds who, through pluck and
determination and hard work, were able to make huge successes
of themselves in this land of boundless opportunity. The message
was that anyone can make it in America, and make it big.
addicted to this happy rags-to-riches myth in this country. People
in other industrialised democracies are content to make a good
enough living to pay their bills and raise their families. Few
have a cutthroat desire to strike it rich. They live in reality,
where there are only going to be a few rich people, and you are
not going to be one of them. So get used to it.
rich people in those countries are very careful not to upset the
balance. Even though there are greedy bastards among them, they
do have some limits placed on them. In the manufacturing sector,
for example, British CEOs make 24 times as much as their average
workers - the widest gap in Europe. German CEOs only make 15 times
more than their employees, while Swedish CEOs get 13 times as
much. But here in the US, the average CEO makes 411 times the
salaries of their blue-collar workers. Wealthy Europeans pay up
to 65% in taxes, and they know better than to bitch too loud about
it or the people will make them fork over even more.
US, we are afraid to sock it to them. We hate to put our CEOs
in prison when they break the law. We are more than happy to cut
their taxes even as ours go up!
We don't want to do anything that could harm us on that day we
end up millionaires. It's so believable because we have seen it
come true. In every community there's at least one person prancing
around as the rags-to-riches poster child, conveying the not-so-subtle
message: "SEE! I MADE IT! YOU CAN, TOO!!"
this seductive myth that led so many millions of working people
to become investors in the stock market during the 90s. They saw
how rich the rich got in the 80s and thought, "Hey, this
could happen to me!"
did everything they could to en courage this attitude. Understand
that in 1980 only 20% of Americans owned a share of stock. Wall
Street was the rich man's game and it was off-limits to the average
Joe and Jane.
Near the end of the 1980s, though, the rich were pretty much tapped
out with their excess profits and could not figure out how to
make the market keep growing. I don't know if it was the brainstorm
of one genius at a brokerage firm or the smooth conspiracy of
all the well- heeled, but the game became, "Hey, let's convince
the middle class to give us their money and we can get even richer!"
it seemed like everyone I knew jumped on the stock market bandwagon.
They let their unions invest all their pension money in stocks.
Story after story ran in the media about how everyday working
people were going to be able to retire as near-millionaires! It
was like a fever that infected everyone. Workers immediately cashed
their pay cheques and called their broker to buy more stocks.
were ups and downs, but mostly ups, lots of ups, and you could
hear yourself saying, "My stock's up 120%! My worth has tripled!"
You eased the pain of daily living by imagining the retirement
villa you would buy some day or the sports car you could buy tomorrow
if you wanted to cash out now. No, don't cash out! It's only going
to go higher! Stay in for the long haul! Easy Street, here I come!
was a sham. It was all a ruse concocted by the corporate powers-that-be
who never had any intention of letting you into their club. They
just needed your money to take them to that next level, the one
that insulates them from ever having to actually work for a living.
They knew the big boom of the 90s couldn't last, so they needed
your money to artificially inflate the value of their companies
so their stocks would reach such a phantasmal price that, when
it was time to cash out, they would be set for life, no matter
how bad the economy got.
what happened. While the average sucker was listening to all the
blowhards on CNBC tell him that he should buy even more stock,
the ultra-rich were quietly getting out of the market, selling
off the stocks of their own company first. In September 2002,
Fortune magazine released a staggering list of these corporate
crooks who made off like bandits while their company's stock prices
had dropped 75% or more between 1999 and 2002.
top of the list of these evildoers was Qwest Communications. At
its peak, Qwest shares traded at nearly $40. Three years later
the same shares were worth $1. Over that period, Qwest's director,
Phil Anschutz, and its former CEO, Joe Nacchio, and the other
officers made off with $2.26bn simply by selling out before the
price hit rock bottom.
the average investor stayed in, listening to all the rotten advice.
And the market kept going down, down, down. More than four trillion
dollars was lost in the stock market. Another trillion dollars
in pension funds and university endowments is now no longer there.
my question: after fleecing the American public and destroying
the American dream for most working people, how is it that, instead
of being drawn and quartered and hung at dawn at the city gates,
the rich got a big wet kiss from Congress in the form of a record
tax break, and no one says a word? How can that be?
it's because we're still addicted to the Horatio Alger fantasy
drug. Despite all the damage and all the evidence to the contrary,
the average American still wants to hang on to this belief that
maybe, just maybe, he or she (mostly he) just might make it big
So don't attack the rich man, because one day that rich man may
friends, you have to face the truth: you are never going to be
rich. The chance of that happening is about one in a million.
Not only are you never going to be rich, but you are going to
have to live the rest of your life busting your butt just to pay
the cable bill and the music and art classes for your kid at the
public school where they used to be free.
is only going to get worse. Forget about a pension, forget about
social security, forget about your kids taking care of you when
you get old because they are barely going to have the money to
take care of themselves.
are still clinging to the belief that not all of Corporate America
is that bad, consider this example of what our good captains of
industry have been up to of late.
aware that your company may have taken out a life insurance policy
on you? Oh, how nice of them, you say? Yeah, here's how nice it
the past 20 years, companies including Disney, Nestle, Procter
& Gamble, Dow Chemical, JP Morgan Chase and Wal-Mart have
been secretly taking out life insurance policies on their low-
and mid-level employees and then naming themselves - the corporation
- as the beneficiary! That's right: When you die, the company
- not your survivors - gets to cash in. If you die on the job,
all the better, as most life-insurance policies are geared to
pay out more when someone dies young. And if you live to a ripe
old age, even long after you've left the company, the company
still gets to collect on your death. And regardless of when you
croak, the company is able to borrow against the policy and deduct
the interest from its corporate taxes.
of these companies have set up a system for the money to go to
pay for executive bonuses, cars, homes or trips to the Caribbean.
Your death goes to helping make your boss a very happy man sitting
in his Jacuzzi on St Bart's.
does Corporate America privately call this special form of life
right. "Dead Peasants". Because that's what you are
to them - peasants. And you are sometimes worth more to them dead