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Today in Evil

[ 211 ] June 2, 2016 |

rich-monopoly-man

Fortune magazine has an advice column. It’s very special.

Frank has been with us for more than 20 years. He works in the warehouse and has done a good job for us. I like him. But, to be honest, for the work he performs I could easily replace him someone younger and… cheaper. Would it be wrong to let him go?

Um, yes?

No, of course not. Go for it!

And the costs are rising, right? You’re increasing Frank’s salary every year, at least by the cost of living. And that’s not all. You’re contributing to his healthcare and his 401(K). He’s earning more and more vacation each day that he’s working for you. And as he gets older, you’re increasing the risk that he will cost your company more – maybe he gets injured or needs financial assistance because he’s not putting enough away for his retirement. Sure, he’s got experience. He’s proven. He’s a known card. But he’s costing you. And you know you can get the same job done by someone else for less money. I see this with many of my clients, and it’s a complicated issue. Are you a heartless cad if you let this guy go? Doesn’t loyalty count for anything? The guy’s given you 20 years of his life, and you’re just going to cut him loose? You must be some kind of awful person.

Actually, no you’re not an awful person. I am not encouraging that you should discriminate based on your employee’s age. Age discrimination is against the law. However, your job is to make the decisions. The hard decisions that are necessary to grow your business and ensure it as a going concern for years to come. Why? Because you have employees, customers, partners, suppliers and everyone’s family members (including yours) that rely on you and your company for their livelihoods. And their interests should rise above the interest of any one specific person. OK, maybe you don’t have to be so harsh. Maybe you can ease him out over the next two years. Or find another role for him where he could actually be more productive for you (Driving a forklift? Maintenance? Customer service?) as he gets older. But if you’re letting your overhead get too high and your profitability becomes negatively-impacted because you’re unable to make those hard choices, then you’re hurting everyone who depends on you.

I’m not telling you to discriminate against older workers. That would be illegal. I’m just telling you to discriminate against older workers.

Fortune had to walk this back:

Editor’s note: This piece was updated on May 31 at 5:45 p.m. ET to make clear that age discrimination is illegal. We regret that this piece was published without closer scrutiny.

Whoops!

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  • jim, some guy in iowa

    we’ve got a couple of commenters here who would do a damn fine job of writing that column the Fortune way

    • Gareth

      I wouldn’t fire him. I’d just find out why older workers are more expensive than younger workers with the same productivity, and fix that.

      • so-in-so

        So, you’d cut his pay increases he got over time and limit his use of health care?

        • Gareth

          Probably impossible for existing employees, but I’d stop it happening for the new ones. Unless those policies really do increase productivity enough to make up for the cost. In which case, what’s the problem?

          • so-in-so

            So, your starting salary is your salary for life? And no health care.

            Attractive job offer, but I think I’ll pass.

            • Deggjr

              If you can turn down this attractive job offer, then the unemployment rate is far too low.

      • zackthedog

        Older workers are more expensive than younger workers because

        1) they usually have families

        2) they need more health care

        3) they expect their standard of living to increase

        and a host of other reasons. On the other hand, they bring experience, knowledge of your operations, corporate memory, avoidance of stupid mistakes that cost you money, etc.

        I worked for three years with a “cheap hire” who was expected to save the company money. Except he didn’t. He cost us money and relationships–again and again and again.

        • BiloSagdiyev

          So, the Masters of the Universe (and the stooges who ain’t but propagandize for their cause) would just demand a workforce with no children, where nobody gets sick or old, and nobody ever gets a raise. That’s ther utopia.

          It would kinda dry up the supply of the next crop of employees but… oh wait, that’s what immigration’s for!

  • Rob in CT

    I am not encouraging that you should discriminate based on your employee’s age. Age discrimination is against the law. However…

    put that old geezer out to pasture already, geez.

    • postmodulator

      “Can I deduct the cost of the ice floe?”

  • Hogan

    However, your job is to make the decisions. The hard decisions that are necessary to grow your business and ensure it as a going concern for years to come. Why? Because you have employees, customers, partners, suppliers and everyone’s family members (including yours) that rely on you and your company for their livelihoods.

    So when you fuck over your employees, just remember–you’re doing it for your employees.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Well, until the robots are cheap enough. Then they’ll wail about the overly generous benfits packages of robot repairmen.

      • Ahuitzotl

        well, with the simultaneous arrival of AI, robots will probably price themselves out of the labour market.
        .
        (ETA: given that the 13th Amendment doesnt specific man or human or anything equivalent, anyway)

    • butcherpete

      Independent contractors.

      It’s all the rage, because what workers really want is freedom of mobility.

  • What’s a little illegality when you have employees, customers, partners, suppliers and everyone’s family members (including yours) that rely on you?

    (An interesting question how deep the edits would have to go before the magazine wouldn’t be liable for recommending illegality, but readers would still get the message.)

    • Wapiti

      And when you think about the teachers at your kid’s private school, and the guy at the Mercedez dealer… There’s a lot of people that are counting on you to do the right thing here.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        Not to mention the mistresses, call girls and strippers that very important men like this must have.

        • Linnaeus

          “How the fuck else would you do this job? Cocaine and hookers, my friend.”

    • DrDick

      As everyone who reads Fortune knows full well, laws are for the little people. You don’t get rich and powerful by playing by the rules or being nice.

  • Linnaeus
    • MPAVictoria

      Oh well done

    • Anna in PDX

      Not to mention, this “farm out your older workers who are too expensive” never seems to apply to opinion writers for newspapers/magazines.

      • wjts

        Or executives.

      • SV

        And let’s remember that part of the reason Frank will be more expensive in terms of healthcare needs as he ages is that he’s been doing (I presume) heavy physical labour in a fuckin warehouse for decades. Not good for the body.

  • LWA

    There is profitable business here in town. We like it, a lot. They produce a fine product, and generate a lot of wealth for the owners.

    But to be honest, we could tax the bejesus out of them, and they wouldn’t leave and abandon their customer base, labor pool and vendor chain. They are effectively landlocked. And even if they did leave, they would be replaced by one just as good. So they have no recourse but to comply with taxation, even at confiscatory levels.

    Am I an awful person? No. Look, we have interests, and our interests are providing for maintenance of subways, social welfare programs, and the like.

    The hard decisions that are necessary to grow our city and ensure it as a going concern for years to come. Why? Because we have municipal employees, taxpayers, and everyone’s family members that rely on tax revenue and our city for their livelihoods. And their interests should rise above the interest of any one specific person or business.

    • Linnaeus

      That’s just communism, there.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Thank you. “Interests” cuts in all sorts of directions. The mainstream media uses the term (well, relays the term) on foreign polcy matters all the time. We have “interests” in that country. Yeah, well it would be in my “interests” to kick in your door when you’re not home and steal your flat screen TV, but there are other factors involved, for most normal people.

    • Well played sir, well played.

    • DrDick

      Most excellent, indeed!

    • Merkwürdigliebe

      Bravo.

  • Owlbear1

    And just in case there is any confusion, that 68 year old executive is still a fountain of wealth.

  • DAS

    Of course it would be good for everyone involved, the business and its bottom line, young people looking for jobs and even for Frank himself who may very well wish to stop doing such physically demanding work, if Frank could afford to retire comfortably. This is yet another argument to increase Social Security benefits and allow people in physically demanding fields to start taking full benefits earlier rather than later.

    I wonder how the owner of the business in question as well as the opinion-makers at Fortune magazine would feel about raising (or eliminating) the cap, brining more money into the Social Security system and hence allowing for greater benefits for people like Frank?

    • so-in-so

      I assume the “wonder” is rhetorical, correct?

      • The Temporary Name

        I dunno if it’s worth explaining to any old so-and-so.

      • DAS

        Somewhere between “rhetorical” and “snarky”

    • I wonder what the opinion makers’ would feel about Frank looking after his own self interest by starting a union to help management with adjusting its priorities.

      • Linnaeus

        Now, wait a minute there…

      • Philip

        Only groups of rich people have self interest! Groups of poor people are just greedy. Do you hear billionaires demanding they be given cost-of-living raises? NO!

  • Pyramid Scheme

    I like how the “hard decisions” are those that always tend to fuck over the most vulnerable in our society.

    • JKTH

      Well yeah, that’s what makes it hard! Whereas fucking over the rich in our society is an easy decision, which is why we do it all the time.

      /s

      • Bill Murray

        It’s an easy decision. But the decision is no, we can’t do that

    • sparks

      I thought “hard decisions” were decisions that get them hard.

    • DrS

      I’ve sentenced boys younger than you to the gas chamber. Didn’t want to do it. I felt I owed it to them.

  • Roger Ailes

    How did the piece read before the edits?

    • ChrisTS

      Good question. My *guess* is that the single line about age discrimination got added in without many other changes.

      • Ahuitzotl

        Oh I’m sure they trimmed out several paragraphs about wasters and idlers and takers.

  • CaptainBringdown

    And as he gets older, you’re increasing the risk that he will cost your company more – maybe he gets injured or needs financial assistance because he’s not putting enough away for his retirement.

    If only Frank had put away more for retirement you wouldn’t have to fire him. Frank has only himself to blame.

    • twbb

      Poverty is a moral failing, don’t you know…

      • efgoldman

        Poverty is a moral failing, don’t you know…

        Here’s your wonderful parting gifts: A bundle of straightened coat hangers and a box of frozen sparrows. Enjoy your retirement.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      If everybody was fully terrified of the future and felt they had to be terribly frugal and save like mad in case of future disability, layoff, medical costs and retirement, can you imagine what that would do to consumer demand? Why, it might not even be good for the economy.

      • DAS

        The term “social security” is not a mere euphemism. Ensuring that people in not only their prime working age but also their prime consuming age do not have to “save” (or more precisely, given the ROI on savings, invest, which itself can distort markets if you have enough people chasing after investment opportunities) so much money for retirement but rather can spend the money and grow the economy, is a social good as is having retirees who can participate in the economy as consumers without being in the labor force and competing in the labor market and possibly crowding out new entrants into said market. Social Security is really not just for retirees but is for the benefit of the economy as a whole!

        Of course, our plutocratic overlords benefit from more competition for jobs (keeps wages lower) and more investment (more money in a casino rigged in their favor). And they have money to pay think tanks and magazine editorial boards to convince the rest of us that what’s good for their bottom line is the very definition of “what’s good for the economy … have you even taken Econ 101?” even if their interests are entirely opposite the interests of our overall economy.

      • infovore

        But of course. If austerity is good for the economy, and many eminent economizers tell us it is, then suppressing consumer demand should be good for the economy as well.

      • so-in-so

        They don’t really care about the economy, only about their quarterly results. He saved $5,000 on payroll since since he laid Frank off and hired that undocumented worker to replace him.

        Sales are down lately, have to see if he can lay off some MORE workers to save money.

        • DAS

          Even Milton Friedman understood the Great Depression (albeit he erred in understanding the Great Depression primarily) as a deflationary spiral. And even Milton Friedman understood that if you want to have a reasonably elastic labor market, you need some sort of guaranteed income, at least for workers (e.g. in the form of the EITC).

          Dang if you are so short sighted that even Milton Friedman would call you on your b.s., you’re pretty well down an ideological rabbit hole!

          • so-in-so

            Or in the GOP.

  • humanoid.panda

    This is one of the paradoxes of free market dogmatism I wish I was smart enough to write about at length: it pretends to be a theory about individuals interest being the higher good, but scratch the surface, and it has “the ends justify the means” written all over it. In fact anyone knows, whether anyone smart had in fact written about this paradox?

    • There is no paradox. The ‘higher good’ is just the fluf they spout to make themselves feel a little better while they go about the real business of wringing blood from everyone but themselves. There is no higher purpose in business than profit at all costs.

      • humanoid.panda

        I think things are a little bit more complicated than this. Take liberal (in the Americans sense of the word) defenders of free trade, like Yglesias or Krugman. I think we can agree we are not sociopaths, but their argument on free trade is basically: Americans and Chinese workers should suffer a while, so that the next generation of Americans and Chinese would have good lives once the two economies converged. That’s a weirdly altruistic argument to make when defending classical economic theory.

        • YRUasking

          I think their argument is more that alleviating that suffering is a job for the welfare state rather than trade policy. And all that stuff about “the dignity of work” is just pointless sentimentality.

        • There’s theory, and then there’s the real world. Globilization theory states, as Krugman would say, that in a perfect world, removing barriors increases efficiency and, if spread equally, raises all boats. In reality, we have removed barriors for capital only, which it has used to take all of the gains for itself. Nobody is looking out for the workers in these trade deals, because the workers can magically take care of themselves, while capital needs protecting because it’s so helpless.

          • DrS

            Yes. And in aggregate measures, I think that both the US and China are wealthier due to trade. The issue has been in the distributional effects of this greater wealth.

          • Juicy_Joel

            Globilization theory states, as Krugman would say, that in a perfect world, removing barriors increases efficiency and, if spread equally, raises all boats.

            This isn’t quite true. In theory free trade (vs. autarky) produces winners and losers- its that the winners can compensate the losers and on the aggregate everyone is better off.

            Obviously the “winners compensating the losers” is the part that never seems to happen for some reason…

        • Redwood Rhiadra

          Krugman is no longer such a defender of “free trade.”

    • Bill Murray

      I like Tom Slee’s “No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart: The Surprising Deceptions of Individual Choice” which does this somewhat. Also, Ha Joon Chang’s “23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism”.

      • I’ll have to add those to my ever growing queue :-)

      • Anna in PDX

        I liked the Ha-Joon Chang book very much. I want to reread it, but I donated it to our Occupy encampment’s library in 2011 or so… Must get another copy.

    • GFW

      The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

      — John Kenneth Galbraith

  • Written like a true MBA.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      ..and people sometimes wonder “what happened to the loyalty of employees to their employers?”

      I’ll come back, sure. Right after some MBA heads go up on sticks.

      • “I’d like to live just long enough to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike as a warning to the next ten generations that some favors come with too high a price.

        I would look up at your lifeless eyes and wave like this.”

        Vir Cotto

      • ColBatGuano

        I was considering going into the lamppost business and this Fortune letter sure makes it seem like a good idea.

        • As the Scripps-Howard papers used to say under their lighthouse logo, “Give the people light and they will find their way”!

  • AMK

    Forbes is worse. At least Fortune usually pretends to focus on business news and management, and occasionally manages to yield something approaching journalism. Forbes is literally just running lists of superyachts juxtaposed with quotes from Milton Friedman and editorial screeds from Malcolm Forbes about the evils of Social Security.

    • Boots Day

      Forbes maintains no editorial control over its web site, near as I can tell. Posts there don’t appear to be edited or fact-checked or vetted in any way. It’s basically Medium for corporate greedheads.

  • djw

    I am not encouraging that you should discriminate based on your employee’s age. Age discrimination is against the law.

    These two sentences apparently appear to have taken a wrong turn and lost their way, wandering into the middle of a column where they pretty clearly don’t belong.

    • When I see a pair of sentences like that, I always wonder if the second is the answer to the anticipated question, “Why are you saying you’re not telling me to discriminate, when you’ve just spent ten minutes doing just that?”

      • JustRuss

        No, no, age discrimination is when you say “We won’t hire this person because he’s too old.” It’s clearly wrong to do that, because you can always come up with some other reason to justify not hiring him if you’re willing to try.

        Fortune is advocating that you get rid of your overpaid older employees. That’s not discrimination, it’s common sense!

        • postmodulator
          • DAS

            According to Justice Kennedy, getting preferential consideration and access because you have given money to someone’s campaign is not bribery because there is no explicit quid pro quo.

        • efgoldman

          Fortune is advocating that you get rid of your overpaid older employees. That’s not discrimination, it’s common sense!

          When I hit my early 60s, my direct manager (also a friend) at Enormous Mutual Funds & Brokerage LLC, told me in so many words they couldn’t (and wouldn’t) fire me except for malfeasance. Of course, it’s a huge but privately-owned and a bit paternalistic company that actually believes treating employees like human beings is good for the bottom line.
          And it is.

        • Ahuitzotl

          to be fair, I’m sure they’d encourage you to get rid of your overpaid younger employees, too. Or indeed your paid employees, all interns all the time.

    • I mean, with this technique, we can write all sorts of interesting things!

      I’m not encouraging you to kill him and sell his organs. Murdering people is against the law. But you do have to make the hard choices!

      I’m not encouraging you to kidnap small children for slave labor. Kidnapping and slavery against the law! But you have to make hard choices! What about all the children of your executives?

      Etc.

  • Gwen

    Silly Erik. If you actually had experience running a business, like our golden demigod @realDonaldTrump, you’d know that age discrimination is only illegal if you get caught!

  • Lance Mannion wrote a piece about this type of consideration being forced on small business owners as people are forced to work longer.

    It was, to I trust no one’s surprise, smarter than anything in the piece quoted above.

    • Joe Bob the III

      That was dark. Especially so, since I see some of it in my own workplace. Not so much age-related, because people with long experience are actually in demand in my field.

      However, if you have chronic health issues that result in a lot of absences or make too casual use of the short-term disability plan you will have a target on your back whenever layoffs come around again.

  • BiloSagdiyev

    Funny, I’m all in favor of small busineses not having to be involved in employee health insurance, too. If only there was a simple solution… oh, wait, these guys don’t like that, either. I swear, it’s good for entrepeneurialism for people not to feel shackled to jobs at SPUMCO because of health insurance, and it’s good for small companies who are trying to compete with SPUMCO… oh wait, I’m starting to see why the corporate types aren’t so keen on universal health insurance. Well, that, and they just don’t want to admit in publi that gummint isn’t always stoopit.

    Give these guys enough liquor, and I’m sure they’d wail, WHY! WHY OH WHY CAN’T WE HAVE SLAVES?

    • postmodulator

      I’ve said before, you have to feed and shelter slaves. I’m not sure they’d come out ahead, financially.

      • Wapiti

        One of my ancestors came the US after the serfs were freed in Mecklenburg (Northern Germany). Being freed from serfdom meant the landowner only had to hire who he wanted, and only as few laborers as he needed. The rest could be turned off the land. For my ancestor, a widow with children, the choices might have been (a) immigrate to the US or (b) starve/freeze in a ditch next winter.

        • Ahuitzotl

          or (c) join the Prussian army, and starve/freeze/contract dysentery, probably simultaneously.

      • CP

        There was that moment at CPAC a couple years ago when somebody was doing a panel on the example of former slaves who’d forgiven their masters for slavery and how that was an example of how race relations should go forwards. Only for someone in the audience to go “forgive him for what? For giving him food and shelter?”

        I’ve seen similar things crop up in various corners of the wingnut blogosphere, but it was usually the other way around (“people who are clothed and fed and taken care of by somebody else are SLAVES!”) Wasn’t until CPAC that I realized how the two went together, in a weird, twisted way, in the modern conservative’s mind. If you really think that having a welfare state is just like practicing slavery, then the opposite is true too – practicing slavery was no worse than having welfare – and that means the original slave owners were misguided, but well-meaning, persons trying to help black people for their own good. (Which fits with a view popular among slave owners themselves, that black people left to themselves were wild animals but that being enslaved allowed them to experience a Christian and civilizing influence). Sooo… to them, it makes sense to continually downplay what a massive deal slavery was in the history of this country. It wasn’t so bad, it was just white people doing their best to help black people the best they knew how and they should just stop whining about it.

        • BiloSagdiyev

          In other words, they’re real jerks.

          • CP

            That is concisely and precisely true.

            Hey: hello Southern Strategy. When you spend fifty years appealing to nothing but the worst of human nature – racism, sexism, homophobia, class prejudice, the IGMFY instinct – you end up with a voter base made up of the worst human beings the country has.

            • you end up with a voter base made up of the worst human beings the country has.

              That’s alright, even worse ones are continually being developed!!!

              • CP

                Maybe there’ll be Peak Worst Voter some day.

            • Linnaeus

              According to Jonathan Haidt (via Thomas Edsall in the NYT), the real reason is “psychological reactance” brought about by “decades of political correctness”.

              So if folks just shut up, Trump wouldn’t be a problem, see?

              • BiloSagdiyev

                I guess we should also be careful not to burn the national pot roast, too.

  • MPAVictoria

    More seriously this is why workers need to show up at rich capitalists homes with bats and burning torches and just hang around for a few hours staring in a menacing fashion. Do this a few times and they might get the message.

    • so-in-so

      Yes, but then you get to find out what that highly militarized police force is for.

      • MPAVictoria

        I am sure that is what the Tsar said in February 1917.

        • so-in-so

          Well, we just need a world war and we are good, then.

          It did work pretty good for him in 1905.

          • MPAVictoria

            I bet if you asked him in 1918 if he thought his choices in 1905 worked out well for him he would say no. Of course we can’t because workers put a bullet in his head.

            • “In the long run we’re all dead”- Keynes

            • so-in-so

              Don’t know, but if we could know I’d bet money he had more concern for the peasants in 1905 than the typical Fortune writer today feels to workers.

        • Hogan

          The trouble with militarizing the tsarist police was the upfuckedness of the tsarist military.

    • Nepos

      I am 100% in support of this idea.

      Though I would use a guillotine, personally. Build one where they can’t miss it. Execute a few watermelons to test the mechanism. Maybe get a couple of old ladies to knit and stare menacingly at them.

      Yeah, that’s the ticket.

      • Bill Murray

        I am not encouraging you to guillotine your employer based on your employee’s actions. Beheading is cruel and unusual punishment and hence is against the law.

        • Nepos

          Why would the guillotine be cruel and unusual? It’s very quick, relatively painless, and extremely efficient. Also looks good in public, pour encourager les autres.

          Come to think of it, why didn’t the US adopt the guillotine instead of the electric chair? It’s gotta be less painful than being electrocuted, and it doesn’t require any power (‘cept to haul the blade back up).

          • NonyNony

            Electric chair is bloodless. It makes it easier to pretend that you’re not killing someone when there’s no blood.

            The answer to “why did some state in the US choose execution method X over execution method Y” is almost always “because it’s easier to pretend that method X isn’t murder”. It’s why lethal injection has become the method of choice across the country.

            • JMP

              Yeah, while most death penalty proponents like to claim to support the least painful murder methods possible, the truth is they support the methods that are the most comfortable for the executioner.

            • Ahuitzotl

              I disagree

              It’s gotta be less painful than being electrocuted

              That answers itself. They want to maximise pain, to discourage crime allegedly.

          • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

            I’ve heard that the electric chair was part of a campaign by Edison, who favored direct current for transmitting electricity, to present alternating current as being unsafe by using it to kill people.

      • Dennis Orphen

        Execute a few watermelons to test the mechanism. Maybe get a couple of old ladies to knit and stare menacingly

        Yeah, that’s the ticket…..to a Gallagher show.

      • Ahuitzotl

        Yeah, that’s the ticket tisket

    • wengler

      In the labor protests before Haymarket, the protestors went to the rich neighborhoods and continuously rang the doorbells. The solution for the rich was to move out to the country and build giant compounds, or move into the top floors of skyscrapers to not have to deal with the riffraff.

      • MPAVictoria

        Of course they have to come outside sometimes. And we could always rent a few buses…

      • DAS

        Historically the rich have solved the problem of being bothered by the poor by redirecting the poor to attack vulnerable minorities instead: e.g. keep the poor busy attacking “Christ Killers”, which has the added benefit that, if the poor drive the Jews out of town, you don’t have to repay your loans that you forced Jews to make to you. In many cases, they direct the poor to attack middle class folks who might otherwise be in a position to compete with the rich for political sway, etc. — e.g. as happened in the Tulsa race riots, have people attack a wealthier African-American neighborhood and attack middle class white folks who happen to have African-American servants.

  • CP

    Their ability to deliver an entire article calling for, in this case, age discrimination, and then turn right around and say “I’m not calling for age discrimination!” remains remarkable no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      These must be the people who never understood the hilarity of Nixon hamming it up for the recordinng system: “But it would be wrong!”

  • NobodySpecial

    I just wanted to drop this in here since it’s semi relevant to the subject and I’m a shameless promoter of stuff for people who I know or whose work I enjoy. Anyways.

    A guy I know named Caleb Stokes had Kickstarted a role playing game of economic horror. As he describes it in interviews, it’s a ‘poverty simulator, nerd-troped with zombies to treat the subject in a way that’s not exploitative of the poor.’ It’s an interesting concept that you don’t usually see in that sort of game, he’s a good writer, it looks like a winner, and so I’m throwing it up here in the interest of spreading the word a little wider. I’d merely ask if you’d give it a look, tell people you know who may be interested, maybe throw him a buck or two. He’s a school teacher, he could use them.

    Red Markets: A game of economic horror

    • Anna in PDX

      That looks depressing but interesting! I sent the link to my partner who is out playing board games right now.

  • Robert M.

    I see this with many of my clients, and it’s a complicated issue.

    No, you putz, it isn’t.

    Are you a heartless cad if you let this guy go?

    Yes.

    Doesn’t loyalty count for anything?

    It ought to, yes.

    The guy’s given you 20 years of his life, and you’re just going to cut him loose? You must be some kind of awful person.

    Yup. You’re also an idiot, because you’re giving up a known quantity that’s still performing at acceptable levels for a completely unknown quantity.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      I remember about ten years ago, hearing Fortune 500 types wailing about how today’s youth, they have no loyalty! Why, they just ping from job to job, looking for more pay!

      After the bloodletting of the 90’s, and the constant sermonizing about how you shouldn’t worry about benefits and rights because hey, change is the only constant, why, you’ll have 7 different careers in your adult life, delivered by organs like Fortune and Forbes…

      Why oh why aren’t they loyal? And why can’t I lock them in when I go home at night?

      • CP

        Why, they just ping from job to job, looking for more pay!

        Kapitalistischen schweine!

        • efgoldman

          Kapitalistischen schweine!

          What have you got against pigs, which are smart and delicious and a real benefit to society?

  • Hogan

    Mr. Simpson, the state bar forbids me from promising you a big cash settlement. But just between you and me, I promise you a big cash settlement.

    • postmodulator

      “After years of disappointment with get-rich-quick schemes, I know I’m gonna get rich with this scheme…and quick!”

  • Seitz

    And you know you can get the same job done by someone else for less money.

    All valid arguments about this column being terrible aside, this sentence appears to be doing a lot of heavy lifting. There’s no mention of time and cost of training. No mention of what will likely be an increase in unemployment insurance. But mostly, you DON’T know that you can get the same job done by someone else, or at least, you don’t know that the “someone else” in question will be the person that you hire. And if it’s not, rinse and repeat, I guess.

    Basically this advice amounts to “if there’s a slight chance that if everything goes right, you may save pennies on the dollar, you absolutely must fire the old fucker”. Good luck with that.

    • CP

      What I love most about these guys is the borderline religious belief that you can totally pay people less and less and less and yet still have it be “the same job.” Despite this explicitly not being how basic market economics work – the less you’re willing to pay, the fewer qualified applicants you’ll get. But of course it’s not really about market economics, it’s about their belief in their own divine right to have everything always be the way they want it to be.

      When an increasing number of CEOs and other 1%ers are incapable of grasping a concept as simple as “you get what you pay for,” you’re in trouble.

      • DAS

        Despite this explicitly not being how basic market economics work – the less you’re willing to pay, the fewer qualified applicants you’ll get.

        I do have one small quibble with this …

        Of course, the less you’re willing to pay, the lower supply you’ll have is about high school level economics. And the 1%ers do know this because they make a variant of that argument all the time when they argue for lower taxes (on the 1%). So what you say is correct in terms of really basic (e.g. high school level) economics.

        I’ve never actually taken Econ 101 (what formal economics coursework I’ve had was part of the Social Science Core course taken by Honors’ students at UC Irvine), but I imagine that even in that course they cover elasticity. And the supply of labor is quite inelastic: no matter what 1%ers say when arguing for tax cuts, people need jobs that pay them $$$ and that need (and hence supply of labor) isn’t going to disappear if you pay people a little less money for their labor. Indeed, the in-elasticity of the supply of labor is what our plutocratic overlords count on in their quest to make us all wage-slaves.

        • CP

          no matter what 1%ers say when arguing for tax cuts, people need jobs that pay them $$$ and that need (and hence supply of labor) isn’t going to disappear if you pay people a little less money for their labor.

          Sure, but that kind of assumes everyone else is lowering their wages too – which goes back to Bilo’s comment above about CEOs these days lamenting the lack of loyalty of people who will leave them at the drop of a hat.

          And even in the event that everyone is lowering their wages in sync so the workers have no choice but to keep eating your shit sandwiches, I question the notion that you can just keep doing that without consequence. How much you pay people often really does affect the quality of their labor – I worked a hell of a lot harder for the U.S. Census at $20.00 an hour, even for an irregular and temporary job, than I did for the equally irregular and temporary concierge shifts that only paid $12.00. “You get what you pay for” applies in that way, too.

      • Seitz

        It’s that, but it’s also the belief that people at lower level positions are essentially just spare parts, and if one breaks or if one just seems a little worn down, you grab another one out the box and toss the old. People aren’t parts.

        Sadly, for big businesses, the difference between experienced, slightly more expensive prole and younger inexpensive prole is probably negligible. If an assistant manager at McDonalds in BFE is replaced by a worse assistant manager, it probably doesn’t impact the shareholders. But the question in the linked column is probably coming from a small business person that works either directly with or only a position or two removed from the person they’re discussing. A risked drop in quality at a particular position in an effort to save some pennies is probably a worse gamble than he realizes.

      • Ahuitzotl

        When an increasing number of CEOs and other 1%ers are incapable of grasping a concept as simple as “you get what you pay for,

        Well they are quite sure that’s not true. Just examine the contents of the average executive suite over the last 40 years, and you’ll conclude that quality and pay are totally disjunct

    • Crusty

      This thinking comes up whenever there’s talk of the NYC doorman union going on strike. People say they want what?!?!?!? Any High School kid could do that job! But people that live in buildings with doormen don’t actually want any high school kid. They want a dedicated person who is there forever, gets to know their name, family, habits (e.g. shall I have your car ready? Dry cleaning, etc.) and looks a certain way- looks professional, isn’t sitting there on a smartphone all day, makes eye contact with residents and guests, etc. You get that buy paying people a decent wage and offering them some security. Yes, you could get someone to open a door for less money. But that isn’t really what you want. Same goes for many, many seemingly “unskilled” positions. The skill is that you do it without saying fuck this shit and leaving a month later with no notice.

      • MPAVictoria

        yep you pay peanuts you get monkeys as my grandpa used to say. Wise man my grandpa

        • Hogan

          Similarly, when you set the qualifications/expectations high and the salary low, you don’t get a bargain; you get a personality disorder.

          • humanoid.panda

            The most basic example of this: we all kinda presume that retail work is low-skills, compared to manufacturing. But working in retail necessitates an important set of skills- including not punching people in the face, which a lot of people socialized for factory work are not so good at.. We just chose, as a society, not to value those skills. At all.

          • ChrisTS

            So, police?

            ETA: I believe you are a Philly resident. Did you hear that they are lowering qualification criteria to get more new cops?

          • you don’t get a bargain; you get a personality disorder

            which is only fair, since you have one yourself!

      • Much of the time I’m overpaid. However, I’m paid for what I know more than what I do.

        The one day that things are going to shit is the day I make my annual salary and then some.

        Sure, you could pay some inexperience kid right out of college to do this job. But the day things go wrong, they won’t have 32 years and 6000+ flying hours to fall back on.

        • Linnaeus

          Then you’re not overpaid. Not really.

          • Vance Maverick

            I’m sure he’s not, and I’m sure older employees are often worth more to their employers.

            But is that the argument we want to be making? Is the reason older people should be secure in their lives that they’re persuading their employers every day that they deserve it? Or is there a more general principle at work — one that supports security for older workers who are just OK?

            • Linnaeus

              Well, I agree with the general principle. I’m just pointing out that “worth” can be measured in a lot of ways.

              • DAS

                I know someone who subscribes full scale to the labor theory of value (although she never used the term “labor theory of value” and would never believe that Marx had the same idea). As I’ve mentioned before, I found this out in a conversation during which she later denounced Obama as a socialist. In the time frame in which all of the other Republicans I knew were supporting Cruz or Carson or hoping for a brokered convention, would it surprise you to know that she supported Trump?

                • DrS

                  I’ve found that labor theory of value is actually a surprisingly common belief by many conservatives.

                  Where I’ve found the break down is that they have rules about who exactly is supposed to be allowed that, and who is doing work that is somehow misvalued. I don’t think y’all would be too surprised about along what lines that often breaks.

              • bernard

                I agree with the principle as well. I do point out below that the savings from firing Frank may be small or non-existent. But even if they are not, he should be kept on.

                Consider this, from Fortune,

                Because you have employees, customers, partners, suppliers and everyone’s family members (including yours) that rely on you and your company for their livelihoods.

                Really? Isn’t Frank one of those employees? And might he not have a family? And what about those partners/shareholders/whatever? How are we so sure they are so greedy for a few extra dollars that they want to fire Frank? Maybe, if polled, they would react like so many here, and decide that it is simply unjust.

                Businessmen are not too popular on this site. But I’ve been one, and known many. And a fair percentage, if it was their operation, would keep Frank on the job. So the excuse that it’s necessary/wise/moral/in everyone’s interest, etc. is BS.

        • DAS

          I know a guy in the pharma industry like that. Most of the time he just does research: it’s like an academic job but with better pay and no teaching or service responsibilities. But every so often something goes wrong in drug production — and if, with his expertise and the equipment he has in his lab, he can ensure the down time for producing a blockbuster drug is 1 day rather than 3 days, he’s just earned his company a 1000 metric shit tons of money that they otherwise wouldn’t have had. Suffice it to say, he can get pretty much any piece of equipment he wants.

        • But the day things go wrong, they won’t have 32 years and 6000+ flying hours to fall back on.

          On the other hand, they’ll have literally hundreds of square miles of Terra Firma (or, I suppose, Mare Infirmum) to fall back on!!!

        • CP

          Kong, when in the course of your work duties you crash the entire world economy, and your punishment for that is a golden parachute, I’ll agree that you’re overpaid.

          As long as that’s a thing, I refuse to concede that anybody beneath the level of these yahoos is “overpaid.”

          (Yes, I’m still bitter, eight years later).

          • sonamib

            A metaphorical golden parachute sounds good. I don’t think a pilot would want an actual golden parachute if they have to eject from a plane in distress.

        • efgoldman

          The one day that things are going to shit is the day I make my annual salary and then some.

          One word: Sullenberger

          • Dennis Orphen

            Who had his pay cut by 40% and his pension benefits replace with something of a lesser value.

      • Origami Isopod

        They want a dedicated person who is there forever, gets to know their name, family, habits (e.g. shall I have your car ready? Dry cleaning, etc.) and looks a certain way- looks professional, isn’t sitting there on a smartphone all day, makes eye contact with residents and guests, etc. You get that buy paying people a decent wage and offering them some security.

        “Soft skills” and emotional labor. Which are greatly undervalued, which has a lot to do with gender.

    • bernard

      this sentence appears to be doing a lot of heavy lifting.

      Yes. Absolutely. An experienced employee is going to do a better job than a new one, even if that’s not obvious to the executives. I bet it’s obvious to the other warehouse workers.

      Take one example. Things in a warehouse are not always where they are supposed to be. Frank knows this, and when they are not there he knows where they probably are, and why. He also knows lot of little things about deliveries, shipments, record-keeping, etc. that help the place run.

      Oh. One more thing. Having worked there 20 years, and apparently being a likable and conscientious fellow, He probably has friends at work, and is popular with coworkers in general. How will they react when they learn that Frank was shoved out after 20 years for very little reason, especially when he has a hard or impossible time finding comparable work?

      Good thinking, Mr. Exec and Fortune columnist. You are going to be a complete a$$hole, and it’s going to get you less than you think, if anything.

      • muddy

        He has obviously never spent 5 minutes in a warehouse. Push the useless olds over to the forklifts, sure. There is plenty of lifting and shifting with a lift truck, you aren’t just driving up and down. Then where do the current lift truck drivers go? I guess he wants to fire them first, as that’s always one of the better paying jobs in the warehouse. They don’t let just anyone do it because trucks and shelving are way more expensive than employee hours.

        Or, send them to Maintenance, he says. What is that exactly, is it janitorial or fixing machines? In any case neither of those is light duty.

        And finally, Customer Service. I suppose he thinks that’s easy because you are sitting down. The people I know in CS have terrible back and carpal tunnel issues. That’s not my reason for not wanting to do it – my reason is that my head would explode talking to nitwits on the phone. Even with a disability, shifting a crate is easier than that.

        • efgoldman

          They don’t let just anyone do it because trucks and shelving are way more expensive than employee hours.

          There are also important skills involved. In another life, when I was in the freight business, I watched the fork lift aim wrong and push directly into the layer of cartons each with four gallons of vanilla syrup. It smelled great for days, but what a nightmare to clean up. And of course we had to pay the claim, too.
          Not at my terminal but elsewhere in our system a fork lift penetrated a 55 gallon drum of some toxic, corrosive chemical. That was lots of fun, too.

          • CJColucci

            Ah, memories of forklift disasters. I worked in the warehouse of my family’s beer distributorship from when I was 12 until I was old enough, and a good enough driver, to go out on the trucks. It’s probably fair to say that lots of people could do the work after a not very long climb up the learning curve, but it’s just stupid and short-sighted to keep reinventing the wheel just because the new folks will be cheaper for a while.

    • Hogan

      “Everyone else’s job is incredibly simple,” said just about every small business owner ever.

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  • Crusty

    I’m not encouraging you to shoot him in the back of the head, that would be illegal. But accidents happen.

  • Jackson87

    I’m just wondering if maybe Fortune could replace some of its older more expensive writers. For the good of all.

    • Crusty

      There are college kids who would do that shit for free. Just saying.

      • There’s always the monkeys with typewriters option. Probably couldn’t do worse.

  • BigHank53

    Dear Mr. Marks,

    It was with great interest that I read your recent advice column in Fortune. Coincidentally enough, I recently found myself on the other side of this very argument, and have consequently been seeking gainful employment at the age of 57. Of course, potential employers have also read your column (or one much like it) and have shown themselves uninterested in hiring an older, experienced, more expensive worker. As I am now homeless and the registration on my 1988 Dodge Caravan will expire soon, I find myself reduced to seeking a long-term retirement solution from the State.

    You will understand, I am sure, that the local prison system is woefully underfunded and the living conditions there are miserable, leading me to seek more comfortable accommodations in the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. I did not set out to become a monster; this is simply a rational business decision made by someone with few options.

    I look forward to discussing this further in person. I took the liberty of visiting your Facebook page; your children look delicious.

    Sincerely yours,

    An Ex-worker

    • Honoré De Ballsack

      +some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

    • efgoldman

      An Ex-worker

      Dear Ex-worker: On your behalf we have retired the intartoobz for the balance of the day. Unfortunately, no fiduciary compensation is involved.

  • Riggsveda

    “You’re contributing to his healthcare and his 401(K)… And as he gets older, you’re increasing the risk that he will cost your company more – maybe he gets injured…”

    Or maybe his getting old means he uses more of that “healthcare” you’re contributing to, and that would cost you more money. That right there is what we called “direct evidence” of discrimination in my erstwhile career. If we found something like this was actually discussed by an employer as shown, we would have Probable Caused his butt in record time, and if the adviser writing the column actually convinced an employer to follow his suggestion, he could be hit with an aid and abet complaint, as well. That liability issue is what was behind Fortune’s sudden discovery of ethics, probably helped along by a loud scree from their legal department.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      J’ever notice how guys like this overlook all the years this employee paid into the health insurance but was healthy? To paraphrase Don Draper, That’s what the premiums are for!

  • delazeur

    This is a weird view of capitalism that seems to be popular among Ayn Rand fans who have no actual experience successfully running a business. Workers who know they might be fired just to save the company a few thousand dollars a year will be unhappy, unproductive, more likely to steal, more likely to be absent from work, and more likely to quit without notice. That company culture is going to spread and become visible to customers, and eventually reflect itself in the company’s profitability.

    People who promote the idea that business owners have to be ruthless profiteers in order to stay afloat are simply engaging in poorly disguised class warfare.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Also, they’re dicks.

    • CP

      I think those guys are drawn to capitalism because they latched onto a couple of watered down concepts like “greed is good” and “what you do for your own selfish purposes will be good for other people anyway,” which appeals to them because it gives them a license to be selfish dicks. They then proceed to ignore virtually everything else about the worldview.

      As someone on another blog used to point out, try trolling a wingnut blog with quotes from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, then take a shot every time someone calls you a communist…

      • delazeur

        As someone on another blog used to point out, try trolling a wingnut blog with quotes from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, then take a shot every time someone calls you a communist…

        The Wealth of Nations is probably one of the most widely misunderstood books out there. Totally hilarious to see people claim it supports the Gordon Gecko ideal.

        • I don’t think anyone who claims this has actually read Adam Smith. Not that it’s going to stop them.

          • so-in-so

            Most of them also think MLK gave one speech, consisting of a single phrase.

            They may have read all of “Atlas Shrugged”, however.

            • CP

              Yeah, exactly. Jesus of Nazareth, Adam Smith, the Founding Fathers, Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King. All people that they would probably have hated if they’d lived at the same time; that they now worship because they’ve become the saints of their tribal (American, Christian, Capitalist) pantheons; but they still don’t have a hell of a good idea what they actually said, taught, and believed. They only know that they’re supposed to like them because reasons.

              “Conservatism is the blind and fear-filled worship of dead radicals.”

              • delazeur

                That’s a good line. Is it yours or someone else’s?

                • CP

                  Someone else’s, I’m sorry to say. I didn’t remember who, but according to the Internets, it’s Mark Twain.

      • DrS

        As someone on another blog used to point out, try trolling a wingnut blog with quotes from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, then take a shot every time someone calls you a communist…

        Unfortunately since I’m in libtard California, my magazine only holds ten rounds. I’m afraid I’m going to need something a little heavier duty to take all these shots.

        • CP

          Good idea.

          Ah, well, that is, I mean, I’m not encouraging you to take shots at everybody who calls you a communist. Murder is against the law.

  • Blanche Davidian

    I believe we could fill an entire tumbril from the Fortune editorial staff. Now that’s the way to economize!

  • Lurking Canadian

    Age discrimination is illegal, but is “wage discrimination” illegal? I ask because I genuinely don’t know. Absent a union contract with seniority guarantees, can employers preferentially lay off the more expensive employees first?

    It would be de facto age discrimination, but would he get away with it?

    • delazeur

      That’s totally legal and happens all the time. Where the employer may get into trouble is if they have documents explicitly connecting age and salary as part of their layoff decision.

      • CJColucci

        Exactly.

  • pianomover

    You pay peanuts you get monkeys

    • Linnaeus

      I’ve never heard this saying before, and now I’ve already seen it twice in this thread. Weird.

      • Bill Murray

        We here in the Middle West say, “You pay K-Mart prices, you get K-Mart quality”

      • guthrie

        It’s well enough known here in Scotland.

      • MPAVictoria

        Like I said my grandpa was a wise guy.

    • DAS

      My mother told me that her father once complained about being paid peanuts. My mother and her siblings were around and took the complaint literally. This started a family tradition: every pay day my grandfather would purchase peanuts on his way home from work to give to my mom and her siblings.

      At one point I was describing my income situation to my mom: I said that my university pays faculty macadamia nuts!

  • Steve LaBonne

    This kind of thing, plus in general working for a butthole employer with whom I am unpopular, is why I’m grateful that I am a classified civil service employee, and consequently have pretty strong job protection under Ohio law. I don’t think I would even have made it to my current age of 60 (when I can draw a pension, albeit a scanty one) otherwise. As it is I’m pretty confident of lasting the 5 more years that I need to work.

  • ChrisTS

    At least the comments (thus far) are sane and decent.

    • N__B

      Here’s something insane and indecent: my boss from 1990 to 1992 has fired three people that I know of less than six months before they got to their twentieth anniversary at the company. A coincidence, I’m sure.

  • Gee Suss

    Pitchforks, torches, and guillotines might not be enough this time. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

  • solidcitizen

    Isn’t the correct answer to offer to let Frank keep working in his job for the lower salary? That way, when Frank tells you to go fuck yourself, you can fire him for insubordination. It’s actually really pretty easy.

    • CJColucci

      Former Fezziwig Employee: “Am I to be kept on, sir?”

      Scrooge: “What is your salary?”

      FFE: “Six shillings a week, sir.”

      Scrooge: “You can stay on for four.”

  • antoni_jaume

    ” Would it be wrong to let him go?”

    I hate the use of let go in the place of to fire. Has that worker informed him that he had a better offer? Then it would be a case for using let go.

    • CP

      And now I have the Frozen soundtrack stuck in my head.

  • Woodrowfan

    that happened to one of my grandfathers back in the day. The company where he worked was bought by another company. A year later he and every employee about a certain age was fired. goodbye several decades of retirement benefits!!!

  • Woodrowfan

    that happened to one of my grandfathers back int he day. The company where he worked was bought by another company. A year later he and every employee about a certain age was fired. goodbye several decades of retirement benefits!!!

  • Crusty

    Securities fraud is a fantastic way to make money. I’m not encouraging you to do it, its illegal. But man, it is a really great way to make money and wanting to make money doesn’t make you a terrible person.

  • q-tip

    I used to be a manager. (Retail.) And my boss, and my boss’s boss, and my boss’s boss’s boss, etc., rolled the shit they got from their bosses down at us all the time.

    And there were times I looked at the old-timers in my store, the employees with kids and medical issues and schedule restrictions, the ones who didn’t move so fast, or got cranky when someone asked the same dumb question they’d heard a million times, and I asked myself: why do we still have to give full-time hours to this guy/that lady, instead of spending that payroll on the younger part-timers who get a lot more done and are hungry for hours?

    The thing is, we used those old-timers. To some degree, we broke them. Sometimes in a literal physical way: the guy who fell off the ladder, spent 6 months on worker’s comp, and came right back, limp and all. And sometimes just by taking all those years of their lives they could’ve been doing something for an employer that wouldn’t treat them worse and worse every year.

    Sorry, this shit gets me emotional. I had a lot more to say about how long-term employees contribute so much in terms of institutional knowledge, culture, and learned skills, but I’ve vented too much already.

  • royko

    The hard decisions that are necessary to grow your business and ensure it as a going concern for years to come. Why? Because you have employees, customers, partners, suppliers and everyone’s family members (including yours) that rely on you and your company for their livelihoods.

    I am the master of hundreds of workers.
    They all look to me.
    Can I abandon them?
    How would they live
    If I am not free?

  • Brett

    This is definitely an age discrimination lawsuit waiting to happen if the business-owner goes through with it. There’s no indication that Frank is no longer capable of doing the work at a satisfactory level – just that doing so would be cheaper in theory if they hired a younger worker. And even then, you’d want to see if there were other, less strenuous positions he could do first before edging him out (hopefully with some severance and a notice period, or retirement if he’s old enough).

  • Origami Isopod

    Charming fellow, Gene Marks.

  • Joe Bob the III

    Here’s the funny thing about geezers and their expensive health care needs. The company I work for is self-insured for health care. There is a reinsurance policy that would cover the big, big bucks but we directly spend $900K to $1 million on health expenses.

    The three single biggest expenditures we have ever had were two employees whose spouses had premature twins and one who survived a brain aneurysm. They were all in their early 30s.

    The good thing about those geezers in the 55-65 range is that even though their individual costs may be higher they don’t have dependent children on the company health plan anymore.

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