WASHINGTON – When something bad happens to a rich person, it is never their fault. That’s No. 1 in the chief executive officer playbook.
No. 2 is that the rich person should use their greater power to make a lesser person pay the price.
No. 3, use a platform the lesser person doesn’t have to manage any blowback and spin it your way. No. 4, if things get shaky, return to No. 1.
In the latest example of CEOs behaving badly (toward the rest of us, that is), AOL Inc.’s Tim Armstrong tried to shift the blame for a decision to cut back on his company’s benefits to two employees who saddled him with distressed babies, which he said cost the company more than $1 million each. Last week, he announced he was changing the 401(k) plan to offset health care costs.
The truth is that it is Armstrong’s company that is distressed, and he might want to look at himself. AOL’s stock price is up on the hope that he’s going to turn things around, but since taking over in 2009 he’s done little except splurge on acquisitions and other missteps.
At the first murmurings that Armstrong was a jerk, his minions put out a wordy, confusing statement. On Saturday, Armstrong apologized and backtracked on the 401(k) change.
In Armstrong’s defense, he is not the worst among the super-rich when it comes to feeling wounded by underlings when no hurt has been inflicted. Take venture-capital billionaire Tom Perkins, who in a letter to the Wall Street Journal warned of a Kristallnacht being prepared against the wealthy.
What folks like Perkins and Armstrong have to endure, you wouldn’t want to happen to a fast-food worker doing double shifts. It’s just awful to be that rich and have someone question your smarts or your accomplishments. The only war on the 1 percent is rhetorical, and barely that.
It’s true, the rich are different from you and me. They’re much more sensitive and more easily hurt. They’re still smarting from the mild criticism during the financial crisis, when President Barack Obama called out some who were benefiting at the cost of those who had lost their homes. The criticism didn’t cause anyone to change their ways. The playing field is still tilted heavily toward those already at the top.
To be worried about some disorganized 99 percent manning mythical barricades is ludicrous. Nothing’s changed. Armstrong is a bundle of blunders, but he took home $12 million in salary in 2012 and undoubtedly has great benefits.
If Armstrong were as smart as his position and pay suggest, he wouldn’t be blaming Obamacare (along with those babies) for his troubles. At one time, corporations and their servants in Congress argued for delinking employers and health care, so that instead of being in your own risk pool, you would be in a bottomless one where a couple of neonatal crises would have no effect. But when Obama wanted to do that and insurers didn’t, corporations stuck with their own.
In 2017, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Armstrong could enter his state’s health care exchange. He wouldn’t have to worry about having a bad year because of a few distressed babies. But then he’d have no one to blame for his mistakes but himself.
He couldn’t let that happen.