Blame Motown

We gave the world the Model T. We gave the world the $5 workday. We gave the world Motown. We gave the world the MC5. We gave the world … the current wave of corporate thievery and the prospect of a worldwide financial meltdown? Huh? But that’s just a short leap if you buy the logic expounded recently in the online journal Slate. The headline: “Blame Iacocca. How the former Chrysler CEO caused the corporate scandals.”

The author, James Surowiecki, goes back to the early ’80s when a federal bailout saved Chrysler from bankruptcy. Chrysler’s CEO, Lee Iacocca, became the public face of its revamping and resurrection, including star roles in TV ads that revolutionized the image of the formerly gray and bland CEO. Iacocca invented the CEO as superstar — and not only in the eyes of the public. Subsequent celebrity status for the likes of Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch might not have been so bad “had the people in the boardrooms not also bought into the myth. … Companies everywhere wanted their own Iacocca.”

Which begat skyrocketing CEO pay packages (from 43 times the average worker’s salary in 1980 to 531 times the average worker’s salary in 2000), which begat the frenzy for stock options to pump up pay, which begat the temptation to cook books and drive up the value of the options, which begat the current mess.

News Hits figures it’s only a matter of time before someone pushes the historical blame game back further and cites some fundamental failing of the city that made pop stars of kids from the projects and taught the world about “Dancing in the Street.” Or maybe the next fall guy is James Blanchard, who kept telling us through the Demo-cratic primary campaign that as a congressman he authored the Chrysler bailout package … that begat Iacocca the star.

W. Kim Heron is the Metro Times managing editor. Send comments to [email protected].
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