05 May 2015

Carly Fiorina, collectivist

One of the longshots in the field for the Republican presidential nomination is Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of the Hewlett-Packard company and more recently an unsuccessful candidate for one of California's U.S. Senate seats. She announced her candidacy over the weekend with a mercifully brief tirade against "low expectations," "identity politics" and the rule of a "political class." Fiorina contends that the Founders never intended the country to be run by a political class, but that really depends on how you define the term. Those who imposed property qualifications for voting presumably believed in a "political class" defined by wealth, and while Fiorina presumably means something more like "career politicians" you might ask how men like Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton or Madison, to be nonpartisan about it, were not career politicians. They may have had farms or firms to run, but neither those private ventures nor their public endeavors were so time consuming that one had to be sacrificed for the other -- though in Jefferson's case you could assume that public life had priority, while he certainly didn't run his farm like a business. Meanwhile, when Fiorina speaks of overthrowing a "political class" she argues implicitly, as has everyone from Ross Perot to Donald Trump, that "running a business" almost uniquely qualifies a person for political life. As did they, she may hope to incite populist ire against the "political class" among the working class, but do you really think she believes the working class and the management class equally qualified to run the country?

In any event, any pretense to populism on her part hits a wall when workers recall her acts as CEO. Unwisely, she failed to secure control over the carlyfiorina.org domain name -- have you ever considered that the expansion of internet domains is a kind of extortion racket aimed at celebrities? -- and a website of that name is now publicizing all the layoffs she ordered while running Hewlett Packard. The news today is that Fiorina intends to defend her record. She justifies the layoffs by telling Katie Couric that they were necessary to "transform a company from failing to succeeding," though she claims she found each one "a terrible decision to make." She'd rather people note how she also fired executives in the name of accountability, though she may rather they forget that she herself was fired in the end. Let's not lose focus on the layoffs, however. While we may accept that an employee's job is not his own property and that he lacks an unconditional right to keep it, we can't ignore the way terrible decisions like Fiorina's belie the rugged and exceptionally American individualism she and many others espouse. Fiorina is a Republican and thus presumably a champion of individualism against "collectivism" as practiced by socialist, communist or totalitarian states. In such places, Americans are told, the individual's interests and his very well being are secondary to the good of the collective, which is usually no more than the venal good of a ruling clique, if not its leader alone. Where collectivism prevails, the individual is sacrificed arbitrarily to a collective that is either a fanatic fantasy (see Islamism) or a cynical lie (see Marxist Leninism). But as a CEO Fiorina was entitled to deprive individuals of their livelihood for the sake of a collective, the Hewlett-Packard company, whose interest was self-evidently monetary and nothing more. A true Republican would argue that here personal responsibility kicks in -- for the workers. It's up to them to find new ways to make themselves useful. But doesn't collectivism in all its forms hold its victims responsible for their ruin? It's either an individual's duty to sacrifice himself, or else he deserves to be sacrificed because he's done something wrong. Apologists for CEOs and the economy that sustains them may try whatever sophistry they like, but the bare fact remains that layoffs are sacrifices of individuals for a collective good. Many a CEO no doubt sees herself as a rugged individualist in the American tradition, but people like Fiorina are really nothing of the sort.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If, as an officer of a corporation, she is willing to put her own employees out on the street to raise the corporation's profit margin, why should I believe she'll do anything to help the working class, especially if it cuts into her or her campaign's profit margin?