Is the Economy for Joe, or is Joe for the Economy?

If someone is looking for material for a book with a title like “Profiles of an Inhuman Economic System,” consider what follows to be a contribution to the cause. It’s about a man I know whom I’ll call Joe. The story was told to me by his wife.

Joe is an honest, conscientious guy who, a couple of years out of school, went to work for a very large, nationally known company. He wasn’t exactly crazy about his job, and after a while he became aware that the company was systematically extending preferment to women and minorities, while people like himself—ordinary white guys, that is—got short shrift. But by then he was vested in the retirement plan, so he kept on conscientiously doing his work.

Recently, after 28 years, he was let go with little notice and no severance. His performance was satisfactory—otherwise, he wouldn’t have lasted nearly three decades. The problem evidently lay somewhere else—age and money, to be precise.

Joe is in his early 50s. The company is well aware that it can get somebody 25 years younger to do essentially the same work while costing it a great deal less in salary and health benefits. So, at an impossible age and in a dreadful job market, Joe was heartlessly canned.

His wife says that with hindsight you could see it coming for a long time. She traced what happened to her husband back to the era some years ago when the company went public and acquired stockholders. That’s when radical change set in. From there on out, she told me, the company managers had three priorities: money, money, and money. People didn’t count for much any more.

Lately, too (I’m still quoting the wife), Joe’s supervisor had begun setting standards of performance and productivity for him that others weren’t required to meet. Once again, hindsight may shed light on that: the company apparently was protecting itself against the possibility of an age discrimination lawsuit. If it found itself in court with Joe, its lawyers could say, “What do you mean, age discrimination? The problem wasn’t age, it was job performance. See for yourself—it’s all right there in the personnel file.”

And so, in his 50s and with unemployment nationally pushing 8%, Joe is stranded high and dry, out of work and looking for a job. He’s getting unemployment, and his wife says she has plenty for him to do around the house. But when all the chores are done and unemployment runs out—what then? Joe has a lot of years ahead to fill.

Fortunately, his wife has a job that pays well and will keep them afloat. But if what happened to her husband happens to her, these people will be in serious trouble faster than you can say, “Food stamps.”

There’s a principle of social doctrine saying that the economy is for people, not people for the economy, but companies like this one have it the other way around. Blessed John Paul II in his encyclical Centesimus Annus speaks of situations where a firm is doing well financially but the human beings who are its “most valuable asset” are “humiliated and their dignity offended.” Rapacious and inhumane employers like Joe’s fit that description to a tee.

The advantages of our free market system are very real, but an incident like this one shows how people can and do get hurt. If those who benefit most from the market won’t regulate it and themselves, then—unfortunately–government must.

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at

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  • Annamarie

    This op-ed shows, sadly, how the Democrats were able to capitalize on a group of people that we Republicans overlooked, or failed to explain and/or justify, the behavior of mega-corporations toward its older employees (usually “regular Joes” white guys). Obama and his people successfully sold the lie that they were going to “fix it” so that the economy didn’t treat people that way any longer. Baloney! They won’t, of course, as some of their backers are people who control these mega-corporations, such as George Soros. He is not about to change his policies, because he might lose money! And Obama desperately wants their money to finance his socialist agenda. In the socialist machine, people are even WORSE off than they are now because they are are referred to as “units of production” who should not complain when they are kicked under the bus because, a)they owe it to minorities because of their treatment of them in the distant past, and b)it is all for the good of the socialist dream as a whole, you know, as Spock said, “the good of the many is more important than the needs of the one.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? But what happened to Joe will happen to them as well; just wait a few years! However, Obama knows it won’t be his problem by then. He with either be out of office, where he can live off speaker’s fees as one who tried to get “it” done, but those meanie Republicans blocked him, or he will be emperor, and they don’t listen to anyone, anyway!

    Next time, if there is one, we Republicans had better catch on to the realities of life as it is for people like Joe, and have a plan to get the mega-corporations punished for such treatment. Reducing the power of the tort system might be a good place to start.

    Just as criminals are offered the best available lawyer if they can’t afford one, so should someone like Joe have access to a great lawyer who will not just use Joe’s personal record, but those of everyone in his department! There must be a way to accomplish this without resorting to the present system of less-than-qualified lawyers (most of the time, there are some great ones out there). We don’t want to turn him over to the socialist machine of present-day beauracrocies (sp?) (if you want to know how bad they are, just ask anyone who has had to deal with them!). Those are NOT the only alternatives! The tort system is rigged right now. The corporation lawyers should be limited to the same number as the defense, and the lackeys, as well. PLUS, if they lose, they (the corporations) get to pay for the entire suit, everybody’s lawyers, court fees, etc. If you make it too expensive, or too much of a hassle, they WILL capitulate!

    THIS is what we Republicans missed. Although we had all the correct numbers, all the correct facts as to what Obama has NOT done in four years of any positive nature, and the smartest people in the country backing him (Romney) and going on all the talk shows they could (the “cool” ones didn’t want them, lest they had their smart-ass heads handed to them). Obama should NOT have won!

    Even though he only won by hundredths of a point, that was enough to win. I believe he used the “Chicago Way” to accomplish this goal, but apparently all the cheating, manipulation, and intimidation worked. Still, I maintain we didn’t do enough! We forgot to get all the “Joes” and their miseries on our side with (fulfilled) promises to help and a plan laid out for them to see that showed them how we plan to accomplish it. I believe THAT would have won them over from following Obama’s siren song, which WE all know is just sound on the air…gone as quickly as it has come. But it worked for a goodly number of the Joes’. We should not be so ignorant next time. And, NOW is time to start working on it! All voters first vote their pocketbooks, but after that, those people are like us in that they care about the things we care about. By rights that voting bloc should belong to us. Our failure was in not paying enough attention to that bloc! Next time, we CANNOT AFFORD to make the same mistake, or we had best resign ourselves to an endless barrage of Democrats!

  • kirk

    Annamarie, Well, I can counter yours with only one sentence instead of your five paragraphs.

    Romney, with the blessing of the Republicans, collected multi-miliions in just the same way you are blaming Obama – he threw many thousands of “Joes, Jacks and Jills” under the bus, while expanding his own bank accounts.

    Just trying to keep the message honest.

  • Annamarie

    I never cease to be amazed how Democrats STILL blame everything on Bush and those meanie Republicans! Please wake up!

    Whatever Romney might have done in the private sector (and from my records he saved many more jobs than he was forced to eliminate), he cannot even come close to the thievery practiced by Obama and his minions. Please explain to me, by what twisted pretzel logic, Democrats insist on giving Obama a pass on whatever he does! If he took an ax to someone in the White House itself, I swear y’all would find a way to blame the victim!

    I was talking about a voting bloc that slipped through our fingers and why and how we should get it back. I was talking to fellow Republicans and other who don’t happen to thing quadrupiling our national debt is doing a good job. Obama lands in New Jersey for 5 minutes, hugs Christie and takes off to play golf or something and he gets kudos for how much he is helping victims in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy! I’ll bet the people of Staten Island don’t see it that way. Put the Kool-Aid down Kirk, and wake up to the real world!

  • Matt

    The government (and regulation) cannot be our savior. If we turn to government too much, what will we do when government turns on us (as in the HHS mandate)? Government can be just as heartless as corporations. Rather, we need to convert the culture to Christ.

  • I think the real point is being missed. To start with the kind of economic climate that Adam Smith pre-supposed in his much vaunted theories of economics have little to do with the multi-national corporations that exists to day. In Smith’s times corporations were strongly limited in their activities, Smith obviously believe too strongly limited. We have gone to the other side, with the conception of the corporation as a virtually immortal legal person. Capitalism has been very kind to the United States. It has insured prosperity, and during the golden years of the 20th century when balanced by the unions it resulted in the generation of great wealth for the capitalist and a decent life for the union workers.
    That arrangement has gone off the rails. The unions now mis-use their influence. Their are few real capitalists in the traditional sense left. Instead we have institutional capital, who only cares about return on investment in the present or next quarter, corporate management which doesn’t care about the corporation, but is only there to advance their own personal wealth, and unions leaders which only care about political power and wealth and union members who only care about themselves. Not that looking out for yourself and family is bad. But as the Hostess workers found, what happens when you’re so greedy for the gold that you kill the goose?
    I say its time to re-evaluate the whole system. Corporations were originally chartered for very specific purposes and goals. Basically a corporation is suppose to be a vehicle which encourages business to perform tasks which have valuable societal contributions. Hence the special tax and debt protection status of corporations. In the United States corporations were chartered to help build the railroads because the risk of failure was so great that if investors were at risk of losing all of their personal assets no one would invest in the railroads. So corporate laws were written to protect individual investors assets in the face of failure of the corporation. They were tightly regulated by the state, which is why the states still are the ones to charter corporations, and why corporations shop for states with friendly laws in which to incorporate.
    I agree its time for government to take another look at corporations. But its the state governments which need to take action. The federal government needs to just get out of the way and stop the courts from the seemingly never ending expansion of corporate friendly bench legislation that has occurred for the past seventy years. FDR was the best friend of the large corporation ever seen. He drove mom-and-pop companies out of business in huge numbers and basically took business regulation out of the hands of the state and gave it to an ever increasing bloated federal bureaucracy. Yes government needs to act, by getting out of the state’s way, rolling back laws, and putting people back into the equation. No more fictitious corporate “people”. No more protection of the guilty in a web of corporate legalease.

  • kltimm

    A company is in the business to make a profit. Whether joe was let go of because of age is too simplistic. My husband and I have been through many reoranizations, downsizings or relocations whether a private or public company. What we understood is to be a life long learner and keep our skills sharp whether to benefit the current employer or future employer. Your skills make you valuable to an employer no matter age,gender, race, etc. Businesses make all kinds of decisions, mainly based on profit. The times of long time service with one employer are over, it’s been going on since the 80’s. Invest in yourself and you will be employable.