Cats Get Fatter

fat cat 0519

Recently, Ben at work learned Amazon doesn’t pay taxes, and he seemed surprised by this. Some of us at this point are just cynical, although I do recall several years ago when I learned that GE (now apparently with woes of its own) paid $0 in taxes, and I was as indignant — probably more so — than Ben.

I’m not sure who exactly Abigail Disney is — I mean, you can make an educated guess when you look at her last name — but last month she broke with her corporate brethern and sistern in an op-ed piece suggesting that some of that corporate profit might ought to go to the “face of the company,” the poorly-paid people who operate the rides and clean up after guests and generally make Disney parks “the most wonderful place on Earth” or whatever their catchphrase is.

Ms. Disney noted that company CEO Robert Iger went home with $65 million last year, or 1,424 times the pay of an average Disney employee. She remarked on the disparity of the increase of pay as well: since 1978, she asserted, CEO pay has increased 937 percent while average worker pay went up a whopping 11.2 percent.

It isn’t just Ms. Disney. Freshman Rep. Katie Porter from California came into her new job with a solid finance background, and she sliced and diced Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase CEO, in his appearance on Capitol Hill last month.

She wanted him to explain why one of her constituents who works for JPMorgan Chase could not pay all her bills on her annual pay of $35,070. This is a woman who makes $16.50 an hour; the same report, by Washington Post numbers wonk Philip Bump, showed the “real hourly earnings among non-supervisory employees” is $9.38.

According to Mr. Bump’s sources, CEOs in 1965 made 20 times what their employees did; recently that has skyrocketed to 312 times. (Mr. Dimon apparently has much to think about; at least, that was his response to most of Rep. Porter’s questions: “I’d have to think about that.”) Even if you don’t want to read the column, it’s worth visiting the bottom of it just for the graphic, where Mr. Dimon’s $31 million is measured against his employee’s $35,000. They’re kind of just numbers until you see all those bundles stacked against one.

And then there are other ways big business sets out to screw little people. Okay, maybe they don’t “set out” to do this, but corporate decisions in far away, removed places can drastically impact people on the ground who are just trying to make a living.

We have two hardware stores in town, an Ace and a True Value. Both are locally owned, and have been owned by the same two families for quite some time. The parking lot at Ace is perpetually full and customers abound; at True Value you might have to fight one other car for the parking space closest to the door, and having more than a couple of customers in the store at one time is an Event.

I don’t know exactly why this is, although the owner of True Value, Mike, hasn’t done himself a lot of favors over the years. He moved from the west side of the street to the east, a location he built (overbuilt, really, and he struggles to find tenants for the rest of his strip). At one point he tried being closed “for God” on Sundays (that’s what the sign said); the other owner, equally religious, doesn’t go to work himself on Sundays, but employs others to keep the store open on one of the two biggest “project days” of the week.

The bigger harm came when Mike tried to sell the store to another local owner. He must have self-financed the purchase, because after the interim owner ran it quickly into the ground, Mike ended up with it back. He’s been fairly frank when I’m in True Value about having to dig out of a hole.

While I usually, like most everyone else in town, default to Ace, I sometimes feel like I ought to take some business to True Value. They’re the place to go for the Sterilite tubs we seem to use by the truckload at work, and they had just the grease gun I needed last year.

And if you want a guy who knows appliances, it’s Mike at True Value. He must be on his third decade or more of appliance dealership. This winter we ran into our friends Mark and Kym at True Value, where they were dismayed to learn that 23 years after they bought it, they couldn’t replace their exact Maytag model dishwasher they bought from Mike. (The dishwasher was still working, but the basket, which couldn’t be replaced, was rusted out.) So he was selling them a different model, and while Mike was busy talking to Mark, Kym raved (and raved) to me about Mike’s customer service and expertise.

I’m a firm believer in shopping local, so while Lynn and Dusty have focused their appliance searches on Home Depot, I’m in charge of the laundry room, and I am getting the washer and dryer from True Value.

While I was in there earlier this year, I happened to notice a small cabinetry display, so yesterday, finally with CAD drawings of our kitchen and laundry room in hand, Lynn and I went in to talk to Mike about both cabinets and appliances.

The first thing he said was, “I can save you half your time.” Three days prior, he had received a phone call from Merillat, the cabinet company he reps. He hadn’t sold enough of their product, so they were yanking it away from him. He said he tried to explain to them that he’s been working up out of a hole, and he had three or four projects in the bid process, but in a world of quotas and numbers, he wasn’t cutting it, so he was gone.

This is the third time I’ve heard of this happening to a local business owner. Apple did it long ago to our computer store (“You have to sell $100,000 annually, but not to the schools because we’ll go direct to them”), and Converse has done it twice, once to a store here and more recently to a store in Lynn’s hometown in Wisconsin.

I’ve tended to subscribe to the Hershey notion of business, that if you can sell a lot of little stuff you can still make money, so you’d think these big companies would appreciate the small businesses that try to get their products to the hinterlands. Maybe with the internet it just doesn’t matter anymore.

And as I say that, I’m still likely to search for my Chuck Taylors wherever I can find them rather than try a different brand of sneaker that I can find locally — only to have that company drop this small store and I repeat the process endlessly.

It sure doesn’t help people like Mike, though, who is just trying to get by while offering a product he thinks his customers might like. I was also excited to get these cabinets because the sales rep who dealt with Mike is a probably-not-as-young-as-I-think-she-is woman whom I’ve known since she was three and singing Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the QSA,” (as she heard it).

There’s another local cabinet store in town, and yesterday Mike referred us there, but sometimes you just hurt for the little guys who seem to have only one kind of luck, and none of it good.

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