A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth, right?
So what’s it called when an executive tells everyone his petty, lazy opinion? What is it when he inadvertently reveals the truth of what it’s like in the C-Suite?
I’m speaking of the underreported feud between Titan International’s Maurice Taylor and the nation of France. Upon being asked to bid on a tire factory in Amien, Taylor responded with a crude, stereotype-filled letter claiming that French workers talk for half of their shifts, that he has no interest in paying for benefits, time off, or living wages, and that he plans to buy an Indian or Chinese factory, pay “less than a Euro a day” in wages and import tires to France.
This upset me for a few reasons, chief of which is Taylor’s cavalier attitude toward Third World living conditions: he’s proud of paying less than a living wage to Indian and Chinese workers.
But upon reflection, it occurred to me that this says something pretty incisive about his company and management style. Sure, it’s in the nature of businesspeople to look for and leverage opportunities, and one of those opportunities is the minimization of costs. Another opportunity lies in maximizing sale price.
But does Titan rely on below-living-wage costs in order to turn a profit? If he’s worried about losing money by employing workers in developed countries, then it speaks volumes to the business model he endorses. This isn’t merely arbitrage, it’s outright oppression,
The only thing I can do is never buy Titan tires. But luckily, I don’t have to spearhead labor movements in China and India. As the world globalizes, it gets harder and harder to maintain high living standards in one place and tamp them down elsewhere. Indeed, it seems like the arguments some businesspeople in the United States have made about “international competitiveness” (that is, lowering labor costs in the US by slashing benefits, wages, and collective bargaining rights) seem designed to acclimate the population to lower standards of living so as to prolong this form of global arbitrage.
That may be a little overly cynical, but I’ve heard multiple businesspeople say without a shred of irony that companies produce products overseas because they can get away with paying workers pennies a day. But governments won’t subsidize corporate profits through exploitation forever.
Or, at least a humble blogger can hope.