If my company laid off retail employees tomorrow, I wouldn't be let go. I've achieved a level of success in my current position that contributes heavily to the company's bottom line. This doesn't mean, however, that the layoffs wouldn't affect me (or you) directly.
The bank industry has become the best industry to use in these comparisons, due in no small part to their heavily publicized statistics: Bailouts, bonuses, layoffs, excessive corporate spending while the taxpayers foot the bill and the low-level employees are sent on unpaid permanent vacation, and so on. The hard reality may well be that we're not in a recession at all... perhaps it's only the rich who are technically in a recession and they're merely using their power to pawn the recession off onto "the rest of us" in order to cling to their lavish lifestyles.
Over 100,000 bank employees have been laid off over the past two years, and they weren't executives. The layoffs were the guys at the bottom, the ones who actually need a paycheck to pay their mortgage, lest they go into foreclosure and... you guessed it... hurt the bank's bottom line, causing more layoffs. However, nine out of ten corporate banking execs are still employed, and the average bailed-out CEO received over eleven million dollars in total pay in 2007. The numbers for 2008 aren't in yet, but by now you've already heard of the eighteen billion dollars and more paid in bonuses to bailed out banks at the end of the year.
If those 100,000 employees made $50,000 a year, that's five billion dollars saved annually by these companies... not even one quarter of the amount paid in bonuses to just a handful of executives celebrating their colossal failures over the same time period.
Let me reiterate this a second time, more clearly:
The banking industry put over 100,000 people out of jobs, and used ALL of the money they'd have paid to these low-level workers to pay for A SMALL PORTION OF THEIR EXECUTIVE BONUSES. While thousands and thousands of former employees struggled (or failed) to keep roofs over their families' heads, the corporate executives who laid them off used a combination of those displaced workers' salaries and taxpayer money taken without taxpayer consent, and used it, not as pay, but as EXTRA compensation that is typically tied to a JOB WELL DONE.
And apparenty, we're OK with that because it's just how the market works.
I have a solution, and I've already spelled it out for you, just backwards. Let's flip the argument above and watch the light bulbs flipping on above our heads:
Forcefully take back the 18+ billion dollars in bonuses. Give each and every laid off employee their full salary and split the rest amongst the taxpayers who were expected to foot the bill for this greed.
How much common sense was that? Too much for our greed-based society, I'm sure.
This brings me to the ultimate point of this comparison. While industries are complaining about how horrible the economy is and how nobody is spending, they are laying off their employees, which means that even less people can spend.
When you buy pork, it's mostly comprised of meat, which is the purpose of purchasing the pork in the first place. Unfortunately, there's usually a good chunk of fat that just comes with the territory. You can't completely eliminate the fat, but you can trim the fat. It's completely rational to trim the fat because that solves the problem. Why, then, are we allowing these corporations to trim all the good meat and keep all the fat? How will that help us in the long run?
At this rate, we'll all starve.
Don't lay off the base of your operations and the foundation of the economy. Accept that nobody should be making more than the president ($400,000 a year) and use everything you get above and beyond that (yes, even stock options) as pay for the employees you wanted to throw out on the street. You CAN live on $400,000 a year... trust me, most of us our living on less than a tenth of that. If you want the economy to survive, trim the fat.
Don't throw out perfectly good meat, because we can't survive on the fat.