BILL CRAWFORD: Mississippians’ fascinating love of free markets

By Bill Crawford

A common U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Tea Party refrain is to let the “free market” take care of things and eliminate government regulation. Despite careless, risky company actions leading to the BP oil spill and Wall Street financial crisis, the anti-regulatory and free market refrain still resonates in Mississippi.
Free markets with minimal regulation, of course, are beatitudes of giant, multinational corporations. It’s, well, fascinating that so many from small, rural Mississippi align their views with leaders of these conglomerates.
Consider Chevron, G.E., DuPont, and AT&T. All have operations and lots of jobs in Mississippi. And all paid their CEOs an average of $20 million for 2010. Yes, $20 million!
In Mississippi median family income was only about $46,000. Nearly 300,000 earned less than $35,000. Another 450,000 earned between $35,000 and $200,000. Only 15,450 families earned $200,000 or more.
It’s unknown if any Mississippi families made $20 million. But, that’s a quite common pay level for CEOs of giant corporations.
Company profits are the major driver of corporate CEO pay. Company profits have a lot to do with what many Mississippians make, too. But, between 2008 and 2010, none of the above CEOs was laid off or unemployed, while Mississippi’s unemployment skyrocketed to over 10 percent.
The alignment of Mississippi attitudes with top CEOs is even more, eh, fascinating, when you consider that what’s good for giant corporation profits is not necessarily good for the U.S. economy or Mississippi jobs.
While DuPont shrank its American workforce, it grew its Asia-Pacific workforce by half. G.E. employs 304,000 workers, but now only 134,000 work in America. Chevron produces about 75 percent of its oil overseas (it’s unclear what percentage of its 62,000 plus jobs are foreign). AT&T phones are foreign made and many of its jobs remain in India.
“We’re able to do new product engineering in Bangalore as easily as we’re able to do it in Austin, Texas,” AT&T’s Randall Stephenson explained in 2008. And, at lower costs that improve profits and CEO compensation. “I know you don’t like hearing that, but that’s the way it is,” he said.
Many also may not like hearing that G.E., recipient of a $140 billion government bailout in 2008, paid no U.S. corporate income taxes in 2009 or 2010 even though it made billions based on huge, not-taxed-here overseas profits. G.E. is not alone in this. Corporations paid about 30 percent of the nation’s taxes in the 1950s. By 2009, they paid under 7 percent. That’s the way it is today.
Yes, profits and CEO pay at giant corporations owe a lot to free markets. What’s not so clear is the benefit of these free markets for America and Mississippi.
Still, Mississippians love their free market ideology.
Go figure.

Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian. He is a former banker and state legislator.