'Wall Street Journal' Has Become Infected By the Anti-Capitalist
entering college in 1980, I discovered what I believed to be the
world’s greatest newspaper. It was The Wall Street Journal
and I enjoyed it so much because of its pro-capitalist flavor. Although
I was a busy student, I still managed to squeeze in some time to
read the Journal’s high quality articles and its thought provoking
editorials. Upon graduation in 1984 (with a degree in business administration),
I believed that reading The Wall Street Journal had become
a lifetime habit. It was simply a pleasure to read a pro-capitalist
newspaper (every weekday) when most others had become left-wing
oriented. However, I have noticed that my habit has been broken.
Over the past few years, I have read too many articles that left
me wondering if this great newspaper has capitulated and joined
the anti-capitalist camp. Now, I find myself reading this newspaper
perhaps once a week (usually the Friday edition). In my opinion,
the April 26, 2002 edition of The Wall Street Journal, has
left little doubt that this once-great newspaper no longer is the
pro-capitalist institution it once was. What lead me to this saddening
conclusion was the front-page article titled “Many Banks
Boost Earnings With ‘Janitors’ Life Insurance” (authored by Theo
Francis and Ellen Schultz).
going to the gym on Saturday morning (April 27th), I
read the above-mentioned article and found it to be uninteresting.
This article didn’t strike me as something that belonged on the
front page of The Wall Street Journal. Initially, I believed
that the thrust of the article was simply that banks are purchasing
life insurance on their employees and then collecting death benefits
upon the passing of employees (I said to myself, “So what?”). Being
that my undergraduate degree is in risk management, I didn’t find
anything unusual about a company collecting life insurance proceeds
upon the passing of an employee. Over the 18 years I have spent
as a surety bond underwriter, I have had the sad experience of having
clients (e.g. construction companies) collect a life insurance death
benefit when a key employee had passed away. The proceeds of such
life insurance policies have either been used to fund the search
for a new key employee (in order to make sure the company stays
viable and keeps its doors open) or to help fund the process of
liquidating the company in an orderly and honorable fashion (indeed
businessmen do want to see that contracts are fulfilled even after
they have died). While exercising at the gym, I couldn’t shake away
the thought that such an article was considered to be front-page
news by the editors of The Wall Street Journal. Then it struck
me that I was looking at this article with a pro-business paradigm.
What if I re-read this article from an anti-capitalist perspective?
In other words, if I hated profits but loved taxes, then would this
be a newsworthy/front-page article? At this point, I couldn’t wait
to finish my 65-minute workout and read the article again from this
anti-business perspective. So here it goes.
classical Marxist attack on capitalism pertains to the assertion
that capitalists exploit laborers. The argument goes as follows:
The profit a capitalist generates comes from the surplus value generated
by laborers. Therefore, the higher the profit, the higher the rate
of laborer exploitation. Now if an employer profits from the death
of a laborer as well, then capitalism has become all the more ghoulish.
To add insult to injury, these death benefits aren’t even taxable
and, thus, aren’t subject to redistribution by the central government
(how awful!). Capitalist exploitation is hitting dangerous new heights
(now even the dead are being exploited). So here is the “evidence”
of exploitation conveyed by this front-page Wall Street Journal
article. The following banks enjoyed additional earnings, in 2001,
due to having “janitors” life insurance programs in place:
– $15 million in additional net income
Bancorp – $18.2 million in additional net income
Corp. – $15.4 million in additional net income
Mutual, Inc. – $31 million in additional net income
the end of this article, WSJ.com’s question of the day is
posed: “Should companies be allowed to insure employees’ lives without
their knowledge?” Now we have a story! Capitalists are not only
exploiting laborers, they are also exploiting the dead. Moreover,
this exploitation is being perpetrated in a shadowy and unseemly
manner. By gosh, this does belong on the front page of The Wall
Street Journal. This is important information if you are an
anti-capitalist. Heck, this article’s subtitle “Janitors Insurance:
Profiting When Employees Die” definitely serves to inflame my hatred
of capitalism (ouch, that was a bit painful).
it is time to go back to the pro-capitalist mindset. Here is what
was blatantly omitted from this article. First and foremost, two
parties (i.e., a bank and a life insurer) agreed that the bank had
an insurable interest in its employees. Therefore, these “janitors”
life insurance contracts were entered into voluntarily with the
belief that the insurance contract would be mutually beneficial.
The authors of this article didn’t even bother to mention that insuring
against the death of an employee could benefit the remaining employees.
For example, the additional earnings enjoyed by the above-mentioned
banks could result in the following:
raises for employees
in employee benefits
none of these possibilities will be raised if an anti-capitalist
paradigm prevails especially when writing a story in which companies
are generating tax-free earnings.
final important point to make about this anti-capitalist article
is its positioning. The Wall Street Journal’s editors found
this article to be compelling enough to place it on its front
page. These banks are not committing any crimes nor are the
life insurers (now if the banks were putting poison in the watercoolers,
in order to expedite the collection of death benefits, then that
would have been a story). A few years ago, this inane article would
not have merited front-page status (I don’t think it would have
been published in The Wall Street Journal at all). Now, an
article that would only be interesting to an anti-capitalist is
on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. For me, April
26, 2002 was truly a sad day in business journalism. To me, this
is final confirmation that anti-capitalism has infected this once-great
Englund [send him
mail], who has an MBA from Boise State University, is a surety
bond underwriter in Bellevue, WA.
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