To Big Tech Bosses, Lay People Off but in a Well-Ordered Society, You Won’t Get Rich That Way




Of course, even we understand that the American market is a completely different animal. There, jobs are lost and found with ease. Salaries are much higher. The American worker bears no resemblance to our “Checco Zalone”* and has no love for the “posto fisso,”* the sinecure of the steady job. For some, the American Dream means that everyone has what they “deserve,” that the rich are “good” and the poor are “incapable” and essentially that everyone is responsible for their own luck. We are quite willing to acknowledge that the American economic system cannot be thoroughly understood from a European point of view.

But even in Europe and in Italy, there is no lack of those who parrot on about “the American way of life.” And there are those who believe in “the beautiful market” and news reports and social media that convey ideals viewing life as a jungle and deem greed to be a virtue; and thus, there are more than a few who imitate American banks and companies, playing at being Gordon Gekko and his ilk, even with family businesses.

Yet, even if that vision and that economic practice has its followers and admirers in Italy, perhaps the news that two giants of innovation and big tech, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, have recently decided to lay off tens of thousands of workers as if they were detritus hits us and saddens us, even if we aren’t directly involved. Because this news shows the path (not) to follow, but especially — Bezos and Zuckerberg certainly don’t seem to realize it — destroys the reputation of their businesses and their ethics and causes irreparable damage not only to themselves, their employees and their country, but also to the entire economic system, stripping it of trust and of a future.

These so-called entrepreneurs do, in fact, know that economic efficiency travels in a completely different direction. They know that capital should go where there is work, not the other way around. They know that the true assets of a company are its workers and should be protected. They know that, when they will have finished playing fast and loose with the job, mistaken predictions and calculations will be uncovered. What will be left will be a ravished landscape, a destroyed social fabric, nothing but fools’ gold in the hands of those who believed they could make a profit with an abacus, as has already occurred in many regions of the U.S. (the Rust Belt) and also here in Italy (Turin, Sesto San Giovanni, etc.). Barriers and laws against immigration, which cost blood and sweat, have suddenly become useless and damaging.

Certainly, governments and the law could do more to prevent this side effect of economics, so contrary to coexistence and harmful to development. This is economics without ethics, stripped of moral values and a sense of the state. Empty of logic, common sense, balance, of that modicum of culture that certainly doesn’t come from books, but from the knowledge of one’s own humanity. This is an economy that doesn’t work and that continually results only in losses.

The state and legislation exist with the aim of expressing the extent of the collective’s humanity, the desire for a peaceful and harmonious coexistence that makes us bond together. But the big bosses, obsessed with profits, can choose to do whatever they like with their own companies, as long as they are within the law. It is the collective that cannot remain indifferent in face of the fact that in its name, a few people should accumulate outrageous fortunes to the detriment of others; that many, too many, can be taken advantage of due to defects in the law and to the limits of redistributive policies. Lay people off to your heart’s content, if you think it seems smart. But in a well-ordered society, you can’t get rich by laying people off. Find another way.

The reason that companies exist rests in the general well-being. The final balance of every economic activity must first and foremost be positive for all of society and then for the owners. I don’t believe that the market ought to be the place where the cunning and the delinquent triumph. I don’t believe that developed, democratic states can long tolerate in silence the legalized exploitation of the multitudes by a few so-called entrepreneurs.

*Translator’s Note: Checco Zalone is the pseudonym of a much-loved Italian comedian and actor, famous for his movie “Quo Vado,” where his character spends the entire film trying to cling onto his “posto fisso” or government sinecure.

The author is a professor of economic history at the University of Verona

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