With all our attention diverted to debates and campaigning, I hope we’re not missing that Wells Fargo story; because people who claim that Donald Trump will finally run our country like a business ought to pay attention.
For years when I was an educator I would hear non-classroom experts extol the virtues of running a school like a business. These people with a balance-sheet mentality were adept at seeing the bottom line, but seemed unaware of all the lines above it. Students are not commodities or items from the assembly line, and though I never doubted the merits of the business model in the business context, I never saw what that approach had to do with education other than trying to negotiate the best deals on renovations and additions and getting the best prices on toner. As simplistic as it may sound, schools were never intended to turn a profit. They were supposed to educate young people in the best possible manner with the available resources—financial and otherwise.
America, too, is not a business. Its citizens, like students, are not commodities or items from the assembly line; and when I heard Donald Trump babbling about trade deficits and tariffs and tax schemes the other night, all I could think of was his near-namesake John Stumpf, the Wells Fargo chief executive who will forfeit unvested stock awards worth about $41 million, will not receive a salary while the investigation is underway, and will not be eligible for a 2016 bonus. The reason? He seems to have been foursquare behind the plan to set up sham accounts to meet sales quotas.
Fifty-three hundred Wells Fargo employees have been fired for, in essence, doing the job they were coerced to do. (Some no doubt did it willingly.) Worse still, others were fired during the past five years for refusing to participate in the scheme. Their stories are out there too, and more will surface as the facts become clearer.
Don’t weep for Mr. Stumpf: he was awarded $161 million in bonuses and performance awards between 2011 and 2015. He won’t starve even if the board fires him. He is, though, about to undergo some difficult questioning by the House Financial Services Committee.
In an ironic twist (I guess all twists are ironic—sorry) his greed may have saved the rest of us. Since Dodd-Frank in 2010, financial firms have been trying to dilute the rules and circumvent the restrictions placed on them—eager to return to the freedoms they abused when they collapsed the economy in 2008. But the more Americans know about this Wells Fargo fiasco, the less lawmakers are likely to side with these firms.
Stumpf blames greedy underlings.
Want a wheeler-dealer to run your country? Watch your wallet.