Political Animal


July 06, 2012 2:47 PM A Slight Difference of Perspective

By Ed Kilgore

At the risk of being accused by Doug Schoen or somebody of waging “class warfare,” I will note this small news item shedding light on the slight difference of perspective that divides the people at the top of our economic system from the rest of us, via Grist’s Philip Bump:

When Duke Energy announced its merger with Progress Energy last year, the two companies agreed that Progress CEO Bill Johnson would assume the same position at the combined company. So he did: On June 27, Johnson signed a three-year contract to helm Duke. When the merger went into effect on July 2, he assumed the position of CEO.
And then, on July 3 at midnight, Johnson resigned.

It’s clear Johnson was forced out in the maneuvering that accompanied the merger. But, as Bump says, “let us not weep for our once-and-not-future king.” As the Wall Street Journal discloses:

Despite his short-lived tenure, Mr. Johnson will receive exit payments worth as much as $44.4 million, according to Duke. That includes $7.4 million in severance, a nearly $1.4 million cash bonus, a special lump-sum payment worth up to $1.5 million and accelerated vesting of his stock awards, according to a Duke regulatory filing Tuesday night. Mr. Johnson gets the lump-sum payment as long as he cooperates with Duke and doesn’t disparage his former employer, the filing said.
Under his exit package, Mr. Johnson also will receive approximately $30,000 to reimburse him for relocation expenses.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve left quite a few jobs, invariably on better terms than those accompanying Johnson’s departure from Duke Energy, and have yet to see the first penny of severance pay. It’s not something most Americans can anticipate, whatever their years of service or their dedication and excellence. I would hazard a guess that many of the epochal moral lepers (if not actual criminals) who perpetuated the LIBOR scandal are going to land pretty softly as well, even if they are shunned in polite society.

Do I envy these people? Not really; I happen to believe in a religion in which just desserts are ultimately apportioned by a Judge a bit more discerning than the God of the Marketplace. But I would cite the Johnson story and many like it as important data points in the argument over the proposition that inequality is dividing Americans far more than any conceivable effort to reduce it, and as a definitive refutation of those who claim wealth and poverty reflect moral worth.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on July 06, 2012 2:58 PM:

    Nothing ever trickles down to us peons.

    No pocket change - not even belly-button lint.
    Ok - pee and poop do.

    But the rich and/or powerful always fail-up - into bonuses and golden parachutes worth many millions, or tens of millions, of dollars.

    Anyone want to bet how long it take this guy to find another soft perch to land on?

    My guess is, after a nice long vacation - the beginning of next year.

    Even in periods of stagflation, grifters gotta hustle for money - no matter how much is socked-away in some offshore account(s).

  • Michael B. on July 06, 2012 3:04 PM:

    This is the kind of story that should inflame the American public to riot and tear down every State Capitol building in America. What is so wrong with the tax system to allow such practices? Blame the Republicans and the corrupt Democrats that you placed on Capitol Hill for this.

  • Josef K on July 06, 2012 3:09 PM:

    I agree with Ed that, ultimately, these clowns will face rather stiff judgment down the road. That doesn't lessen the sting of seeing these gold parachutes opening like muchrooms, never mind understanding how effed up much of our economy is.

  • gus on July 06, 2012 3:41 PM:

    This should be why Mitt Romneyís $100 million dollar retirement account (just a little tucked aside for the Golden Years) is just infuriating.

    Fewer people have retirement security that is beyond Social Security. Then these people who have golden parachutes that they can use when the fail, when they get fired. Thatís just too much.

    I donít worry about people like Mitt Romneyís future or Bill Johnsonís future. They should just enjoy their blessings. It seems like done enough of fixing other peopleís problems and have set themselves up quite nicely.

    Thatís why I think multi-millionaires and multi-billionaires should figure out ways they can continue to help with trying to get elected. Bill Clinton does a lot of good, so does Ted Turner and then thereís Bill Gates. Let these richer than most of combined folks stop adding to the net worth of the elected officials in the exec and legislative branches.

    While in office, they havenít done much more than make themselves richer or by setting up their own retirement packages.


  • CharlieM on July 06, 2012 3:44 PM:

    You're dreaming if you think there will be anything close to an accounting for the excesses the banksters have visited on the rest of us these past few years.
    Foreclosure fraud, LiBOR, derivatives, etc. It's all just a bump in the road.
    The "powers that be" aren't going to hold them accountable. Primarily because they ARE the "powers that be".
    And anyone squealing about "class warfare" shouldn't be taken seriously. The banksters and the rest of the 1% have been indulging in it since time immemorial. Where do you think those multi-million "exit payments" come from. They ain't passing the hat around amongst themselves for that kind of money.

  • MuddyLee on July 06, 2012 4:08 PM:

    Think Bill Johnson's voting Republican or Democrat this fall? Let me guess.....

  • boatboy_srq on July 06, 2012 4:18 PM:

    IIRC there was a time when this sort of "severance package" was not only taxed at a higher rate, but not exactly socially acceptable either.

    Then again, there was a time when substantial wealth accumulation within a single generation was cause for suspicion that such wealth was not obtained ethically, either.

    Remind me again how big The Eye of the Needle was? It's starting to sound more like l'Arc de Triomphe.

  • meander on July 06, 2012 5:23 PM:

    For all of those screaming about how battling climate change or reducing pollutant emissions from power plants will increase electricity rates, how about also screaming how self-dealing and golden parachutes to executives are jacking up electricity rates. But unlike potentially rate-increasing investments in air pollution reduction, a golden parachute doesn't do much to reduce asthma rates or particulate-matter induced heart disease.

  • Citizen Alan on July 06, 2012 7:44 PM:

    Do I envy these people? Not really; I happen to believe in a religion in which just desserts are ultimately apportioned by a Judge a bit more discerning than the God of the Marketplace.

    I cannot even begin to articulate how much I despise this attitude. It's a perfect summation of the true purpose of Christianity, a religion advanced for the sole purpose of getting the dirty peasants to accept their lot in this world by offering the hope that the monsters responsible for their poverty will someday be judged by some nebulous higher power. Everyone one of these bastards will die peacefully in their beds and never know any judgment (divine or otherwise) unless people give up on "pie in the sky when you die" and get serious about fixing what's wrong with this country.

  • Doug on July 06, 2012 8:31 PM:

    Bon Soir Citizen Alan!
    Such fire! Such determination! Truly "religion" has been a bar to ALL progress, social or economic.
    I hope an appointment to your local Committee of Public Safety will soon be approved that you may display to the world your commendable zeal for liberte, egalite, fraternite!
    A thousand apologies, but I must stop now or I'll miss the 8:45 tumbrel...

  • President Lindsay on July 06, 2012 11:58 PM:

    Citizen Alan, I couldn't agree with you more. The attitude that the great sky fairy will someday punish the wicked is an all too effective means of preventing those they've wronged from taking it out of their hide in the here and now. It's not just Christianity, of course. How about Hinduism - Yow! It's time we insisted on accountability instead of expecting some pissed off god to handle it for us later.