The Top One Percent Is Sick of Your Bad Attitude, America

Things are going great for American Airlines! The company’s stock price has doubled over the last four years. Late last year, Warren Buffett’s investment group Berkshire Hathaway bet hugely on the airline industry, and they bought more American stock than any other company. As everyone knows, Buffett doesn’t invest for the short-term: he only puts his money behind businesses that he believes have a prosperous and sustainable future ahead of them.

So naturally, American’s leadership did what any smart business would do when it’s staring down a brighter future: it invested in its people. They gave their pilots a 7 percent raise, and increased pay for flight attendants. This is good thinking; even employers like Wal-Mart now understand that businesses don’t succeed unless they pay their employees a decent wage.

From a business standpoint, those raises make sense; employees who are paid decently are happier, they leave jobs less often, and they do better work. And from an economic standpoint, it works out, too. Those American employees will be able to spend that extra money in businesses in all the cities they travel to. Why would anybody be against this decision? What kind of short-sighted punk would argue against a sensible investment in the future?

Well, uh. Meet Kevin Crissey. The Los Angeles Times reports on his response to American Airlines paying its employees more:

“This is frustrating. Labor is being paid first again. Shareholders get leftovers,” Citi analyst Kevin Crissey wrote in a note to clients. Investors showed their displeasure by sending American Airlines Group Inc.’s stock down 5.2% to $43.98 on Thursday.

The arrogance of this statement is breathtaking. Airlines, simply, wouldn’t succeed without pilots and flight attendants. The planes wouldn’t fly. The customers wouldn’t board and exit the planes. Without those employees, nobody would be able to fly American. Businesses aren’t just a series of blinking lights on a computer screen on Wall Street: they are goods and services provided by people, for people.

And if you don’t serve those people—the employees and the customers—there’s no money for investors like Crissey to push around. You have to pay labor first, or there’s no business. Shareholders do, literally, get the leftovers: because they invested in the business, they get to enjoy all that profit that workers earn for the business and that customers pay into the business. This is some real cart-before-the-horse thinking.

I want to be perfectly clear, here: complaining about Crissey is not going to help anything. While expressing his frustration at workers “being paid” is horrendous behavior, Crissey does not deserve to be the subject of an internet witch hunt. Shaming him until he apologizes, as is custom on Twitter these days, would not make a whit of difference.

Crissey, and all the Wall Street bros who knocked American Airlines down a peg, aren’t the problem. Singly, they’re not powerful or important enough to be the root cause of a problem. They’re just a symptom of a larger problem in America today. They are the physical manifestation of the one percent’s growing entitlement.

Earlier this month, the email aggregation service Unroll.Me took a lot of internet fire for selling customer email information to Uber. This behavior was strictly legal and clearly well within Unroll.Me’s terms of service, but a lot of users were horrified to discover that their Lyft recepts were anonymized and sold in bulk to Uber. Users of Unroll.Me—including, full disclosure, myself—quit the service in large numbers.

The head of Unroll.Me, Jojo Hedaya, issued an apology that was crammed full of all the Silicon Valley cliches you’d expect, but nothing really changed. Unroll.Me lost the trust of a lot of its customers, but on the other hand, a lot of its customers didn’t notice or care. We’ve seen this play out before. The scandal has become old news. Some of us have learned our lessons, and it’s time to move on.

Well, uh. Meet Perri Chase. She’s the former co-founder of Unroll.Me, and she wrote a Medium post defending Hedaya, calling him “literally one of the most incredible humans I have ever met” (emphasis hers.)

Chase’s Medium post is an amazing display of techie entitlement. She huffs:

What exactly do you think is going on in your FREE gmail inbox? And honestly, anonymized and at scale why do people care? Do you really care? Are you really surprised? How exactly is this shocking?

Or maybe you just hate yourselves because you think Uber is gross but you use them anyway and “why are these tech founders such assholes” that they have to ruin your experience where you need to delete your apps?

Obviously, Unroll.Me users do care or they wouldn’t be quitting the service. It’s a known fact that people don’t read the Terms of Service. It’s not smart, but everyone does it: I do it. You, unless you’re a fastidious lawyerly type, likely do it, too. Who has the time to read all that fine print?

But Chase doesn’t care about that. The thing that bugs her is that ignorant, self-hating users dare express their unhappiness in the general direction of “my sweet, sweet friend Jojo.”

“We always cared deeply about our users and Jojo still really does,” Chase concludes. “You will just have to trust me on that.”

Okay, but why should we trust you on that? Because you’re you? Because we, the unwashed masses—your customers—aren’t qualified to know what’s good for us? Because we’re dumb enough to get upset when we discover that our data is being used in ways that we find distasteful?

Look, I worked in retail for a dozen years. I understand that the customer is not always right. Sometimes customers are flat-out wrong. But for those in power to argue that workers and customers are not only wrong, but are insolent to even request what’s rightfully theirs? That’s a new dynamic, and it’s more than a little scary.

These stories of corporate arrogance seem to be popping up more and more every day. We recently saw what happened when United denied the basic humanity of its customers. Every time we go to a mall, we see how retail chains repeatedly ignore their commitments to customer service. When we go out to eat, we see restaurant owners complain about having to pay their employees a living wage. The entitlement is staggering.

Actually, it’s more than just entitlement. It’s derangement. It’s what happens when the balance between workers and owners is thrown out of whack, and when investors forget that an economy is more than just racking up points like life is some kind of pinball game. The dismissive, holier-than-thou attitude we’re seeing from Crissey and Chase and others is what happens when you’re repeatedly told that you’re a maker and everyone else is a taker. This is what happens when income inequality balloons out of control.

Happily, we seem to be reaching a turning point in this narrative. Customers and workers on social media are expressing their outrage in numbers that are impossible to ignore. People are speaking out on the left and the right against what they rightfully see as a system that has been rigged against them. Cities and states across America are starting to raise the minimum wage to sane levels again. It’s not an easy fight, but it’s a one that’s worth fighting.

Once we tighten that yawning gap between the haves and the have-nots, we’ll see less of this embarrassing behavior from investors and employers. From all the way over there, it’s hard for some of the wealthiest Americans to even recognize our basic humanity. It’s up to us to assert our worth, to tighten that gap, and to remind the one percent that we’re not “frustrations” or self-hating ignoramuses. We all—every last one of us—deserve respect. We are all American.

Paul Constant

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