Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Who's In Charge Here?

A career ago, I worked for an employee-owned book wholesaler. After three months, I was asked to be a shareholder, just like all the other shareholders who had come before me. Some who had been there  for decades, some who had been hired just a few weeks before me. I bought my shares, like everyone else had, for five hundred dollars. In fairly short order, I wrangled my way into a management position, which gave me the dubious distinction of being the boss of what were ultimately my other bosses, the shareholders who worked in the warehouse with me. Those folks reported their feelings about my job performance to the Board of Directors, made up of people like myself who were able to garner enough votes to sit in that august five person committee. And that's where I found myself, two short years after being hired. It was in this forum that I had a great many discussions with my fellow board members about "temporary" and "permanent" employees. The lingo of the company had those folks who had yet to be vetted in the shareholder process listed as temporary, and once they had been invited to buy into the company for those five hundred dollars worth of shares. As a manager, hiring and firing was a lot more of a circus than any other company where I had worked as a manager. The whole setup was a bit arcane, especially given that whole permanent employee thing. There were a whole lot of old hippies, and some new ones, who had found themselves a way to feather their nests and lower their job performance expectations to the point where we needed to hire a few more new shareholders to get the books out the door. It was a social experiment that had been born in Berkeley and had made money for the shaggy, idealistic few who had made their five hundred dollar investment back in the days when the tie-dye waters flowed strong and free. Theinkse really were permanent employees.
They were on the ship when it finally went down. They weren't fired. The business closed underneath the weight of all that idealism.
That is what I have been thinking about since Antonin Scalia died. Supreme Court justices are hired for life. They are permanent employees. There are a number of other federal judicial appointments that will last forever, until death do we part. This confounds me when I think of the time I have spent puzzling over those county and state judges that I need to approve on my local ballot. These same judges who, when they grow up, may be the ones appointed to the Supreme Court. For life. Maybe not by the people, but for the people. It's in the Constitution. In 1776, the life expectancy was about thirty-five years. How many bad decisions could you make in that time? That's about how long Antonin Scalia served on the Supreme Court. For ever.

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