Business schools preach a strict, anti-social doctrine of corporate management that comes down to this: CEOs must be idiots.
By that I mean the original Greek word idiotes, which applied to people who care only about themselves and the prosperity of their immediate family, rejecting any responsibility to the larger society, civic affairs, and the common good.
That selfish ethos is what prevails in today's corporate suites, where it's claimed that the only responsibility of executives is to maximize profits for the "family" — i.e., themselves and major shareholders. Idiotes are free to stiff workers, sidestep environmental rules, shaft consumers, etc.
But now comes an apostate to this doctrinal idiocy. Mark Bertolini, corporate chief of Aetna, says CEOs should raise the minimum wage to a level approaching minimal fairness. Rather than calling for it — he did it, lifting Aetna's lowest wage to $16, plus improved health benefits.
Bertolini even did the unthinkable by publicly revealing that these increases really are not financially painful for corporations — total cost to Aetna will be about $26 million a year — nothing for a giant with annual revenues of $62 billion.
The only pain Bertolini might feel is loneliness when he enters the CEO Club and sees other insurance chieftains turn their backs, shunning his leadership on the moral matter of shared prosperity. CEOs of Humana, Anthem and other insurers say "No" to raises, sniffing that they pay "competitive wages" — which is really just a dishonest way of saying "low wages."
Whether those idiotes like it or not, Aetna just lifted our national standard for competitive wages. Moreover, it has thrown open the doors of the executive suites to an honest public conversation about the morality of those inside jacking up their pay while holding down everyone else.
Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.