The "Big Deal" Executives

Tim was born in Seattle, Washington, but our family never even visited Seattle again in the years after his birth. And I must confess that I have virtually no recollection of Seattle at all, since I was three when he was born. So it may be that part of the reason Tim chose to live the last few years of his life out West was because of his having been born Out There--the only one of the children in our family not born in the South.

I remember one night, on a lonely stretch of highway as we were headed toward McAllen, Texas from Arkansas to transact a furniture deal, Tim had commented to me how he really felt about it:

"Everyone else," he said, "is from around here. But me--I've got to be different! I had to be born in Seattle, Washington!" He then broke into semi-hysterical, brief, exhausted laughter.

"My lord," he continued, after catching his breath, "what in the world were mom and dad thinkin' of to have me way up there?"

I gave him the only answer I could come up with for him at the time:

"Apparently it was also where they got the idea about Israeli Carp," I grinned in the darkness, "and maybe where dad got and developed his idea to maintain a lake to put the house trailers we sold on, which in turn we'd furnish with the furniture we were also selling." (We could even, Dad had ingeniously pointed out, supply potential fisher-people with their fishing tackle supplies--all out of the same small business.)

"In short, Tim," I said, looking up from the lighted yellow line on the highway for a few brief seconds at Tim's barely visible, dash-outlined face, lighted whitish-blue against the total darkness of the Texas night sky, "you shouldn't feel too short-changed! Your birth was the product of the mind of a man with an incredibly original and imaginative intellect, a man who can apply his dreams to paper and come up with solid things out of the ethereal."

Of course, this was before we saw how illusory some of our schemes turned out to be. In dad's defense, I should say that he was able to maintain several types of family-owned businesses in operation continually for about ten years. It wasn't a lack of effort or ability on his part that led to whatever lack of success in business he met.

He was unable to continue buying house trailers at discounted prices, for example, because Harry Thomasson, a Jonesboro, Arkansas business man, got into legal problems and had to stop selling trailers.

On top of that, the fishing tackle business got more competitive as gasoline prices for our trips out of state to purchase it at wholesale discount prices from Hammer and Glenn, a Chicago wholesale outlet, became more outrageous, eliminating the savings in traveling there to purchase them at wholesale prices. This was caused by an international oil industry's decisions to raise prices on petroleum products in the mid-'70's.

I was to learn that there were deep undercurrents going on in the faraway Mideast and in Washington, D.C., during all this time, some going all the way back to World War II. It was those undercurrents that were responsible for those gasoline price increases, wars in the Middle East and the various machinations that led to the Watergate scandal and Nixon's resignation.

The furniture business became extremely competitive, as well. More and more big chain stores moved to Batesville. They could drop their prices through the floor, not even making a profit on particular items in certain areas for periods of time. They could do this, just in order to outdo the competition: local stores like ours.

This was part of the whole trend of thinking that gradually gained dominance in the 1980's. It was the thinking of what I like to call the Big Deal Execs. These were guys (and they were, invariably, guys) who thought that they could defeat poverty by destroying small business in America.

They also thought, apparently, that they could make a big buck by encouraging small businesses to incorporate and go public; at which point they'd file them for bankruptcy. Then they'd raid and destroy the pension plans of those companies--and their employees, who came up eligible for retirement a few years later.

About all those guys were really to accomplish, of course, was to severely damage the economy of the United States. A handful of them made a few million bucks for a while, as Bartlett and Steele tell us (67-87). Many of them, they say, ended up in the pen, in some capacity or another, before it was over and most lost the money they made that way through fines and loss in reputation (Bartlett and Steele 67-87).

In the meantime, a lot of little people like us got hurt, as the trend toward the Big Deal Executives began and escalated. Fortunately for us, we missed the very worst of it, insofar as being still in business during the eighties, since we got out of the retail business in 1975. Even so, however, all of it, taken together, produced an increasingly difficult history in business for my father. He'd have achieved quite a bit more if his plans had worked out and God only knows, Tim worked hard enough to help him achieve them. I wish I could say that I helped him as much as Tim did. Unfortunately, however, due to a series of still other events that may ultimately be determined to have been caused by other hidden undercurrents, I did not, could not.

The problem for Dad wasn't his lack of skill and acuity as a business-person. He'd largely overcome his inadequacies through hard work and experience and by associating with people astute in small business management. The problem was that he was up against a new World Economy, a Global Economy that people in Washington, D.C. had decided to allow America's families to be exposed to.

Though other factors besides governmental actions may have been involved, Washington must take some responsibility. In the name of free trade, a very non-free-trade policy was instituted, however inadvertently. Its primary goal seemed to be to destroy labor unions, as many small and individually-owned businesses as possible, and create as many tax-free or near-tax-free corporations, with as much capacity for monopoly, as possible.

This all began, it might be noted, during the first six years of the administration of Richard M. Nixon. Patrick Buchanan was employed for him as both a top speech-writer and a top advisor. The trend was only to escalate in succeeding years, Bartlett and Steele (89-95) tell us, with the following grim information:

From 1979 to 1987, the revenue of foreign-controlled corporations rose from $242 billion to $685 billion--an increase of 183 percent. The revenue of US-owned companies went up by only 52 percent. The growing foreign-owned properties in the U.S. was accompanied by generous tax breaks from Washington for those companies. A House Ways and Means subcommittee investigation of thirty-six foreign-owned businesses showed more than half paid little or no federal income tax, while, Americans who own businesses must keep close records to avoid a federal audit (Bartlett and Steele 89-95).

Revenues of foreign-controlled companies in the U.S. rose 50 percent from 1984 to 1987, while I was back in Arkansas working at Sterling again as they struggled to avoid cutting hours (Bartlett and Steele 89-95). Revenues of Japanese-controlled companies in America rose 64 percent from 1984 to 1987. Yet federal income taxes paid by them fell 14 percent, from $1.1 billion in 1984 to $951 million in 1987 (Bartlett and Steele 89-95).

In 1988, residents of Japan collected $8.4 billion from their investments in this country but paid US income taxes at a tax rate of 6.1 percent. By contrast, American workers with incomes between $40,000 and $50,000 paid taxes at an 11.6 percent rate, almost twice that rate. Residents of the United Arab Emirates collected $312.9 million from their American investments but paid $443,000 in U.S. income taxes, a tax rate one tenth of 1 percent. American workers struggling to achieve a middle-class lifestyle, on the other hand, were taxed at fifty-three times that rate (Bartlett and Steele 89-95). Those workers who didn't, who fell through the cracks in innumerable plant closings, found themselves sometimes among the homeless, whose ranks swelled enormously during the mid-eighties, largely because "families with children" were among them (Foley 922-3).

If you have $1,000 in a passbook savings account, you must pay income tax on the interest you receive. If a resident of the United Arab Emirates has $1 million in the same bank, on the other hand, he pays no U. S. income tax on the interest (Bartlett and Steele 89-95).

Wealthy residents and corporations in foreign countries collected $31.8 billion from their U.S. investments in 1988 but paid $1.7 billion in United States income taxes. That is a tax rate of 5.3 percent, less than the 5.8 percent paid by Americans who earn only $7000 to $9000 a year (Bartlett and Steele 89-95).

Viewed another way: American workers who earned between $30,000 and $40,000 in 1987 paid on average $3,710 in income tax. If they had been taxed at the same rate that Congress granted residents of the United Arab Emirates, their average tax bill would have totalled $49 (Bartlett and Steele 89-95).

None of those tax breaks were available to Dad, either, as he struggled to get 30-60-and 90-day loans at the bank to pay for furniture purchases. After awhile, in our small-scale effort at "world economy," we began to buy Mexican-made china cabinets to deliver as a way to pay for our return trips. The trips thus extended in time, changing from all day trips to all day and half-the-night ones.

I guess that now those long night trips through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri that Tim and I made on those furniture trucks will be among my memories of him. Unfortunately, at that point in time, he didn't have much respect for me. He struggled to be a tough-guy, macho type. I, as an introverted, wimpy writer, often proved of little help to Tim on those trips, since my mind was often absorbed on some topic I was writing about at home.

Almost invariably--though in large part because that's the way he liked it--Tim was the driver. And Tim's irritation with my lack of helpfulness to him in that capacity couldn't help but pop through occasionally.

"What planet are you on, anyway? Didn't you even see the sign?" he'd say, when I missed a road direction sign that he'd been unable to read in detail in the darkness due to having to watch the road. I'd attempt some type of apology, but by then it was too late. He'd curse a blue streak for a few minutes, light up another cigarette and call me a few choice names.

Invariably, he'd apologize a few days later, after we'd returned home. He'd find me wherever I was working on my latest writing and offer a humble apology in which he averred that he'd never met anyone as smart as me in his life and announcing his real respect for me. He had a genuine interest in anything and everything I was writing, reading and speculating about. He was anxious for me to know that he wanted to hear what I had to say, about whatever.

"Gosh, Max--you're so smart! I'm so proud to have a brother like you! I tell people about you all the time. The other day I was talking to a guy about something to do with astronomy or something, I can't remember what now, and I'd said, 'You need to talk to my brother--he knows all about that kind of stuff.'"

I still recall the intensity on his young face as he talked to me at that time. Both Dad and Tim tended to have a greater measure of trust than I had. I think subsequent economic events, illustrated by Bartlett and Steele's statistics, show their trust was betrayed. Equal intensity was on the face of President Johnson as he announced: "I will not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my Party to be your President. . ." Three years later, as we traveled through LBJ's Texas, the changes that came about, in part as a result of that decision, seemed to be taking shape all around us.

Go back to the George Bush-Undercurrents Website

Works cited:

Bartlett, Donald L., and James B. Steele. America: What Went Wrong. Kansas City, MO: Universal Press Syndicate, 1992. 67-87; 89-95