Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Picking Our Own Pockets

Last week, I attended a mandatory all-day class at work on legal matters related to our business. While that might sound like eight hours of soul-numbing boredom, it actually turned out to be an enjoyable experience. The law talking guy who taught the class was as engaging and interesting as he was thoroughly steeped in knowledge of the subject at hand.

After a perfunctory introduction, he opened the class by giving us an update on events in the nation’s capitol that might change existing laws regulating business and therefore potentially impact our company’s bottom line. He was careful to walk a non-partisan line and was quick to point out that our company was not Republican or Democratic. There were supporters of both parties in high positions in the company and over the years we have donated funds to candidates on both side of the aisle. However, he was also not shy about pointing that at this particular moment in time the company’s interests were being better served by Republicans than Democrats (at least most of them).

The 2010 election had brought gridlock and meant that most of the remaining significant initiatives that the Obama Administration or other Democrats had once proposed were now essentially dead in the water. And that was a good thing. He went into detail about a couple of these initiatives in particular that sounded reasonable on the surface, but would have impacted the company’s ability to conduct business as we now do and would have dramatically increased our costs of compliance. They were the kinds of impacts that people often don’t consider when they hear about proposed changes in the law and clearly brought home the message that when you hear that “corporations” will pay, it means our company. We, all of us, is them. It’s a message that everyone who works for a company should hear on a regular basis so they understand that elections do have consequences and not in some abstract way either.

A couple of other key points he made:

- No company in America has a bigger legal target on their back than Walmart. He said they get sued for anything and everything on an almost daily basis.

- Class action lawsuits are great for the plaintiffs lawyers, not all that great for the plaintiffs themselves, terrible for the companies they are usually brought against, and not particular effective at resulting in what most reasonable people would conclude is justice.

- Billion dollar companies can afford to fight the often frivolous lawsuits that are lodged against them. The companies that really get screwed in our current legal system are the mom and pop operations that usually end up settling out of court because they can’t afford to pony up the two-hundred-thousand-plus-dollars it takes to wage a court battle. You know, the small businesses that all politicians claim to love and want to support.

- A number of laws that were originally passed in good faith to address real problems have been expanded over the years to the point where the benefits they provide are becoming increasingly dubious and the costs increasingly more difficult to bear. The same could be said about many government programs as well.