The first week of 2007 brought news of two exits: one emblematic of capitalism gone awry, the other, the tragic death of a 20-year-old man in Iraq.
Bob Nardelli was the CEO of Home Depot for six years. The company's stock went nowhwere during his tenure, but his compensation package skyrocketed. His reward for leaving? An exit package of $210 million.
Pfc. William R. Newgard, 20, of Arlington Heights, Illinois died on December 29, 2006 when his vehicle struck an IED in Iraq. His "exit package?" Less than 1/4 of 1% of Mr. Nardelli's going-away present.
So just how do we value life in this country?
After enduring six years of mounting criticism over his pay package, an imperious management style and a listless stock price, Robert L. Nardelli, the chief executive of Home Depot, resigned abruptly. He left with a severance package worth $210 million. Over six years as chief executive, he had taken home $64 million and was on track to earn hundreds of millions more.
The $210 million in compensation for Mr. Nardelli will include deferred compensation, pensions and other benefits to which he was already entitled. It also included an extra $20 million cash payment that the company was not legally obliged to pay.
Mr. Nardelli collected $274 million over six years while overseeing a lackluster performance by the company he was managing.
That comes to a cool $45,666,667 a year.
But I'm sure he was worth every penny.
Will Newgard was a quiet young man who had just spent the holidays with his family and friends in Arlington Heights while on leave. He was worried about his return to Iraq:
Will Newgard posted a clock on his MySpace Web page to count down the hours, minutes and seconds left in his military duty in Iraq, or as he wrote, "until I'm out of Iraq for good."
On Tuesday night, the clock on the social networking Internet site showed five months and 17 days remaining, but U.S. Army Pfc. William Newgard was gone already. He died Friday morning of wounds from a homemade explosive device that detonated near his vehicle in Baghdad, the U.S. Department of Defense reported. Killed alongside Newgard was Sgt. Lawrence J. Carter, 25, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
More than once during his December leave, Will mentioned he might not survive his second deployment to Iraq.
And what was Private Newgard's life worth, at least in terms of the hard-edged capitalism that counts for worth to so many in this country?
About $24,000 a year.
But then there's the "exit package." The Army provides a "gratuity" of $100,000 to soldiers killed in action.
The Army is not quite as generous as the Home Depot Board of Directors, apparently.
But Private Newgard may have had insurance that provided his family with an additional $400,000 in death benefits, though whether or not Private Newgard would have opted to pay for such a policy on his $24,000 annual salary is unknown. (Premiums are deducted from paychecks.)
What was Will Newgard's sacrifice worth in a culture that values cash above all else? Less than 1/4 of 1% of Bob Nardelli's exit package? Even in strictly capitalist terms, is that a true statement? Is one Bob Nardelli really worth more than a thousand Will Newgards?
If "values" is the new watchword in politics, let's measure that vlaue.
Something is horribly out of whack in this country. And it goes well beyond this inane, insane war.
Update [2007-1-7 10:45:15 by Bob Johnson]:
As noted below by slothax, calipygian and Rohan, the insurance benefit maximum is $400,000 based on a $29/month premium. That said, my calculation of 1/4 of 1% of Nardelli's payout is based on Private Newgard's family receiving $500,000 total ($100,000 gratuity + $400,000 insurance) following his death.