Workers are indeed an important cog in the wheel of the economy, and successful corporate leaders recognize this, but too often; too many workers simultaneously inflate and dismiss their importance and power in an (intentional or subconscious) effort to maximize their rewards and minimize their responsibilities
Often workers do not get to participate in the decision making that on occasion seriously impacts their status in a negative manner, but that doesn’t mean that they are always ignorant of the decisions and their potential impact or that they are not in different ways participating in the behavior that is a result of the decision.
They also don't participate in all of the decisions that impact their status in a positive fashion either, and I doubt too many complain that they weren't part of the decision that led to this year's bonuses being paid at 110% of target.
I agree that the negative impact of a failed business plan is, in general, proportionately more powerful to the effected workers than the "C" level executives. The mid-level manager who loses her job is likely to receive a much less generous severance package than one of the senior executives.
A 48 year old CEO of a large corporation who "retires" in lieu of being fired may not actually have an easier time resurfacing than the 48 year old mid-level manager, but more significantly will most likely not have to
resurface. It's likely that the CEO will be able to comfortably retire without missing a beat, whereas the mid-level manager will almost certainly need to find another job.
I'm sure this will sound harsh, and confirm a few opinions, but so what?
Do you really expect for there to be equal outcomes for everyone in life?
While it is entirely possible that a mid-level manager in a large company could do a better job than the current CEO, it is highly unlikely and that if both are the same age but at greatly different levels of the organization, there is an identifiable reason, and far more times than not it will have to do with skills, ability and achievement.
There are plenty of dolts sitting at the CEO's desk in their company, but the vast majority of them have progressed to that height by succeeding in a series of increasingly responsible positions. Chances are pretty good that a year ago the CEO and the mid-level manager were not occupying side by side cubicles, and playing the same roles in the company, when the current CEO’s name was drawn from a hat and he was immediately elevated to the top corporate position.
It is simply not the case that all, or even most, “C” level executives fiddle while their corporate Rome’s are burning. I’ll agree that it happens more than it should, but we can say the same about workers, politicians, and priests etc. as respects behaviors in which they should not engage.
While we may not on agree on effectiveness of the free market’s ability to self-regulate, it would be silly to suggest the system is not at all self-regulating. Poorly run corporations will not survive for long without external intervention which is a good reason to eliminate or drastically reduce corporate welfare that is a political device for both parties.
Unfortunately, when a corporation fails there is collateral damage in the sense that it is not only those who have directly caused the failure who pay a price and, as you point out, sometimes those directly at fault don’t end up paying much of a price at all.
I would argue though that it is disingenuous or simply fanciful to assert that only the senior executives of a failed corporation are at fault. Theoretically, an organization does not require a group of executives to assure high levels of product quality and customer satisfaction. The CEO may have taken her eyes off of those two balls but it doesn’t mean the workers must as well.
When “C” level executives promote or ignore unethical behavior it doesn’t mean that all of the employees must engage in it, and I would argue that if you are working for a company where such unethical behavior abounds, you have an obligation to blow your whistle. If you don’t have the courage to call out the problem you should have the smarts to know that eventually it will catch up with the company and that you need to find a new home before then.
Moreover, if you choose to ride it out because you are benefiting (albeit not to the extent of the “C” level execs) from the unethical behavior, you are part of the corruption, and are displaying the greed in your own nature.
Corporate employees need not consider themselves to be driftwood forced to float along with whatever corporate currents exist, and simply because they choose to doesn’t entitle them to innocent victim status when disaster strikes.
No one can make you work for XYZ Corporation and if you happen to, you certainly have the right to leave whenever you want. It’s unusual for a corporation to fail because of unethical practices or extreme incompetence without most of the employees knowing something has been going wrong for a while.
Of course it’s not an easy thing to shed light on unethical behaviors or even jump a sinking ship, but again…so what?