How Low Can You Go?

Downsizing Etiquette

In his own variation of Teddy Roosevelt's maxim, President Clinton is talking softly and carrying a little stick by asking corporations to be nice to their workers. But if the June 10 issue of Fortune is any guide, such gentle proddings have yet to make an impact.

In an article headlined, "How to Fire People and Still Sleep at Night," the magazine offers handy do's and don'ts for sensitive managers: "Everyone is likely to be affected in some way," the empathetic journal says of layoffs, "but the managers who do the actual firing are often hurt the most." (Apparently, canned workers and their families don't suffer so exquisitely.) To avoid any problems, the magazine—with apparent seriousness—recommends helpful pointers to would-be hatchet men: "Never fire your father" (The reason: you could get fired if you try to soften the blow by giving dear old Dad extra severance pay) . . . don't fire a worker on Take Our Daughters to Work Day (it's bad PR when the father and his little tyke have to leave) . . . and don't chew out an emotionally unstable worker when you're axing him, because he might come back and blow his (or your) brains out with a high-powered rifle.

It's comforting to know business leaders are so considerate.

Reinventing Regulation

In the wake of the ValuJet crash, critics decried the twin roles of the Federal Aviation Administration: regulating airline safety and promoting the airline industry. Yet this approach embodies the slimmed-down philosophy of government so many Republicans and Democrats now champion. Instead of having two cumbersome bureaucracies, the FAA has captured the can-do, entrepreneurial spirit of "reinventing government."

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Can it be long before other agencies follow suit? We look forward to a time when David Kessler, director of the Food and Drug Administration, stars in public service ads, puffing away on a Marlboro and proclaiming "These taste good like a cigarette should." The Agriculture Department could spend even less money than it does inspecting beef and more on uplifting ads showing hearty Americans chowing down on all-American red meat. The hoary concept of an agency's "conflict of interest" will, we expect, become as antiquated a notion as "the value of public service."

- Art Levine

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