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Jim Hightower: Aetna the insurance apostate

Business schools preach a strict, anti-social doctrine of corporate management that comes down to this: CEO’s must be idiots.

By that I mean the original Greek word idiotes, which applied to people who care only about themselves and the prosperity of their immediate family. They’re the ones who reject any responsibility to the larger society, civic affairs, and the common good.

That selfish ethos is what prevails in today’s corporate suites, where it’s claimed that the only responsibility of executives is to maximize profits for the “family” — that is, for themselves and their major shareholders.

If they have to stiff workers, sidestep environmental rules, and shaft consumers to do it, well, that’s the lot of idiotes.

But now comes an apostate to this doctrinal idiocy.

Mark Bertolini,  chief executive of the Hartford-based health-insurance giant Aetna, says CEO’s should raise the minimum wage their companies pay to a level approaching minimal fairness. Rather than just calling for it, though, he actually did it. He lifted Aetna’s lowest wage to $16 an hour, plus improved health benefits.

Then Bertolini really gave up the game: He publicly revealed that these increases aren’t so financially painful after all.

The total cost to Aetna will be about $26 million a year. That’s nothing for a company with annual revenues of $62 billion.

The only pain that Bertolini might feel is loneliness when he enters the CEO Club and sees other insurance chieftains turn their backs and shun him over his leadership on the moral matter of shared prosperity.

Indeed, the CEO’s of Humana, Anthem and other insurers say “no” to raises for their employees, sniffing that they pay “competitive wages” — which is just a dishonest way of saying “low wages.”

Whether those idiotes like it or not, Aetna just lifted the national standard for competitive wages.

Moreover, the insurer has thrown open the doors of the executive suites to an honest public conversation about the morality of the suits inside jacking up their compensation while holding down everyone else’s pay.

Jim Hightower is a columnist for, where this originated.

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