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The Ghosts of Christmas Present

The outrage at the recent firing of more than 900 employees via Zoom is a bit of light in a dark Advent episode.

I recently learned (from Barstool Sports, of all places) that someone called Vishal Garg, the CEO of a mortgage company called Better.com, fired more than 900 employees via Zoom last week. In the leaked video, Garg, who holds a billion dollars worth of equity in his dodgy-sounding company, affectlessly announced to the assembled workers that they are “unlucky.”

That was certainly one way of putting it. During his remarks, Garg, who holds a billion dollars worth of equity in his dodgy-sounding company, also made a point of insisting that the decision to fire the entirety of his online audience—which amounted to some 9 percent of his workforce—was made by him alone.

Is this something to brag about, I wonder? Even Scrooge only wanted Bob Cratchit to work on Christmas. Garg, who holds a billion dollars of equity in his dodgy-sounding company, apparently felt as if he had no other choice but to deprive nearly a thousand workers of their justly earned wages only a few weeks before the annual commemoration of Our Lord’s Nativity. “Having to conduct layoffs is gut wrenching, especially this time of year,” Better’s chief financial officer explained to CNN. “However a fortress balance sheet and a reduced and focused workforce together set us up to play offense going into a radically evolving homeownership market.”

The mixed metaphors (martial, athletic, etc.) are instructive. Whenever anyone—in academia or government or, especially, business—talks this way, he is reminding us that he sees the world through a filter of meaningless abstractions. There are no human beings here, men and women with families and obligations and aspirations, but only a series of interchangeable variables who can be removed from the financial equation without hesitation in order to secure a more favorable output. In real English what the statement means is, “We understand that this is an incredibly nasty and probably even wicked thing to do, but we would like very much to make more money and we believe we can do so in the future by not paying people identified by our algorithms.”

I draw attention to this story because I think in its small way it tells us a great deal about American society. (There is a separate conversation to be had here about the Zoomification of the workplace, and the sorts of iniquities it makes possible.) Not so long ago this sort of thing would have been unthinkable. (Remember when Brian Doyle-Murray’s decision to increase profits by a rounding error by depriving Chevy Chase of his Christmas bonus was a great comic set-piece in a popular film?)

As it happens, the amount of outrage the firings have occasioned is both surprising and, I think, deeply heartening. It is a reminder that even now there is still some kind of residual post-Protestant understanding of charity and justice in this country, and a sense that sinning against these particular virtues is somehow especially odious around Christmas.

I also like the story because, frankly, it features a villain whose surname makes him sound like the bad guy in one of those Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas specials. According to the New York Times, Garg, who holds a billion dollars worth of equity in his dodgy-sounding company, now says he is “deeply sorry” for the firings. Garg, who holds a billion dollars worth of equity in his dodgy-sounding company, has added that he is “committed to learning from the situation.”

What would make the story a happy ending? Barring the appearance of a trio of ghosts or a tedious musical number, I think some kind of announcement that the firings had been reversed is unlikely. But Advent is the great season of hope. At the very least, we can all pray that that Garg, who holds a billion dollars worth of equity in his dodgy-sounding company, will have a change of heart not unlike that of Snow Miser or Rudolph’s old chums or, I daresay, St. Paul.

Matthew Walther is editor of the Lamp magazine and a contributing editor of The American Conservative.