Chapter 5: It’s a feature, not a bug

It’s a feature, not a bug.

This is personal on a couple of levels, even for this outlet.

My daughter has, for the most part, two career goals: to work for Walt Disney Imagineering as an Imagineer, creating future theme parks, and to be an entertainer at a Disney theme park.

As you might have guessed, we are a family of Disney passholders who have spent a *lot* of time in the parks. So much so that over the years we have gotten to know a number of Disney cast members personally. Betsy can probably name 20 different members of the Voices of Liberty, as well as former World Showcase Players, American Music Machine, Joyful!, Mariachi Cobre, and a bunch of other entertainers at EPCOT and (to a lesser degree) the other Walt Disney World parks. And she has watched and read everything broadcast and printed about WDI, the gee-whiz part of the Disney company that envisions and creates the next cool park attraction. By happenstance or providence, early this year I got to know a number of Imagineers through a project at work, which was incredible, tainted only by the fact that I couldn’t bring Betsy along for the ride.

So over the last month or so, as Disney has announced layoffs of 28,000 cast members, I have seen these people I’ve met and know personally as friends, some of whom have seen Betsy grow up from age 3 to 17 and some people who I have spent long days working side by side with, say their goodbyes to the organization they always dreamed of working for. Some spent 30+ years there; others were newly hired when I met them. They are, to a person, gracious in departure into an uncertain future. They will be no less beloved friends when they turn in their name tags.

But I hurt, charitably, because they hurt. And I hurt, selfishly, because they represent the two things my daughter aspires to do professionally.

There has been some railing at Disney for this, especially after reinstating some executive compensation that had been trimmed back at the start of the pandemic. And there have been defenses that, from a common sense perspective, if you work in a theme park that is either closed or suffering from significantly scaled back crowds, you have to expect layoffs. 

But beyond that, I think it’s important to recognize that these sad departures are a function of our economy and not a side effect of the pandemic-fueled downturn in tourism. They are a feature, not a bug, of our society.

Chapter 5 of Fratelli Tutti isn’t about economics, directly, but about politics. But it’s chapter title, “A Better Kind of Politics,” is maybe a little too soon for me, as America still counts votes in a half dozen states to decide the next President. And the points Pope Francis makes about politics apply just as much to our economics; in fact, as he points out, our economics is a function of our politics.

Francis critiques both nationalist populism and technocratic liberalism in this chapter, but if those are just big words to you, here’s what’s worth focusing on: if we centered our world around humanity’s one family and restored politics to a noble profession of seeking the common good with a preference for the outcast, our economics would look a lot different.

If Disney deserves a little scorn for its purge of cast members, much more does our economy as a whole. They are just playing by the rules, and those rules prioritize short-term shareholder value over all else. Cutting jobs to maximize profit and minimize liabilities only makes sense, if your scoreboard is the next quarterly earning statement and your judge is the pension investment fund that owns a truckload of shares in your stock, not because they believe in Walt’s vision or in Tinkerbell’s magic but because they have an algorithm that thinks you’ll return a quarterly dividend.

But an economy based on fraternity and social friendship, an economy based on love, would recognize that meaningful work – employment that not only provides financial security but purpose and human connection – is the good worth prioritizing, not short-term return on investment. Our results would be different, were that our priority. The investing class (which includes all of us with 401ks) might not do so well. But an economy that was shaped not by day-trading and hedging investments but on creating good jobs that benefited local communities over the long haul would be one worth pitching in for.

I am curious enough to pretend to be a lot of things (it is amazing how many of us have been epidemiologists, meteorologists, pollsters and election lawyers, just in the last few weeks!), but I draw the line at amateur economist. It seems to me that tax policies that devalued short-term thinking and incentivized employee shareholding, local ownership, and long-term investing might generate different results. But surely there are experts who can recommend better. Regardless, whether it’s politics or economics we need to improve, Francis would say that the first step is to ensure that we have the right scoreboard, which is increasing the dignity of the dispossessed and the full inclusion of all – not just “for” but “with” each other.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: