Re: MS layoffs
I see where you're coming from, and actually think we probably agree more than we disagree-- perhaps not about Microsoft in particular, but about the objectionable ways in which layoffs are often conducted. My point isn't that Microsoft is beyond criticism for its layoffs; as I mentioned, we could easily question the dissolution of individual teams, the termination of individual workers, or why the layoffs needed to be so large. But it's one thing to denounce the concept of layoffs as a matter of principle, and another to more granularly investigate how a specific layoff was executed and how that process should be judged. It's also one thing to focus on a company, just because it happens to be a recent or convenient example, and another thing to focus on the social, legal and economic structures that emboldened that company to behave the way it has.
It's definitely true that the reduced head count benefits Microsoft's bottom line, at least in the short term, though I'd question whether the stock rally (which began before the layoffs were announced) can be solely attributed to Microsoft's reduction effort, as opposed to investor enthusiasm for the Ballmer-to-Nadella change. Believe me, I sympathize with the idea that "cost cutting" is often inordinately - and often inappropriately - shouldered by workers, and I'd venture that I'm farther to the left on employer-employee relations than most people out there. I agree with your implication that when employers cut resources or people, they sometimes do so for the wrong reasons (e.g. I've seen how the quarterly bonus cycle corrupts decision-making across the mid-to-senior management level). I also think employers sometimes cut jobs or resources prematurely, abandoing assets that might be expensive in the short-term but that still add lots of value over the long-term.
That said, I'm still hesitant to say we have enough insight into Microsoft's decision-making to simply assume the company, by virtue of executing such a large layoff, is some kind of poster child for making workers feel fungible, especially since the Nokia acquisition and leadership change injected a ton of variables into the company's decision-making process. The how and why are important too, not just the what and who of the situation. Some layoffs are a way for bosses to save their own tails after making a mistake, some layoffs are a way for investors and senior execs to financially benefit at workers' expense, and some layoffs are a way for a company that's become too unwieldy to restore (or at least try to restore) a culture of focus and agility. Perhaps Microsoft's layoffs fall into one of these first two, more ignominious categories-- but then again, perhaps it's the third. Most likely, given its scale, Microsoft's layoffs include aspects of all three layoff types I've just identified, as well as others that I haven't. None of these points are meant to diminish the very intimate and material ways Microsoft's layoffs have made some workers' lives more difficult-- and if Microsoft didn't offer generous packages to departing employees, the company certainly deserves criticism. But again, that's an issue of how and why the job cuts were enacted, not of the fact that the job cuts happened in the first place.
It's tough to defend when a company's leadership messes up, lays off a bunch of people to correct the balance sheet, and then continues to reign, as if they'd never made a mistake. I think many people would prefer to see the leaders fall on their swords in this situation, rather than making the workers suffer-- and with a few qualifications, I'd agree with that perspective. But in Microsoft's case, much of the previous leadership actually has been removed (though it's hard to say any of them were punished for poor decisions, since they were all very well compensated by the time they left). Again, this doesn't we should absolve the company of any wrongdoing, but it does distinguish this situation from other layoffs to which we might draw comparisons. Just as it's easy to be outraged with Microsoft for eliminating so many workers, it's equally easy to argue that Microsoft made a responsible decision, at least according to the way "responsible" is defined under the company's fiduciary duties and the concept of business ethics with which MBA students are indoctrinated in graduate schools. It's also possible (though not necessarily easy, at least in an empirical sense) to argue the layoffs will pave the path for company growth, and thus a greater number of jobs in the future-- though I'll grant you that companies frequently and deceptively champion this line of thinking, even though promised "trickle down" benefits sometimes fail to materialize. To be clear, I'm not saying Microsoft was responsible or ethical in an absolute sense, or even according to what I'd personally consider ethical. Rather, I'm talking about the layoffs according to the definitions that prevail on Wall Street and in the corporate world, and that much of the rest of our culture has become complicit in tacitly supporting. From this point of view, it makes less sense to single out Microsoft for scorn than to question the trajectory and ethics of our economic system.
Put another way, I'm not sure that focusing on Microsoft isn't a bit like focusing on a single, burning tree while the rest of the forest is reduced to ash. Some companies and industries are like children-- they'll misbehave until they're taught to behave otherwise. But is that a problem with the kids, or with the rules those kids have been taught? Companies and industries sometimes deserve condemnation, but their actions are often symptoms of deeper, more systemic problems-- and if we could agree on the problems, we could do more to define ethical employer relations, and to hold companies accountable when they treat workers like insects. I'd argue that incongruences among the ways we think about jobs, the ways we elect policy makers, and the ways we choose which products to buy are more important (at least in a macro, societal sense) than the policies of any single company, such as Microsoft. So again, I don't mean to absolve Microsoft of the guilt it should feel for putting people out of work; rather, I mean to question why we should single out Microsoft as some kind of exemplar of workplace malfeasance when we have only a partial vantage into Microsoft's goals for the reduction, and when root issues (i.e. if we're concerned about job security, why have we allowed workers' legal protections to be diminished by certain political forces? Which protections should be reinstated, and which would overly impede companies from growing? How are a businesses' rights alike and different than those of a person? How is the tax code promoting or discouraging job growth? What is the optimal use of contract workers? etc.) are so much more relevant to cultural outcomes.