Greedy will destroy us unless Bernie’s revolution takes off
I got a real shock recently when I read that the average CEO of our 100 largest companies is making $829 for every $1 earned by the average worker. And those latest available figures are for 2013. It’s probably worse today.
And when you include all CEOs, the average one is still making some 331 times as much as the average worker. These and many other relevant figures may be found in a new book titled “Runaway Inequality” by Les Leopold, director of the Labor Institute.
When polled, most Americans replied they thought the average CEO should probably make about seven times more than the average worker. Even confining the poll to strong Republicans, a ratio of no more than 12-to-1 was suggested. And these people had absolutely no idea that the real figure is now 829 for the top 100 or 331 for all. A far cry from 7 or 12.
We are now the most unequal society in the developed world. The next-highest ratio of CEO to worker pay is reported by Switzerland and Germany at 148-to-1. The lowest ratio is reported by Denmark at 48-to-1.
From 1979-2012 the richest 5 percent of Americans saw their incomes increase by 75 percent while the poorest 20 percent suffered a 12 percent decline. The second-lowest 20 percent had a 1 percent decline, the third 20 percent only an 8 percent increase and the fourth 20 percent just a 20 percent increase. This contrasts sharply with the years from 1947-1979 when all income groups enjoyed roughly equal gains. (All figures have been adjusted for inflation.)
And since the 2008 crash, 58 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent.
While there are a variety of reasons for all this, the main reasons are due to a systematic and stealthy campaign by the rich to organize, via the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other organizations, to take over our judiciary and state and federal governments in order to enjoy the legislation and judicial opinions that have made their ill-gotten gains possible.
And how is it going to take us all down? First of all, the rich have little to do with all their money but gamble, as the obscene figures about risky Wall Street speculation demonstrate. In 2008 we bailed out the banks that were “too big to fail.” Now three of the four largest are 80 percent bigger and nothing has been done about their gambling. They will crash again soon if not stopped. And this time it will be catastrophic.
Bernie Sanders is the only candidate promising to do all in his power to break up the big banks. He also promises to re-establish a Glass- Steagall type provision prohibiting all banks enjoying federal deposit insurance from engaging in unrestricted investment banking and speculation. He also promises to pay for parts of his program with a tax on all very short-term Wall Street trading, i.e. gambling.
Hillary Clinton, who unlike Bernie who is accepting huge sums from big corporations, including big banks, will undoubtedly do little to change their current practices.
But notice I said Bernie promises to do “all in his power.” Even if we elect him president, he cannot do enough to turn this country around unless he is supported by voters undertaking nothing less than a political revolution. For Bernie to carry out his full program — which is detailed on his website, berniesanders.com, and which I will describe in a later column — he needs a supportive Congress and at least a non-interfering judiciary. That’s up to us.
The banks are not our only threat from the greedy rich.
This kind of runaway inequality threatens to turn us into as dysfunctional a society as Mexico. In fact, it is starting to do just that. And then where will we run in order to find more opportunity?
Most of the greedy rich do not care much about public education. After all, their children attend the best private schools. They do not care about affordable health insurance because they can pay for the most expensive insurance or cover their care out of pocket.
Foolishly, most of the rich do not care if unemployment stays high because that keeps wages down enough to support their higher and higher profits. This is foolish because unemployment and low wages also reduce demand for the products their companies produce. As Henry Ford famously said, “you have to pay your workers enough that they can afford to buy your cars.”
Equally foolishly, they don’t seem to care about our public infrastructure, our crumbling roads, dangerous bridges needing repair or replacement, outmoded electric grid, etc. etc. And this despite the fact that they need these amenities themselves.
They are foolishly self-destructive as well as uncaring of others. And to what purpose? A seemingly endless number of psychological studies have shown that beyond satisfying basic needs plus a small surplus, more money and material wealth add almost nothing to anyone’s happiness. What adds to happiness is deserving the esteem of others, helping others, following one’s principles, and enjoying family and community.
In fact, the same studies show that excess wealth can be a major detriment to psychological well-being. So let’s do the rich and ourselves a big favor. Let’s rise up and support Bernie and his political revolution.
Mary Boland’s column appears on the third Saturday of each month. She is a retired teacher and journalist, a proud grandmother and a longtime resident of Carbondale.
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