Recently, Americans have been waking up to news that Jeff Bezos is now the richest man in the world. Simultaneously, a cascade of condemning reports from his employees has surfaced, giving new insight to the hellish working conditions that Bezos has employed to earn his stake.
The conditions at Amazon makes Bezos’ extreme wealth seem criminal. Despite the impossible standards of work that Amazon requires, Bezos still makes more than his average employee’s salary in 10 seconds. Across the board, it’s the same for top CEOs: they average a pay rate 271 times that of their employees.
Americans can’t take that sitting down. It’s reasonable to suggest that high-ranking executives should make significantly more than their workers, but no one will ever work 271 times harder than another person. Americans need an income cap. At the very least, we need a cap on the ratio of worker to CEO pay.
When a company grows, it’s because of the people at every level who sweat for their work. The pay gap should reflect that. Jeff Bezos’ income doesn’t.
Reagan’s War on Workers
Conditions didn’t used to be this bad. In the aftermath of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt was heavily pressured by union leaders to draft policies that might prevent future disaster. One such policy was the “Productivity Bargain”: a promise that real wages would remain tied to productivity growth. The plan offered a path to the middle class for the first time for millions.
Then, Ronald Reagan came along. Alongside a host of other poor economic policies that eroded hard-won worker and consumer protections, he stripped workers of FDR’s promise. That separation of real wages from productivity growth has had lasting and truly damaging consequences. The promise of the middle class has been replaced by the reality that “only 0.1% of US minimum wage workers can afford a 1-bedroom apartment”. Those policies helped to widen the gap between workers and the Capitalists who effectively own them.
Living With Dignity
Around the country, cries to return to FDR’s era of worker protections have echoed in movements like Fight for $15. Workers want to see compensation rise to match living costs so they don’t have to pick up second and third jobs.
Many of the companies that these employees are pushing back against sit within that top echelon of CEO pay. Employees of companies like Walmart and McDonald’s have to beg to be treated as humans while the CEOs they work under make $9000 per hour. Amidst the Marxian “bread and circus” show of conservatives berating liberals for criticizing this practice, top executives continue to rake in cash.
No One Works THAT Hard
A frequent argument in favor of high CEO pay is the time-tested assertion that those executives have simply earned it. CEOs, the logic goes, are required to have a degree of knowledge, training, and experience that makes them invaluable. It seems reasonable that pay should increase with responsibilities and prerequisites. The trouble is, these CEOs “just aren’t worth what we pay them”. Studies have been finding that high CEO pay does not produce better results for the company. Further research suggests that they frequently do not equal or surpass their salary’s value to the company either.
Aside from the Return-on-Investment (ROI) aspect of CEO pay, there’s a certain ethical dilemma. I personally cannot recall a day in my life that I have worked quantifiably 271 times harder than another human being. In fact, I’m inclined to believe it impossible. That’s just the rub: sure, CEOs are worth high salary, but who let their exorbitant wages get so out of hand? Speaking strictly from an ROI point of view, that kind of value is simply unattainable.
Income Inequality at Home and Abroad
America is by far the wealthiest country in the history of the world. Among Liberal and Capitalist states, however, it is one of the most unequal.
The GINI Index is an international resource that tracks income inequality across countries. Typically, the wealthier a state is, the less unequal it is. That isn’t the case in America. In fact, out of 30 developed countries, the US ranks 23rd in inequality. If the US matched the pattern, it would logically follow that it would be the least unequal state, owing to its wealth. Clearly, that isn’t the case.
The culprits aren’t exactly hard to find. Bernie Sanders’ famous refrain that the “top 1% owns more wealth than the bottom 90% combined” is disturbingly accurate.
It seems logical that a healthy, growing economy in the wealthiest country in the world would provide benefits and increasing wealth to its people. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked like that in the U.S. So-called “trickle-down” economics, as employed by Ronald Reagan and modern conservatives, has helped to ensure that the wealthy sees growing pocket books while everyone else fights for scraps.
No Billionaires Until There’s No Homeless
It’s hard not to look at growing homelessness and a poverty rate of 14% with disdain while reading headlines that people are donating money to Kylie Jenner to help her become the world’s youngest billionaire.
We have an intense and unhealthy fascination with wealth in this country that has allowed us to usher in an age of total indignity while creating kings of the capitalists who buried us. We need to take a hard look at our priorities. No one should call our wealth a success until it has meant the elimination of poverty and homelessness. We need to restore the productivity bargain. We need to implement income caps. We need to regulate the worker-owner pay gap.
These things can be accomplished by voting for and supporting politicians who understand and commit to resolving issues of regulation and unfair taxation. Voters can take a stand behind candidates that pledge to increase taxation on the wealthy and close corporate loopholes. They can also support unions and workers’ rights advocacy groups around the country who are fighting to close this gap. Americans don’t benefit from billionaires. Let’s get rid of them.
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