Average worker pay compared to CEO pay. Click on the chart to enlarge. Credit: The New York Times
Here's what's wrong with corporate America, folks. You are being badly ripped off.
This "wide divide," this economic disparity, is what happens when you rely on unbridled capitalism and "market forces" to set wages, and count on the fairness and generosity of our corporate masters.
By 2004, the top 10 percent of executives earned at least 350 times the average worker's pay, up from 122 times in 1990 and 74 times in 1950. Talk about trickle-down economics!
Next time someone tells you, "If the government would just leave business alone to do business, things would take care of themselves," you can remember this chart and its message: The private sector has BEEN left alone by government, when it comes to "letting wages find their natural level." That area is completely unregulated on the top end, with minimum wage laws being the only restraints on the bottom end.
Here's the real-world result of those "market forces" of which conservatives (yes, even -- hell, especially -- the libertarian kind represented by Ron Paul) are so fond.
Reality check: The laissez faire approach to the economy has already been tried, people. See the history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America: Robber barons, greedy monopolists, exploitation of workers, child labor, sweat shops, environmental despoilation in the name of profits, economic suppression of the working class, all for the miserly profits of a few big tycoons.
Base an entire society and economic system on human greed and the acquisition of wealth and material goods, and this is what happens. The powerful exploit the weak. The rich buy political influence, and the working class gets an insulting pittance with a super-sized helping of condescension. Should anyone be surprised?
Here's what you have in America today, as a result of trusting corporations to do the right thing: Working men and women are out of luck. If working class families have anything besides crushing debt, for the most part, it’s their houses, for the lucky ones. And holy hell, look what's happening to the housing market. For the first time in two decades, real estate values are dropping like a stone, and the bottom's not in sight yet.
Debt's piling up. Under the Bush administration, credit card companies have been deregulated and unleashed to practice their particularly nasty brand of predatory lending and interest rate hiking, and it's tougher than ever to declare bankruptcy.
There's nothing in the bank for a rainy day, for a medical emergency, or worse, for retirement. And due to the Wal-Martization of jobs in corporate America, every year, more and more people don't even have health insurance or a retirement plan.
What do I mean by Wal-Martization? Well, when a company increases its profits by underpaying its workers and by keeping most or all of them "part-time," thus dodging requirements to provide bedrock benefits like insurance and retirement -- and gets away with it! -- you can damn well believe that other corporations are watching and learning. Welcome to the new America.
"A persistent slide in work-based health insurance is largely to blame for a 2.2 million rise in the number of uninsured in America," according to policy experts.
United States Census Bureau figures released last year show that the number of people without coverage increased to 47 million from 2005 to 2006. "The jump is appalling," said American Medical Association President-elect Nancy H. Nielsen, MD, PhD. "I was so disappointed, because we have had years of people talking about this problem."
The corporate fat cats make billions of dollars cutting the international deals whose end result is making workers unemployed or underemployed. Cowed-down workers end up thanking their lucky fucking stars for a lousy job wearing an apron at Wal-Mart or flipping burgers at McDonalds, while the CEO and his upper management lackeys play golf, cultivate decadent habits and mistreat the illegal immigrant yard help at their palatial estates.
Meanwhile, the corporate bigwigs want you to continue to vote against your own economic interests by supporting the party that issues huge tax cuts for the rich while trickling pennies on the working class. "But who'd be stupid enough to vote that way?" you might ask.
People who are scared can be convinced to do stupid things. If you can rig the system so that people are scared of each other, scared of terrorists, scared on the issues of race and gender and sexual orientation and ethnicity, it's easy to control them. It's the age-old tactic of divide and conquer. Teach people to fear and hate diversity rather than celebrating it, and you can get them to march lockstep right into their own economic doom.
Teach them that speaking out leads to consequences. Teach them that they should unquestioningly accept a government which spies on their phone conversations, email, and text messages, and you'll have a populace too intimidated to stand up for themselves. Teach them that under the Patriot Act, any deviation from the plans your corporate masters have for you can be arbitrarily defined as "terrorism," and that you can be locked up indefinitely without knowing if or when you'll be charged or tried.
Pass laws that make it easy to outsource their jobs to other countries should they demand decent benefits and living wages and safe work environments. Keep that threat hanging over their heads and they'll remain compliant.
Teach the workforce that they should accept a corporate culture that is not only concerned with your productivity in the workplace, but which also makes it the business of the company what you choose to do in your off time. Teach them that they should accept the invasion of their privacy and the confiscation of the very fluids of their bodies as some kind of chemical loyalty oath, and that if they choose to indulge in substances that don't bear the seal of corporate approval and corporate profits, they can lose not only their livelihood, but their very freedom.
This is what happens when the market drives the economy. Things will be different come the Revolution.
"A revolution is coming--a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough. But a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability." ~ Robert F. Kennedy