The average CEO made $9.6 million in 2011, even as workers’ wages remained stagnant and unemployment hovered nationally around 8 percent. Chief Executive Officers are being paid at the highest-ever rate since the AP started tracking the figure in 2006, according to a new report from the news organization.
But while CEOs may be reaping the rewards of higher profits and a growing stock market, very little of that achievement spreads as far as the average worker — or even the company’s stockholders:
Profit at companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index rose 16 percent last year, remarkable in an economy that grew more slowly than expected.
CEOs managed to sell more, and squeeze more profit from each sale, despite problems ranging from a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating to an economic slowdown in China and Europe’s neverending debt crisis.
Still, there wasn’t much immediate benefit for the shareholders. The S&P 500 ended the year unchanged from where it started. Including dividends, the index returned a slender 2 percent.
As the AP noted, “the typical American worker would have to labor for 244 years to make what the typical boss of a big public company makes in one.”
Growing CEO pay is contributing to the larger trend of increasing income inequality — CEO pay increased 127 times faster than the average worker pay over the last 30 years, and the average Fortune 500 CEO made 380 times what the average worker did last year. Fortune 500 companies made a record $824 billion in 2011.
By: Annie-Rose Strasser, Think Progress, May 25, 2012
Ayn Rand has a large and growing influence on American politics. Speaking at an event in her honor, Congressman Paul Ryan said, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”
A few weeks ago, Maureen Fiedler, the producer of the weekly radio show, Interfaith Voices, asked me to participate in a debate with Onkar Ghate, a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute. I eagerly accepted. I wanted to hear how a follower of Rand would defend proposals to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps while exempting the wealthy from paying their fair share.
In one sense there was agreement. Maureen, a Sister of Loretto, argued that Republican budget proposals turned their back on Christ’s admonition to care for “the least among us,” the hungry, the sick, the homeless. Ghate did not dispute that. Rand, he said, was an atheist who did not believe in government efforts to help those in need.
Ghate countered Sister Maureen’s religious position with a moral argument. He maintained that redistribution of wealth was unfair to the rich and weakened the ambition of the rest. I wasn’t surprised by this position, since I’d heard it repeatedly during the fight on welfare reform.
What I did find startling was Ghate’s insistence that just as there should be a separation of church and state, so there should be a separation of economics and state. That notion really got me thinking.
I’ve always understood that one’s loyalty to God should take precedence over one’s patriotic duty. Churches are exempt from taxation, and conscientious objectors aren’t required to serve in war. Our high regard for the First Amendment shows the preeminence of faith in the American consciousness.
But to place economics on the same level as religious freedom seemed to me almost blasphemous. Are we really to believe that the freedom to make money should stand on the same level of religious liberty? Are the words of Milton Friedman equal to the Sermon on the Mount? I don’t think so. But maybe in the eyes of Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan, they are.
Ayn Rand’s biography goes a long way toward explaining her animus to government. Her first-hand experience of communism showed her how the state can crush people, kill dissent, and exile lovers of freedom to the gulag. Horrified by what government power could do, she was determined to shrink it to the point of impotence.
America was the perfect place for Rand’s single-minded celebration of the individual. After all, this was the nation that inspired intrepid emigrants to leave behind country, family, and friends with little more than the shirt on their back to make a new life. Here they wouldn’t be judged by what they were before or who their parents were but by what they could made of themselves.
America was a beacon of freedom from its earliest days. But the freedom to earn one’s living is not the same as the freedom to emasculate government. It’s a mistake to enshrine individual liberty without acknowledging the role that a good government plays in preserving and promoting it. Look at places like Haiti, Somalia, and the Congo to see what happens when governments aren’t around much.
When government is marginalized, it’s not just individual freedom that suffers; the economy suffers too. A vibrant capitalism requires a legal system: contracts must be honored, fraud punished. Markets have to work, and for that we need a strong infrastructure of roads, rail, energy, and water and sewage systems.
Good government sets us free to spend our days in fruitful endeavors, not evasive action motivated by fear and distrust. Government regulations reassure us that speeding drivers will be arrested, that the financial products we buy won’t cheat us, and that it will be safer to put our money in banks than under our pillows. If we can’t trust our food to be healthy, our drugs to be safe, or our planes to fly without crashing, we’ll waste a lot of productive time.
During the debate, I also raised the point that the separation of economics and state implies that businesses and the people who run them are under no obligation to be patriotic.
In the 19th century, the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Fricks, and J.P. Morgans wanted America to do well because their own fortunes were tied to American prosperity. They made America a great economic power by creating jobs and technological advances right here at home. They knew that their own fortunes were bound up with the well-being of their fellow Americans.
In Ayn Rand’s America, the first obligation of CEOs is to their shareholders, not to citizens. Their business is global, not local. Why should they care if they send jobs overseas? Why should they be concerned if American kids can’t do math or write a sentence? They’ll just outsource the work. Why should they worry that the next generation of Americans is going to have a tough time? Their own kids will do just fine. And in the meantime, they’re doing just fine themselves.
Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, sees a problem with this view. He writes, “You could say, as many do, that shipping jobs overseas is no big deal because the high-value work–and much of the profits–remain in the U.S. That may well be so. But what kind of a society are we going to have if it consists of highly paid people doing high-value-added work–and masses of unemployed?”
Don Peck makes a similar point in his new book, Pinched, and in an Atlantic cover story. “Arguably,” he writes, “the most important economic trend in the United States over the past couple of generations has been the ever more distinct sorting of Americans into winners and losers, and the slow hollowing-out of the middle class.”
Besides this economic problem, I also see a moral issue with Ayn Rand’s insistence that all of us, CEOs included, should be totally free of the ties that bind. I especially disagree when it comes to CEOs. As I wrote here a few months ago, the wealthy have a special responsibility. Much will be asked of those to whom much has been given. Participating in government and civic life, serving in war, helping the less fortunate, and–yes–paying a fair share of taxes are inescapable responsibilities for all Americans, especially for those who have realized the American dream that inspires us all.
I doubt there was anything I could have said in the debate that would have induced Onkar Ghate to view the meaning of freedom in a different light. I suppose he might say the same of me. Still, I can’t see how one can be free in a vacuum. Freedom takes work, by each of us, and by our government, to create the place where each of us can prosper. The freedom to sleep under a bridge is no freedom at all. We can only be free when we work together for the well-being of all Americans–including the least among us.
By: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, The Atlantic, August 23, 2011
Prevailing conservative wisdom dictates that businesses need tax cuts—and investors need capital gains tax cuts—to get the economy moving. But two very well-executed articles on wages and taxes published recently suggest that targeting tax cuts at business executives may do little to improve the dismal unemployment picture.
The Washington Post offers a startling analysis of income disparity, noting that the gap between the very rich and the rest of us has grown dramatically in the past few decades, reaching current levels that have not been seen since the Great Depression. In 2008, the Post reports, the top one-tenth of one percent of earners took in more than a tenth of the personal income in the United States. But the moneyed class is not dominated by professional athletes or big-name artistic performers or even hedge fund managers, the Post found. Instead, it is due to a big increase in executive compensation, even as real wages for some of their workers have dropped:
The top 0.1 percent of earners make about $1.7 million or more, including capital gains. Of those, 41 percent were executives, managers and supervisors at non-financial companies, according to the analysis, with nearly half of them deriving most of their income from their ownership in privately-held firms. An additional 18 percent were managers at financial firms or financial professionals at any sort of firm. In all, nearly 60 percent fell into one of those two categories.
The New York Times has a fascinating story that serves as an unwitting companion piece to the Post story. Corporate executives, the paper reports, are clamoring for a tax holiday to encourage them to bring their offshore profits back to the United States. And the money in question is big, the Times notes: Apple has $12 billion in offshore cash, while Google has $17 billion, and Microsoft, $29 billion. The companies with money sitting offshore argue that if the federal government were to offer them a huge tax break—say, a one-year drop from 35 percent to 5.25 percent—the businesses would bring the money home and operate as a private-sector economic stimulus.
However, the Times notes:
(T)hat’s not how it worked last time. Congress and the Bush administration offered companies a similar tax incentive, in 2005, in hopes of spurring domestic hiring and investment, and 800 took advantage. Though the tax break lured them into bringing $312 billion back to the United States, 92 percent of that money was returned to shareholders in the form of dividends and stock buybacks, according to a study by the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research.
Who needs a tax cut, then? The U.S. economy is very much consumer-driven; companies aren’t hiring, many business owners say, because people aren’t buying. The past behavior of corporations that have received huge tax cuts has not necessarily been to use the money to hire more people; the Bush-era tax cuts have been in place for a decade, and the unemployment rate is still 9.1 percent. And executive compensation has grown. Executives may feel entitled to earn more and more if their companies are doing well and expanding. But without customers, those companies will go bust.
By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, JUne 20, 2011
This afternoon, the People’s Rights Campaign, a coalition of labor and community organizations, organized a community action on Madison’s Capitol Square. Activists scrounged for their last pennies and taped them to “deposit slips” so that they could be deposited directly into the accounts of the CEOs of M&I Bank, Bank of America and JPMorgan ChaseBank.
“Why should they have to pay any taxes at all when grubby peasants and working stiffs still have a few pennies left in their pockets?” asked the group’s press release.
Kim Grveles of Wisconsin Resists”What we’re trying to do here is call a spade a spade,” National Nurses United organizer Pilar Schiavo said. “Walker’s budget takes from the poor, seniors, students and workers at a time when people most need help. Walker is taking our last pennies and giving them to the rich and to corporations.”
Kim Grveles of Wisconsin Resists added, “We’re demonstrating Walker’s agenda to transfer money from people to corporate sponsors of the governor and other GOP members of the legislature. Every bill is making us poorer and making the big corporate campaign contributors wealthier just like a reverse Robin Hood– stealing from the working class poor and giving to the rich.
“The corporations aren’t paying their fair share in taxes, they’re getting bailout money and they’re making millions in profits every year.”
Organizers referenced a May 1st article in the Wisconsin State Journal that pointed out that “changes to a corporate tax law proposed in Walker’s budget may mean businesses would pay the state about $46 million less in taxes over the next two years– and $40 million less each year after that.”
Reverse Robin Hook Mike Amato speaks in front of M&IGroups of protestors spread out and took their pennies and deposit slips to the branches of M&I Bank, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase Bank closest to the Capitol.
At M&I, security guards locked the front door as soon as the group of a dozen or so approached. Mike Amato of the Teaching Assistants’ Association, who was dressed as a Reverse Robin Hood, tried giving his deposit slip to a guard, saying, “They want to create a peasant system, so we’re helping them out by being reverse Robin Hoods, stealing pennies from the poor to give to the rich.”
The security guard seemed unimpressed, later blocking off the entrance to the drive-thru teller window as well, saying that it was “private property” and making deposits to the CEO’s account would not be allowed, but he was later seen with a bank manager, discussing the text of one of the deposit slips the group had left behind.
Reverse Robin Hood’s BandAccording to Schiavo, a group of protestors succeeded in getting into the local Bank of America investment branch, where they deposited their pennies into CEO Brian Moynihan‘s account. Protesters were locked out of JPMorgan Chase Bank’s branch but were able to deposit their slips through the slit between the glass doors and leave them in a pile in the entryway.
Schiavo noted that the People’s Rights Campaign seeks, through this action, to call attention to their platform, which calls for “restored rights to living wage jobs, access to healthcare and retirement security rather than giving back to corporations that have already received money from the government and continue to give huge bonuses to their CEOs.”
By: Rebecca Wilce, Center for Media and Democracy, May 11, 2011