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Life at the Top: Endless Obscene Bonuses for Execs, Everyone Else Getting Shafted

We historically, here in the United States, have had a word for power imbalances this striking and stark: plutocracy, or rule by the rich.

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We historically, here in the United States, have had a word for power imbalances this striking and stark: plutocracy, or rule by the rich.

The plutocratic rule we experience today can seem all-encompassing. The rich and powerful appear to slide endlessly and effortlessly from the summit of one sphere of American economic and political power to another.

Some of these moves make national headlines. Peter Orszag, after running the federal budget office for the Obama White House, moves to a plush senior global banking slot at Citigroup. Former JPMorgan Chase executive Bill Daley becomes the new White House chief of staff.

Other moves go more under the radar. Former U.S. senator Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican, moves to JPMorgan Chase. Theo Lubke, the lead derivatives expert at the New York Federal Reserve Bank, hops in bed with Goldman Sachs. The top exec in the New York City public school system, Joel Klein, joins the Rupert Murdoch media empire as an executive vice-president.

In this clubby atmosphere, backs get scratched at the power summits — and everyday people get shafted. New York City’s richest 1 percent, as one new report details, now average more income per day — about $10,000 — than New York’s poorest 1 million residents average in a year.

How long can this state of affairs continue? History can be a guide — and an inspiration, too. In the Great Depression, over five years passed before Congress felt enough grassroots heat to start passing the landmark bills — like the Wagner labor rights legislation — that truly upended America’s power dynamics.

We’re still only three years into the Great Recession. Wall Street’s bonus boys may not be as home-free as they think.

Sam Pizzigati is the editor of the online weekly Too Much, and an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

 
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