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CEO of Walmart Makes in One Hour What the Average Employee Makes In a Year: How Skyrocketing Inequality Is Hurting America

A new report shows exactly who the top 0.1 percent of Americans with all the wealth are. The question is, what can we do about it?

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Those “social norms” started to change in the 1970s as union density dropped and business fought back hard against the New Deal. They began to change fast in the '80s, with Reagan's deregulation-first agenda—in 1980, CEOs made 42 times what workers made; now it's 343 times. This, coupled with the failures of communism in practice, led to what British author Mark Fisher calls “ capitalist realism” -- the idea that there is no alternative and so we're stuck with what we've got. It might not be fair that the company CEO makes hundreds of times your salary, but that's the way the system is, and it's the best system we've got.

In practice, that means what we get is corporations making the rules, corporate executives making the money, and the rest of us making, in real terms, less than ever. To suggest there might be anything wrong with corporations paying CEOs millions is treated like heresy.

Other countries have seen their income inequality rise, but none of the so-called developed countries have seen a spike like that here in the States—the Post notes that we belong in the company of Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Uganda and Jamaica in terms of raw wealth disparity.

Another new report, this one in Mother Jones, points out some more maddening statistics. Productivity is up 80 percent since 1979, but workers' wages have hardly risen at all. The number of people working more than 50 hours a week has steadily increased, and workers are now expected to be available and responsive to email communications when not at the office. The report charts the return of growth in gross domestic product (GDP), but not jobs to match. And those multinational corporations with multimillionaire CEOs are hiring more people overseas than they are at home.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that companies with billions held offshore—including companies we all know and use, like Google, Apple and Microsoft—are asking for a “repatriation” tax holiday to bring that money back to the U.S. In other words, they want to drop the rate they'd pay on that money--$29 billion from Microsoft alone—to 5.25 percent from the 35 percent it is normally, as a reward to them for bringing their money back home.

The kicker to that is that even 5 percent of that cash would be a much-needed jolt of revenue for the U.S. economy, but the last time such a deal was offered, companies shipped money home only to return it to shareholders, lay off workers, close plants, and make plans for the next time the government would reward them for pretending to be patriotic. Merck, the Timesnotes, “brought back $15.9 billion in October 2005. The next month, it unveiled a restructuring plan to cut 7,000 jobs.”

Once again, then, we see companies seeking a reward for doing a tiny bit of what they should have done all along—in this case, paying their taxes here at home. They claim, over and over again, that they'll create jobs, if only this or that bit of money is conceded to them. Meanwhile the jobs are not being created, and the ones that exist are paying less and less.

Since 1987, research has found that 60 percent or more of Americans agree that “differences in income in America are too large.” The Post's very non-scientific user poll asks: “Business executives make up the largest slice of top earners in the U.S., more than 40%, according to a new study. Should their pay increases be capped at the level of increases awarded to their firms' workers?” At the time I took it this morning, 85 percent of respondents had voted yes.

 
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