Sam Pizzigati

How concentrated wealth and corporate power nurture the greed of thieves

What makes for a thieving culture? An overabundance of pickpockets? Tsunamis of burglary and shoplifting?

Most definitely not. To truly gauge a society’s larcenous leanings, many of us would posit, we need to look beyond the nimble-fingered and focus more on the smooth-talkers, the power-suited flimflammers who thrive in any society where significant numbers of people feel a driving need to get rich quick.

The most recent example? Federal prosecutors last month charged the crypto currency CEO phenom Sam Bankman-Fried with committing “one of the biggest financial frauds in American history.” The 30-year-old billionaire, the Securities and Exchange Commission charges in a separate filing, built an immense financial empire on a “house of cards.”

The executive now trying to pick up those cards — the new CEO of Bankman-Fried’s FTX cryptocurrency exchange — says his predecessor simply engaged in “old-fashioned embezzlement,” not even stopping to bother with the “highly sophisticated” thieving of Enron’s fabled executive crooks a generation ago.

Right before Bankman-Fried’s brief appearance on America’s economic stage, the nation’s face of fraud belonged to Elizabeth Holmes, the founding CEO of the health-tech company Theranos.

Holmes raised some $900 million from a “star-studded” list of investors who ranged from media mogul Rupert Murdock to Henry Kissinger. Early in 2021, a federal jury convicted her of various frauds in what the Washington Postcalled “the most high-profile test of whether Silicon Valley’s “fake it until you make it” ethos could withstand legal scrutiny.”

The hustles of our Bankman-Frieds and Elizabeth Holmeses can certainly make for entertaining reading. But Freya Berry, a veteran corporate fraud investigator, sees their scams “as not as unusual as you might think” — and not as entertaining either. With “rewards high” and “penalties higher,” she notes, corporate miscreants “go to great pains to conceal” their nefarious ways, even “making death threats to whistleblowers.”

We need these whistleblowers. We also need to understand that our thieving culture rests on more than the outright larceny of our indicted corporate crooks. Our most accomplished corporate thieves, in fact, never fear indictment. They steal in broad daylight. They regularly steal livelihoods — from the thousands upon thousands of men and women who’ve worked ever so diligently, sometimes for many years, to make them fabulously rich.

We’re now living through an intense stretch of this theft. Tech’s top execs are now laying off workers at a fearsome rate. Earlier this month, Microsoft announced plans to pink-slip some 10,000 workers. Amazon is cutting 18,000, Google parent Alphabet 12,000, IBM nearly 4,000. Overall, estimatesForbes, tech firms have so far this month alone given the heave-ho to 56,000 employees.

What makes these layoffs “thefts”? Simple avarice. Investors on Wall Street “expected more growth,” explainsGrid economics analyst Matthew Zeitlin, than Big Tech companies “are currently showing.” That has Big Tech share prices sinking, “and any time share prices fall, investors and executives get antsy — and workers often pay the price.”

Meanwhile, the antsy CEOs slashing all these jobs are continuing to stuff dollars into their own personal pockets, at overall pay rates that rarely dare drop below a quarter-million dollars a week.

This past October, Microsoft disclosed that chief exec Satya Nadella’s annual compensation had jumped 10.2 percent to just under $55 million. Nadella now makes more in one year than the typical Microsoft employee can make in 289 years. Back in 2018, the typical Microsoft worker only had to labor 154 years to earn what the company’s CEO made in just one.

This past December brought news that Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai has a new three-year “performance” package that stands to award him $210 million.

Execs like these set a thieving tone for our entire society. Their grand fortunes don’t just make the rest of us feel ever poorer. They leave us ever more vulnerable to the con artists who promise shortcuts to jackpots.

And this larceny from our corporate world’s most “respected” chief execs supplies the con artists among us with rationalizations for their own scamming behaviors. The corporate big boys play their games, they tell themselves, we play ours.

Societies that let enormous wealth concentrate in the pockets of a few make all this inevitable. They nurture greed and grasping. They always have. They always will.

Billionaires Won’t Save the World - Just Look at Elon Musk

Will Mars save humanity? Or will our savior be billionaire Elon Musk?

Keep reading...Show less

The Big Pharma Family That Brought Us the Opioid Crisis

If the devil wears Prada, what do America’s most destructive drug pushers wear? They wear smiles. The drug pushers we have in mind here have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, enough fatalities to decrease overall U.S. life expectancy at birth for the last two years running. Yet no police SWAT teams have pounded down any doors hunting these drug pushers down.

Keep reading...Show less

The Plutocrats Are Champing at the Bit to Punish Us with Pricey Road Tolls

Early this past December, Virginia state officials opened up their latest “dynamically priced” toll superhighway, a 10-mile stretch of interstate that runs from Northern Virginia into Washington, D.C. Ten days later, commuter Chris Kane looked up at the signage that continually updates the road’s current rush-hour fare.

Keep reading...Show less

Corporate Excuse for Obscene CEO Pay? 'The Free Market Made Us Do It!'

Apologists for the many millions in compensation that America’s largest corporations regularly dole out to their top executives have essentially one basic, all-purpose go-to defense.

If this huge pay difference simply reflected a “marketplace” judgment on the sheer talent of America’s top execs, top U.S. corporations would be totally dominating global markets, outselling their foreign rivals by wide margins in everything from cars to computers.

U.S. corporations are doing no such thing, of course. In one key global market sector after another, foreign corporations that pay their CEOs much less than U.S. CEOs are running neck and neck with their U.S. counterparts — and often leading the pack.

The global marketplace, in other words, hardly seems to be demanding that top executives take home $14.25 million each, the current average pay Bloomberg researchers calculate for major U.S. corporate chiefs.

CEOs in no other nations come anywhere near that $14.25-million level. America’s peer nations in the global marketplace are shelling out, on average, $3.55 million for top execs.

In Switzerland, the second-highest nation on Bloomberg’s CEO pay scale, top executives are pulling down $8.5 million a year, not much over half the going-rate for top U.S. execs. In Germany, home to many of the world’s most successful companies, CEOs average $6.17 million.

The Bloomberg researchers have also been comparing what CEOs receive to the compensation that goes to average workers. They have found a similar story. No nation has as wide a CEO-worker pay gap as the United States.

Top U.S. CEOs are taking home 265 times what U.S. workers are making, the Bloomberg analysts note. Comparable German CEOs are outpacing German workers by 174 times. The gap in Australia: 140 times.

The world’s narrowest gap between CEO and worker pay, not surprisingly, resides in one of the world’s most equal nations. In Norway, major corporate CEOs are averaging just $1.28 million in compensation, the income of about 20 average Norwegians.

In the UK, the only developed nation besides the United States with a CEO-worker pay ratio over 200 times, even conservative politicians have been railing against excessive executive compensation. Prime minister Theresa May’s conservative government has moved to require that Britain’s 9,000 publicly traded companies start disclosing, later this year, the pay ratios between their top executives and average workers.

The UK opposition Labour Party wants to go considerably further. If elected into power, Labour’s top business matters spokesperson has just pledged, the party will place a special tax on excessive corporate executive compensation and require businesses bidding for public contracts to have a CEO-worker pay ratio no wider than 20:1.

Labor leaders like Tim Roache, the general secretary of one of the UK’s largest unions, are welcoming that pledge. Top execs in the UK, Roache observes, made more in the first three days of 2018 than average British workers will make over the course of the entire year.

“Does anyone really think these fat cats,” asks Roache, “deserve 100 times more than the hard-working people who prop up their business empires?”

A question even more worth asking in the US of A.

Keep reading...Show less

Should Teachers Have to Panhandle to Prep for a New School Year?

Back to school! These three simple words used to leave America’s public school teachers giddy with anticipation. Now they leave them opening up their wallets and worrying.

Keep reading...Show less

Remembering the Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed

If you work in a corrupt system, you have two basic options.

Keep reading...Show less

Trump's Cabinet Is Coming After What's Left of the Middle Class

In a typical corporate board of directors meeting, what do CEOs see when they look out across their richly lacquered boardroom tables? Lots of other CEOs.

Keep reading...Show less

Why Does Pet Care Cost So Much?

Anyone who owns a pet knows that the cost of caring for old Fluffy or Fido has gone up considerably over recent years.

Keep reading...Show less

As Wealth for the Middle Class Shrinks, It May Be Time for a Radical Intervention

The basic idea behind the “mulligan” ­– you flub a shot, you get to take the shot again — may be golf’s most endearing contribution to world civilization.

Keep reading...Show less

Banks Screw Americans Trying Desperately to Stay Afloat

Almost two-thirds of Americans today—63 percent—don’t have enough savings to cover an unexpected $500 expense. Anything from an emergency brake job to a refrigerator on the fritz could zero out their bank accounts.

Keep reading...Show less

The Kochs' Biggest Joke - Billionaires Pretend to Care About Inequality in Latest Ad Blitz

In this year’s first quarter, the Federal Reserve reported last week, the total amount of wealth in the United States nudged over $88 trillion, an all-time record high.

Keep reading...Show less

Now the 1% Live 15 Years Longer Than the Poorest: The Death Gap's Increasing

Rich people live longer than poor people. No big news there—we’ve known that health tracks wealth for quite some time now.

Keep reading...Show less

The Death Gap Between Rich and Poor Is Only Getting Bigger

Rich people live longer than poor people. No big news there — we’ve known that health tracks wealth for quite some time now.

Keep reading...Show less

Why the SuperRich Should Be Paying $50,000 Traffic Tickets

All of us would like to live in a world where people always do the right thing — without anybody looking over their shoulder. But that world doesn’t exist and never will. So every society on our planet has penalties. You break the rules, you pay a price.

Keep reading...Show less

However You Define 'Income,' the Rich Still Get Richer

How much income do America’s households take in? How much do they have left after taxes? Do federal taxes leave the nation less or more unequal?

Keep reading...Show less

Guess Who Gives More of Their Money to Charity: People Who Make More or Less Than $200k a Year?

Billionaire CEO Nicholas Woodman, news reports trumpeted earlier this month, has set aside $450 million worth of his GoPro software stock to set up a brand-new charitable foundation.

Keep reading...Show less

America's Wealthiest Are Just Too Damn Rich to Have a Functioning Society

Imagine yourself part of the typical American family. Your household would have, the Federal Reserve reported in September, a net worth of $81,200.

Keep reading...Show less

America’s 400 Ridiculously Richest People: 2014 Edition

Imagine yourself part of the typical American family. Your household would have, the Federal Reserve reported last month, a net worth of $81,200.

Keep reading...Show less

The Mess on Our 'Information Superhighway'

This article originally appeared in's weekly newsletter Too Much, and is reprinted here with their permission.

Keep reading...Show less

How America's Terrible Economy May Be Ruining Your Love Life

Finding true love, philosophers have always understood, can get complicated in deeply unequal places. Grand fortunes tend to give Cupid a hard time, on Valentine’s Day and every other.

Keep reading...Show less

10 Greediest People in America

Butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. You won’t find any of them in this latest annual list of America’s most avaricious. You will find wheelers and dealers and even a candy store heiress.

Keep reading...Show less

Are Heartless People Simply Born That Way?

People who cut food stamps - and gut child labor laws - most all had empathy when they came into the world. So what squeezed the empathy out? Analysts are pointing to inequality.

Keep reading...Show less

How Progressives Won Four Important Victories in 10 Days

Progressives won big in four arenas over the past two weeks. They played key roles in stopping a military strike on Syria, defeating Larry Summers’s bid to head the Fed, winning basic protections for 1.9 million home health care workers, and forcing companies to disclose the gap between their CEO and worker pay.

Keep reading...Show less

Gushers of Campaign Cash are Causing Widespread Inequality

Fifty years ago, average Americans lived in a society where less than $10 of every $100 in personal income went to the nation’s richest 1 percent.

Keep reading...Show less

The Latest Census of Global Fortunes: Mo' Money for the 1%

For the global economy, notes the just-released 17th annual World Wealth Report from the Capgemini wealth consultancy and the Royal Bank of Canada, 2012 turned out to be one real downer.

Keep reading...Show less

U.S. Bancorp Oligarch Devotes Free Time to Dismantling Minnesota Orchestra

What do bank executives who make $19 million a year do in their spare time? They do the same thing they do in the hours they spend in their executive suites. They squeeze America's middle class.

Keep reading...Show less

Meet the CEO Who Cut Worker Pay in Half While Pulling in $21 Million Last Year

This article orignially appeared in Too Much, the inequality weekly. Sign up to receive free via email.

Keep reading...Show less
@2023 - AlterNet Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. - "Poynter" fonts provided by