Co-Director, Campaign for America's Future
In 2010, as the economy began its slow recovery from the Great Recession, a new study shows the richest 1% of Americans captured a staggering 93% of all income growth, while the incomes of most Americans stagnated. 93%. Occupy that. The 1% are back
The stock market — leading source of wealth for the few — rebounded. Housing — the leading source of wealth for middle income Americans — continued to decline. Median CEO pay soared a stunning 27%. When the 2011 figures come out, the disparities will be even greater. America is recovering the old economy’s extreme inequalities.
This divorce of the 1% from the rest of us is bad for the economy and for the democracy. It’s even bad for your health. The question is what can be done about it.
In the New York Times last week, financier Steven Rattner summarized the conventional remedies: “better education and training, a fairer tax system, more aid programs for the disadvantaged” to help them “escape the bottom rung.”
OK, but as Harold Meyerson suggests in the Washington Post, this agenda ignores the major source of the new inequality: the changes in how corporations reward their employees.
Who is in the 1%? As Emmanual Saez, the author of the inequality study report, writes, today’s top earners tend to be “working rich.” About a third (31%) of the top 1% are executives and managers outside of finance. Another 14% are “financial professionals.” Doctors are about 16%, lawyers 8%.
Inside our companies, CEO pay has soared, while worker pay has stagnated at best. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, CEOs are now making 325 times what the average worker makes. CEO pay has soared as companies have dramatically increased stock options as part of compensation packages. Worker pay has stagnated as companies have waged relentless and successful war on unions. Even mid-level executives have not shared in the fabulous rewards offered the top.
The Costs of CEO Excess
Ironically, the new concentration of rewards at the top is dysfunctional to companies, as well. As Roger Martin details in his brilliant, Fixing the Game: Bubbles, Crashes, and What Capitalism can Learn From the NFL, CEO pay exploded when companies adopted reward systems based upon maximizing shareholder value. Stock options were dramatically increased as a source of CEO pay, on the theory that the CEO would share the interests of shareholders. Before the change — from 1960 to 1980, CEO compensation per dollar of net income earned for the 365 largest publicly traded U.S. companies FELL by 33%. CEO pay rose, but they earned more for the shareholders for steadily less relative compensation. After 1980, as new compensation schemes came into play, CEO compensation per dollar earned doubled from 1980 to 1990 and quadrupled between 1990 and 2000. And, stockholders fared better in the earlier period than the latter. (more…)