Shortly after I received notice that my position – along with a number of others – was being terminated, I heard from a highly placed source that the company’s CEO told the CFO, “Do whatever you have to do, but do not touch my jet.” At the same time that he was laying-off 40-odd people, the CEO was rewarded with a 16 million dollar annual compensation package and the thought of relinquishing the leased corporate jet was strictly off-limits. Great messaging. Wall Street loves it while Main Street fumes. But really, does anyone care? (Remember the Occupy movement? Whither the Occupy Movement?)
I was reminded of my now 5 year-old departure from employment in Corporate America recently while perusing the front page of the Sunday NY Times’ business section. There I read a piece under the banner “The Infinity Pool of Executive Pay.” The story documents how despite the “modest” rise of 2.8% in median total pay among the top 100 CEOs (of American companies with revenues greater than $5 billion) to more than $14 million, typical “perk” packages were up almost 19% at over $320,000. Corporate funding of personal travel is one of the most flagrant applications of perks and certainly Steve Wynn of Wynn Resorts is the most high-flying example of (ab-)use: he logged over one million dollars of PERSONAL travel on his company’s $65 million jet.
Of course Mr. Wynn is not alone in milking the perk teat of America. The article goes on and on documenting the Larry Ellisons (Oracle; $96.2 million), Rupert Murdochs (News Corp.; $22.4 million), Mark Parkers (Nike; $35.2 million), and Robert Igers (Walt Disney; $37.1) of just about every business silo (technology, media, health care, manufacturing, etc.) in America. In this post 2007/2008 super recession era of Dodd-Frank rules and Securities and Exchange Commission investigations, you would think the 1% might tone it down a bit. You would be wrong. In fact, the (super) rich continue to get richer and the poor? Well, they will just show up on your nearest mall exit or intersection island, sign in hand, but invisible.
But what about the “fact” that a ‘rising tide lifts all boats?’ Perhaps that was true when the boats were dinghies and the tide wasn’t a tsunami. But the fact is that between 1960 and 1980 the top 1% of income earners took home less than 10% of all US income. Today that 1% pockets 24%. This discrepancy has grown so markedly and assuredly that now the much vaunted 1% control 40% of the US wealth whilst the bottom 80% income earners have a mere 7% of the nation’s wealth. In 1980 CEO pay was 42 times that of the average worker. It is now over 350 times. The numbers are numbing and it makes a person wonder why there aren’t pitchforks and burning torches aplenty (more on that in some future post!).
This is not new news. Mother Jones illustrated this succinctly, if colorfully back in 2011. More recently a video was created based on the Mother Jones data and that 6-plus minute long piece visually summarizes the expected, the ideal, and the reality of our growing income inequality. While the 80% continue to show declines in share of income, the plutocracy groweth. This is really not sustainable over the long haul, though one could argue that we had much the same rates of inequality in feudal times and they seemed to last…well, a long time.
This is not an appeal to light those torches and hoist high red banners at the barricades, but rather a plea to attack the issue from three angles: the shareholders perspective, your pocket book, and via benefit corporations. But, before we get there, let’s explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of income inequality.
(Next: Your Inequality is My Opportunity)
As the principal of Clayhaus Photography, Jeff Clay specializes in fine-art landscape, architecture, and travel images. He also does portrait and event photography as a partner in Perfect Light Studios. Finally, with a background in information technology and project management, and as sole proprietor of Clayhaus Consulting, he works with non-profits and small businesses to help implement Internet and social media campaigns. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT with his wife, Bonnie and their three wild and crazy retrievers.