I, for one, am getting a little sick of the patronizing tone coming from rank and file republican representatives on tax issues. A large majority of people in this country, including 2/3 of registered republicans, support higher taxes on top earners. Corporate CEOs have lavishly excessive bonuses rained on them for developing new and innovative ways to avoid taxes on their companies. There is very little debate outside of Washington that these things need to change.
Income inequality is at or near an all time high in the U.S. and we currently rank 93rd out of 125 countries (and falling rapidly) in that tellingly bad metric. Real wages for your average American worker haven’t increased in almost half a century while CEO income has increased 300% since 1990 alone. CEO pay was roughly 50 times that of an average worker in 1985. Today, it’s 350 times as much. I don’t care how you slice it, it’s fairly clear that regular Americans are suffering under the weight of an increasingly top heavy economic system and things must change.
But to the GOP, any mention of taxing top earners and corporations falls under the banner of punishing success. Well, it’s not success or the rewards of it that people want to punish. Nobody was crying about the compensation Steve Jobs got from Apple. He created a range of products that have benefited people in this country in a number of ways. I’ll admit, I have issues with Apple shifting some of its high tech manufacturing facilities and skilled jobs to China for cheaper labor, but that’s another issue. Jobs got paid for his leadership, and well he should.
The NBA is in a lockout right now. Kobe Bryant of the Lakers is making $25 million per season. Do you see anyone pointing a finger at Kobe’s exorbitant salary as the problem with the league? No, because he’s worth every penny of it and then some. Even Lakers owner Jerry Buss admitted he’s probably worth three times that. Kobe got paid, as well he should.
The problem we have as Americans isn’t that we resent the successful. We love the successful, America likes nothing more than a winner. It’s that we resent the unsuccessful reaping similar rewards. Gilbert Arenas of the Orlando Magic is getting paid enormous sums of money for being little more than a headache and a mediocre role player. Kobe’s ultra-high salary isn’t a problem, Arenas’ is.
Corporate CEOs all over this country are raking in obscene compensation packages for running their companies into the ground. It’s not the Steve Jobs of the world we resent, it’s the failed leaders who cost tens of thousands of people’s jobs, who make decisions screwing over their employees for short term earnings gains that boost stock prices long enough for them to cash out the rich package of stock options they own with little regard to that company’s long term future, and no regard for their current employees.
You want to know why CEO pay is 300 times greater in comparison to employee pay than it was just 25 years ago? It’s because these top level, supposedly successful people the GOP protects have gamed the system for their benefit alone at all of our expense. Many of these companies aren’t creating value with products or services that change the world, like Jobs did. They’re playing numbers games to exponentially multiply capital in their own bank accounts on all of our dimes.
And once they cash out, often leaving their companies a mess, they gracefully glide out to pasture on golden parachutes while the now-jobless employees they left in their wake have only unemployment insurance to break their fall; a lead parachute with holes in it. And not only does the GOP want to protect and defend the CEOs who cause this carnage, they want to gut what little assistance regular people have to keep their heads above water. These kinds of CEOs are portrayed as successes and job creators (an indefensible oxymoron in far too many cases) and the employees they discarded are failures and deadbeats sucking unfairly on the public dime.
The financial sector spent the past 15 years raping and pillaging the American Dream. They’ve virtually destroyed home ownership as part of the path to upward mobility, taking with it the majority of net worth most Americans had accumulated. Worse yet, they packed bad loans into bogus securities and sold them to pension plans, taking away the retirement savings of millions. And what did we do to punish this? We invented new and interesting ways to bail out these essentially criminal enterprises, allowing them to quickly dump losses from their scams on taxpayers, reap massive profits and some of the same CEOs who presided over the fraud in the first place are again receiving bonuses that should make even the wealthiest of us blush with shame. The GOP wants to protect these “success stories” who stole so much from so many, and for the rest of us who lost our homes, the equity in them and our retirement savings? Well, they wanna gut Social Security, too.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Gannett CEO Craig Debow presided over some serious declines in his five years at the head of the giant media company. During his tenure, 20,000 Gannett employees lost their jobs, annual revenue dropped by $2 billion and the stock price fell from $72 per share to $10. By no criteria that makes any rational sense can Debow’s tenure be deemed a success. It is, in fact, a failure of epic proportions. What kind of parting gift does he get for this far-less-than-stellar performance? A compensation package of $37 million! He also gets a free office, free secretary, lifetime health benefits and some other assorted goodies. Let me reiterate–miserable failure yet walks away with $37 million and then some. Meanwhile, the company is in shambles and 20,000 people lost their jobs.
Again, why does the GOP want to protect this kind of guy and portray his actions as successful when it’s clearly anything but? No, we as Americans don’t want to punish success. We have no problem with rewarding success and honoring the successful. We, however, have a very big problem with rewarding failure and redefining it as success. Especially when that faux-success comes attached with tens of thousands of people out of work and billions of dollars lost.
And lest anyone thinks I’m politically slanted, the Democrats protect the very same people. There is little difference between the parties in this respect. The reason I chose to use GOP throughout this is because they are most outwardly vocal about it. They are the ones unapologetically throwing this rhetoric out there, and fronting this bogus premise of defending the rich as successful is also defending us all. Neither party has the high ground here, they’re both equally rotten, but the GOP makes the most noise about it. That’s why I called them out specifically.