Pulitzer Prize winning author Hedrick Smith’s best-selling book Who Stole the American Dream? is a real eye-opener for anyone who still believes our elected officials in Washington are the watchdogs of democracy and are ever-vigilant in protecting the interests of their constituents (that would be you and me).
Smith is not the only one who has tried to warn us of the unholy alliance between Wall Street, large corporations, lobbyists and members of Congress. Charles Derber’s Corporation Nation, says one critic, “is the single best explanation of how big corporations have usurped the power of ordinary citizens…”
David Cay Johnston, another Pulitzer winner, has three books (Free Lunch, Perfectly Legal and The Fine Print) that illustrate how complicated tax laws and federal regulations favor the very rich by transferring the tax burden and other costs to the fast disappearing middle class.
For our purposes here, however, we shall limit the discussion to Smith and his book by highlighting some of the book’s timeline:
- 1950—Top CEO salary in America: GM chairman Charlie Wilson is paid $663,000, roughly $5 million in today’s dollars, and about 40 times the annual wage of his average assembly line worker. Corporate ethic frowned on CEOs taking stock grants as unfair “competitive avarice.” Economists call this period “The Great Compression because the income gap between the rich and the middle class is at its narrowest in the twentieth century.
- November 1967—Pat O’Neill, at nineteen, starts a thirty-five-year career with United Airlines as a jet airline mechanic, working the overnight “graveyard shift” at Chicago’s O’Hare field. He works his way up to chief mechanic, making $60,000 a year, leading a crew that does repairs and safety checks so that planes are ready to be airborne by dawn.
- August 1971—Corporate attorney Lewis Powell sparks a political rebellion with his call to arms for Corporate America. Circulated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Powell’s memo warns that anti-business attitudes and government regulation are threatening to “fatally weaken or destroy” the American free enterprise system. Powell declares that business must arm itself politically, battle organized labor and consumer activists, and mount a long-term campaign to change the balance of power and policy trends in Washington. Later that same year, President Nixon appointed Powell to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- 1971–1972—The CEOs of America’s biggest corporations, responding to Powell’s memo, organize the Business Roundtable, which becomes the most potent political lobbying arm of Corporate America. The National Association of Manufacturers moves its headquarters to Washington. In one decade the U.S. Chamber of Commerce doubles its membership and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (small business) grows from 300 to 600,000 members.
- 1973—The productivity of U.S. workers rises 96 percent since 1945, and average hourly compensation rises in tandem—94 percent from 1945 to 1973. Average Americans share in the nation’s prosperity. In the next three decades, from 1973 to 2011, worker productivity rises another 80 percent but hourly compensation rises only 10 percent. Ordinary Americans are cut out of their share of the nation’s economic gains.
- October 1976—Inspired by their mentor, free market economist Milton Friedman, business school professors Michael Jensen and William Meckling propose in an academic study that CEOs be given stock options to align their interests with those of stockholders. Corporate boards, seeing an advantage because options are not charged as a company expense, adopt this “pay for performance” idea, and by 1980, 30 percent of CEOs are receiving stock option grants.
- Late 1970s—Business mobilizes politically. The number of companies with Washington lobbying offices grows from 175 in 1971 to 2,445 a decade later. Along with 2,000 different trade associations, businesses have a combined Washington staff of 50,000, plus 9,000 lobbyists and 8,000 public relations specialists. Business lobbyists and advocates now outnumber members of Congress by 130 to 1.
- 1980—Congress passes a deregulatory bill that overrules state usury laws and effectively abolishes limits on interest rates for first mortgages, paving the way for the future subprime mortgage boom.
- 1994—The CEO stock option boom takes off. 70 percent of CEOs now receive stock option grants and by 2000, grants of millions of stock options become the norm, hugely increasing CEO pay. Corporate executives overtake the inherited rich as the biggest portion of the nation’s richest 1 percent.
- 2001–2003—The Federal Reserve, led by Chairman Alan Greenspan, cuts interest rates 11 times from 6.5 percent to 1 percent, providing cheap money to fuel a housing boom and revive the U.S. economy. Home prices rise so fast that Americans borrow $700 billion a year from their home equity. Despite warnings about the dangers of rising personal debt, Greenspan hails home owners’ “equity extraction” as the engine for consumer demand and economic growth.
- 2003—Airline mechanic Pat O’Neill retires from United Airlines after 35 years on the job, but when United Airlines declares bankruptcy, his lifetime pension is drastically cut, and his employee stock option plan collapses. His 401(k) suffers from a sharp stock market decline and he is forced to take another job. To rebuild financially, O’Neill is still working today, and he expects never to retire.
- 2005–2006—More than half of the people to whom banks sell subprime mortgage loans, at high interest rates with heavy fees, are actually solid mainstream middle-class borrowers who qualified for—and should have been sold—prime loans.
- 2006—Oracle CEO Larry Ellision, with $706.1 million in pay and stock in 2001, tops a Wall Street Journal compilation of the biggest CEO pay packages from 1995 to 2005. Close behind are Michael Eisner of Disney, with payouts of $575.6 million in 1999 and $203 million in 1993; and Sandy Weill of Citigroup, with pay of $621.8 million in three big years between 1997 and 2000.
- July 4, 2007—Hundreds of workers at Sunbeam Razor’s profitable plant in McMinnville, Tennessee, are laid off and ordered to train their replacements in a factory in Mexico, in a firing ordered by Sunbeam CEO Al Dunlap. Dunlap has makes a personal fortune as a serial downsizer of businesses. Jack Wahl, owner of Sunbeam competitor Wahl Clipper Corporation, criticizes the Sunbeam layoffs as shortsighted and “extremely wasteful,” and says his company runs profitably with U.S. workers.
- 2007—The richest 1 percent take a near-record 23 percent of the personal incomes paid to all Americans, earning a combined $1.35 trillion a year, which is more than the entire economies of Canada, Italy, or France.
- 2007—Among economic sectors, corporate profits see their share of national income rise during the Bush years to the highest level since 1943, while the share of national income going to employee salaries and wages sinks to its lowest level since 1929.
- 2008—In a Cornell University survey, 57 percent of people say they have never benefited from any government program or policy. But questioned in more detail, it turns out that 94 percent have actually benefited from at least one program. The average person has used four government programs.
- 2009—After a taxpayer bailout, big Wall Street banks rebuff President Obama’s appeal to “hire American.” They continue offshore hiring and domestic layoffs. In the 2000s, the Hackett Group reports, 3.9 million jobs in finance, IT, human resources, and back-office functions have been lost in North America and Europe. In 2011, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup sign new contracts to offshore $5 billion worth of ITJ and back-office work to Indian firms.
- 2010—Wall Street financial firms hire 1,447 former government officials as lobbyists to fight new banking regulation legislation, attempting to eliminate or water down provisions for strict regulations. After the bill passes, Wall Street bankers and lobbyists continue the battle to delay or weaken new regulations.
- 2010—In the Congressional elections of 2010, business interests outspend labor $1.3 billion to $79 million, a 16-to-1 advantage for business. In soft-money contributions to political parties, rather than donations made directly to candidates through political action committees, the business advantage is 97-to-1 ($972 million for business to $10 million for labor).
- 2010—Thirty-three of 60 new Tea Party members elected to the House are millionaires. Tea Party members have an average net worth of $1.8 million. Overall, 261 of the 535 senators and House representatives are millionaires—49 percent compared to 1 percent among the public at large. http://hedricksmith.com/timeline-who-stole-the-american-dream/
The CEOs of the top corporations in the U.S. made, on average, 331 times the wages of the average rank-and-file U.S. worker in 2013, compared to that 4:1 ratio reported in 1950. The CEO-to-minimum-wage-worker pay ratio was 774:1. http://www.aflcio.org/Corporate-Watch/Paywatch-2014
Between 1978 and 2013, CEO compensation increased 937 percent.
The pay increase of non-supervisory workers during this same time period? 10.2 percent. http://www.epi.org/publication/ceo-pay-continues-to-rise/
The breaks enjoyed by super rich at the expense of Joe the Plumber are such that even Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the richest men in America, publicly acknowledged the disparity. Noting that his 2010 tax rate was lower than that paid by 20 of his employees.
“While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks,” he said. “My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.”
So, what has all this to do with the price of eggs?
The House this week defeated by a vote of 168-243 House Resolution 5 which would have barred tax deductions for executive pay packages in excess of $1 million unless the company raised worker pay by a percentage tied to its productivity.
We suppose the executives of Wal-Mart need all the help they can get. WAL-MART TAX BREAKS
So how did the Louisiana delegation vote?
Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond (2nd District) was the only one of the six to vote in favor of the interests of workers over those of in the executive offices.
Voting “no” on the measure were newly elected Reps. Garrett Graves (6th District) and Ralph Abraham (5th District), as well as Steve Scalise (1st District), Charles Boustany (3rd District) and John Fleming (4th District).
We don’t feel that extending even more generous tax breaks for corporate executives to the detriment of those on whose backs they made their fortunes was in the best interest of Louisiana citizens who elected them to be their voices in Washington.