Daily Kos features an article by Hunter on presidential candidate Rand Paul’s explanation for income inequality. The senator from Kentucky told Chris Wallace of Fox News: “The thing is, income inequality is due to some people working harder and selling more things.” Hunter asks an important question: How much is Senator Paul’s own success a matter of his hard work and how much of it is based on the great base of support built by his father’s decades of hard work? The same question could be asked about the Walton heirs.
From a different angle, how much harder do CEOs work than the average U.S. worker? According to the SEC (as cited in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune), some of Chicago’s CEOs must be working incredibly hard:
- James McNerney of Boeing earns $28.9 million annually, 611 times the average worker’s annual income.
- Peter Liguori of Tribune Media has annual compensation of $23 million, 487 times what the average worker makes.
The rest of the top ten Chicago CEO earn between $21 million and $15.6 million, which is also 466-331 what the average American worker earns.
My problem is not simply income inequality. When Senator Paul and other conservatives talk about hard work and “takers,” they disrespect the work done by millions of Americans. They project a divided society where the lucky few deserve wealth and security and most Americans live pay check to pay check in constant fear of losing a job and have little hope for the future. I don’t think the problem of income equality is simple to explain or solve. Dismissing it as a matter of hard work is insulting to all Americans.
In today’s Daily Kos, the great labor reporter Laura Clawson examines the wealth of an average worker compared to Sam Walton’s offspring. According to research by the AFL-CIO, the six Walton heirs total wealth is the same as that of 52.5 million American families (42.9%). The study points out that some families have negative wealth. Adjusted for that, the number of families needed to equal the Walton wealth drops to 1.7 million. However, that adjustment also indicates that many American families have issues with “negative wealth.” Clawson also notes that a Walmart worker being paid $9 per hour would have to work 1,036 hours to make what the company’s CEO Doug McMillon makes in one hour.
Do the Walton heirs deserve to be very rich? I believe they do. Their father created an innovative business model. The bigger question is how much wealth should anyone – rich heir or CEO -- have. What is the cost to society of an economy where a few are very rich and secure and many working class and middle class families are falling behind and less secure?