Looking at Income Inequality

Updated: Friday, May 16, 2014
Looking at Income Inequality story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - A surprise best-selling French author has stoked the fires of class warfare in the United States with the recent publication of his book "Capital in the 21st Century."

Tonight, in Tom's Corner, our Tom Van Howe says whether the book is right or wrong is irrelevant right now; its publication has people talking.

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The author's name is Thomas Piketty. And his premise is this: unless governments start using heavy taxes to break up large concentrations of wealth, our economy and the world's economy will become increasingly unbalanced, with only a few people inheriting massive fortunes.

And he says the only way to penetrate that socio-economic class would be to marry into it--because good old-fashioned hard work won't get you there.

The book has been pretty much kicked to the dirt by conservatives and hailed by liberals. I'm stuck in the middle because I struggled with economics in college.

But I'm not sure you need  a dollars-and-sense degree to get a sense that things aren't going well--that somehow the game is rigged; that the fix is in.

Take a look. The pay of the typical American worker peaked in 1978 and has been dropping ever since.

Since 2000, the wages of the median male worker across all age brackets has dropped 10 percent after inflation.

Compare that to what has happened to CEO's over that same period of time. According to former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, until about 1980, CEO's were paid, on average, 30 times what their typical worker was earning.

Since then, CEO pay has skyrocketed to roughly 300 times the pay of a typical worker.

Its good to be on top--not so good for those who are not.

And I can hear you say, 'Well, let's not pick on the job creators.'

But I can't find a single economist to say they're creating that many jobs.

What those CEO's are doing instead is taking their millions and investing it. Maybe hoarding it is a better word.

Maybe--just maybe--if they increased the pay of their workers, those same  workers would have more money in their pockets to buy more of the product they're making.

Kind of like Henry Ford, who doubled the pay of his workers to five dollars a day, so they'd be able to afford their own cars.

That would seem to be a good thing for the economy.

If a company can sell more of what is has to sell, it has reason to expand and hire more people. So customers are really the job creators.

Absent that, however, what do we do to level the paying field?

The french economist Piketty says we ought to start by taxing the hell out of the wealthy and then redistribute all that money to balance the scales.

But--to be real--that doesn't seem likely.

After all, our lawmakers, who rely on the monied classes for their political survival, aren't going to start gnawing on the hands that feed them. Can't see that happening next week.

How about the return of labor unions? To sit down and negotiate wages and benefits.

Well, unions are out of vogue right now, and while we do have the right to collectively bargain in this country, why don't you try organizing a union chapter where you work and see where that gets you.

The best idea I've heard so far is in a bill coming up for consideration in California.

It called Senate Bill 1372, and would set corporate tax rates according to the ratio of CEO pay to that of a typical worker.

The higher the ratio, the higher the tax. The lower the ratio the lower the tax.

All of a sudden, board members at 'Corporation A,' who set CEO pay, would have to start answering to stock holders who'd suddenly have a different set of questions.

I don't know if the Frenchman's book about capitalism is on target or not, but it has, indeed, set people to talking.

The elephant has left the building and we're talking about class warfare in this country as if it were a real thing.

And that's good--because it is.

In this corner...I'm Tom Van Howe.

Business News

Last Update on October 30, 2014 17:28 GMT

ECONOMY-GDP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. economy grew at a solid annual rate of 3.5 percent in the July-September quarter, propelled by solid gains in business investment, export sales and the biggest jump in military spending in five years.

The Commerce Department says that the third quarter result followed a 4.6 percent rebound in the second quarter. The economy shrank at a 2.1 percent rate in the first three months of the year due to a harsh winter.

The report was the first of three estimates of the gross domestic product, the economy's total output of goods and services. Economists believe the economy is maintaining momentum in the current quarter with consumer spending expected to be helped by a big fall in gas prices.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose slightly last week, but remained at historically low levels that signal a strengthening job market.

The Labor Department says weekly applications increased 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 287,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, declined 250 to 281,000, the lowest level in more than 14 years.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs and have fallen 20 percent in the past year. The steady decline suggests that businesses are sufficiently confident in the economy to hold onto their staffs. That same confidence could lead them to step up hiring.

The economy expanded at a solid annual rate of 3.5 percent in the July-September quarter, according to a separate government report. That's healthy enough to encourage more hiring.

MORTGAGE RATES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Average U.S. long-term mortgage rates arrested their five-week decline this week but the benchmark 30-year loan remained below 4 percent.

Mortgage company Freddie Mac says the nationwide average for a 30-year mortgage rose to 3.98 percent from 3.92 percent last week. It remained at its lowest level since June 2013. The rate stood at 4.53 percent back in January.

The average for a 15-year mortgage, a popular choice for people who are refinancing, increased to 3.13 percent from 3.08 percent.

The sustained decline in long-term rates sparked a boomlet of homeowners looking to refinance mortgages. Homeowners eager for a bargain rate fired off inquiries to lenders. Applications for "re-fi's" reached their highest level since November 2013 in the week ended Oct. 17, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

BABY FORMULA

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal regulators are suing baby food-maker Gerber for claiming that its Good Start Gentle formula can prevent or reduce allergies in children.

The Federal Trade Commission says that claim is bogus and that the New Jersey-based company misled consumers by suggesting the formula was the first to meet government approval for reducing the risk of allergies.

The FTC says it wants Gerber to remove that claim from formula labels and advertisements. The agency also wants Gerber to reimburse consumers who have bought the formula since 2011, when the claim began.

Gerber Products Co., also known as NestlT Infant Nutrition, says in a statement that it believes it has met all legal requirements about product claims.

WAL-MART-PRICE MATCH

NEW YORK (AP) -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is considering matching online prices from competitors like Amazon.com, raising the stakes for the holiday shopping season.

The world's largest retailer, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, has matched prices of local store competitors but hadn't followed moves by other retailers like Best Buy or Target to match prices of online rivals. It said it has been testing the strategy in certain markets and is trying to figure out whether to go ahead.

The strategy comes as Wal-Mart is trying to rev up sluggish sales in the U.S. but it could also erode profits.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman says many store managers have matched online prices for customers on a case-by-case basis.

The move was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

MICROSOFT-FITNESS DATA

UNDATED (AP) -- Microsoft is looking to challenge Apple and Google with its own system for consolidating health and fitness data from various fitness gadgets and mobile apps. Microsoft is also releasing a $199 fitness band to work with this system.

As more athletes and recreationalists track their fitness, a chief frustration has been the inability to bring data from one gadget into an app made by a rival. As a result, nutrition information might reside in one place, while data on calories burned might be in another. Consolidating data gives users and health professionals a bigger picture on health.

Microsoft Health follows the launch of Apple's HealthKit in September and Google Fit earlier this week. Unlike rival systems, Microsoft Health will work with competing phones, not just those running Windows.

SPAIN-GOOGLE

MADRID (AP) -- Spain's parliament has approved new intellectual property laws that allow news publishers to charge aggregators each time they display news content in search results.

The law goes into effect Jan. 1 but does not specify how much aggregators like Google News could be charged. Spain's AEDE group of news publishers had lobbied for what is known as the "Google Tax" but has not provided specifics.

Google Inc.'s Spanish division said Thursday it was disappointed with the outcome and will work with Spanish news publishers to help them increase income.

Google last year agreed to help French news organizations increase online advertising revenue and fund digital publishing innovations to settle a dispute there over whether it should pay for news content in its search results.

CHINA-LENOVO-MOTOROLA

BEIJING (AP) -- Chinese computer maker Lenovo Group has completed its acquisition of Motorola Mobility from Google Inc. in a move aimed at becoming a global smartphone brand.

Lenovo said it completed the $2.9 billion purchase on Thursday, adding to a flurry of acquisitions and initiatives aimed at transforming the world's biggest maker of personal computers into a major player in wireless computing.

Google bought Motorola Mobility in 2012 for $12.4 billion but appeared to decide quickly the purchase was a mistake. It sold its set-top operations to Arris Group Inc. for $2.35 billion and its smartphone assets, along with some 2,000 patents, to Lenovo.

Lenovo chairman Yang Yuanqing said when the purchase was announced in January that it would help transform Lenovo into a global competitor in smartphones.

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