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 August 21, 2014 07:34 GMT

WORLD MARKETS

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Asian stock markets were dampened by a weak China manufacturing survey Thursday. But Japan gained on the prospect of a stronger dollar after Fed minutes showed policymakers are leaning toward their first rate hike since the 2008 financial crisis.

Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.8 percent to 15,575.82 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2 percent to 5,645.70. South Korea's Kospi sank 1.2 percent to 2,047.77 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.9 percent to 24,948.59. China's Shanghai Composite was down 0.7 percent to 2,225.44.

ECONOMY-THE DAY AHEAD

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Labor Department today will report on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week. In the previous week, more people applied for benefits, though the figure remained near pre-recession levels.

The Conference Board will issue its index of leading economic indicators for July. In June, the index, which is designed to predict the economy's future health, increased for a fifth straight month.

The National Association of Realtors will report on existing-home sales in July. In June, sales rose for a third straight month, lifting the figure to the highest level in eight months.

Freddie Mac reports on average U.S. mortgage rates for this week. Last week, the average for the 30-year loan slipped to 4.12 percent from 4.14 percent the previous week.

Also today, two big retailers report their quarterly financial results. Sears reports before the market opens. Gap reports after the closing bell.

CHINA-MANUFACTURING

HONG KONG (AP) -- A survey says Chinese factory activity expanded in August at a slower rate, suggesting the recovery in the world's No. 2 economy is losing momentum.

The HSBC preliminary purchasing managers' index fell to a three-month low of 50.3 from 51.7 in July.

The index is based on a 100-point scale on which numbers below 50 indicate contraction.

China's economy had been showing signs of revival after a slowdown, with growth edging higher to 7.5 percent in the April-June quarter. But the report on the country's vast manufacturing industry shows the recovery is uneven.

Communist leaders in Beijing have already unveiled small-scale stimulus to bolster growth. HSBC economists said "more policy support is needed to consolidate the recovery."

The final version of the survey is due Sep. 1.

BANK OF AMERICA-SETTLEMENT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Officials directly familiar with intense private negotiations have told The Associated Press that Bank of America has reached a record settlement of nearly $17 billion with the government. The aim is to resolve a federal investigation into the bank's role in the sale of mortgage-backed securities before the 2008 financial crisis.

One of the officials, who spoke with The Associated Press said the bank will pay $9.65 billion in cash and provide consumer relief valued at $7 billion. The official spoke on grounds of anonymity because the settlement was not scheduled to be announced until Thursday at the earliest.

The deal is the largest settlement arising from the economic meltdown in which millions of Americans lost their homes to foreclosure. It follows agreements in the last year with Citigroup for $7 billion and with JPMorgan Chase & Co. for $13 billion.

Like the Bank of America deal, those settlements were a mixture of hard cash and "credits" for various forms of consumer aid that the banks promised to provide in coming years.

BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY-SETTLEMENT

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Warren Buffett's company has agreed to an $896,000 penalty for failing to give advance notice to l regulators about a December 2013 investment in wallboard maker USG Corp.

The Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday that Berkshire Hathaway Inc. should have notified the Justice Department before it converted $325 million of senior USG notes it held into 21.4 million shares of the company.

Because Berkshire was already a significant USG shareholder, antitrust laws required it to notify regulators because of the size of the deal. At the end of June, Berkshire held just over 39 million USG shares.

Berkshire did correct its initial filing after the USG investment and clarify that it should have notified officials. But regulators said Berkshire made a similar mistake six months earlier.

COAL ASH

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina lawmakers have approved legislation they say makes the state the nation's first to address decades of toxic water pollution from residue left behind by coal-burning electricity plants.

The General Assembly on Wednesday approved legislation addressing the problem unmasked six months ago when a coal ash spill from a Duke Energy plant coated 70 miles of the Dan River in gray sludge. The measure goes to Gov. Pat McCrory before becoming law.

Environmentalists say the legislation improved on earlier efforts, but didn't go far enough.

Lawmakers say the measure would reverse a Superior Court judge's ruling that Duke must take "immediate action" to eliminate groundwater contamination that crosses onto a neighboring property.

Environmental attorney Frank Holleman says that will allow Duke to study the problem indefinitely before starting cleanup.

UPS-DATA BREACH

ATLANTA (AP) -- Some customers of The UPS Store may have had their credit and debit card information exposed by a computer virus found on systems at 51 stores in 24 states.

A spokeswoman for UPS says the information includes names, card numbers and postal and email addresses from about 100,000 transactions between Jan. 20 and Aug. 11.

United Parcel Service Inc. said Wednesday that it was among U.S. retailers who got a Department of Homeland Security bulletin about the malware on July 31. The malware is not identified by current anti-virus software.

Spokeswoman Chelsea Lee says the company isn't aware of any fraud related to the attack.

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