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 September 02, 2014 07:31 GMT

EURO

LONDON (AP) -- The euro has fallen to a near one-year low against the dollar in the wake of soft European economic data and uncertainty over the crisis in Ukraine.

Europe's single currency fell to a low of $1.3119 after a survey Monday showed that the manufacturing sector across the 18-nation eurozone lost momentum in August. The euro hasn't been lower since early September of last year.

The main reason behind the euro's recent weakness has been a growing expectation that the European Central Bank may be considering a monetary stimulus to boost the ailing eurozone economy. In the second quarter, growth in the eurozone ground to a halt.

The crisis in Ukraine has also hobbled the eurozone's economic outlook. Uncertainty over how the conflict will turn out has made businesses hesitant to invest.

EUROPE-ECONOMIC RECOVERY

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- Europe's economic recovery is in danger. Governments are under pressure to save it, but they are also struggling with political obstacles and disagreement among themselves over what to do.

Instead, the region is pinning its hopes -- once again -- on the European Central Bank, which is expected to launch new stimulus measures if the economy gets any worse.

Europe's lack of growth is looming larger and larger, however, and the ECB says it can't save the economy alone.

For more than five years since the eurozone hit turbulence over too much debt in 2009, governments' answer has been to raise taxes and restrain spending. And there's been some progress. Deficits have shrunk, and countries that needed bailout loans are slowly getting their act together.

But second quarter growth was zero, after only four quarters of measly expansion

CHINA-FOREIGN BUSINESS

BEIJING (AP) -- An American business group warns that foreign companies in China feel increasingly targeted for unfair enforcement of anti-monopoly and other laws and says investment might decline if conditions fail to improve.

The American Chamber of Commerce's report adds to mounting complaints about a flurry of investigations of global automakers, technology suppliers and other companies in recent months. Some foreign managers say Chinese authorities appear to be trying to hamper them and shield domestic rivals from competition.

The American Chamber of Commerce in China says almost half of companies responding to a survey "believe that foreign companies are being targeted." It said the risk was increasing that China "will permanently lose its luster as a desirable investment destination."

Uncertainty over regulatory investigations adds to challenges for foreign companies at a time when China's growth is slowing and they face more competition from ambitious local rivals.

OBAMA-ECONOMY

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- President Barack Obama is touting signs of a continuing emergence from the Great Recession, telling people in Milwaukee the nation's business engines, quote, "a revving a little louder."

The president has used a Labor Day address to put on a new push for increasing the federal minimum wage. Thirteen states have acted on their own to raise their minimum wages.

Until now, Obama and his White House aides had been reluctant to draw too much attention to positive economic trends, worried that some might not be real.

But in Milwaukee, he dared to say, in his words, "We're on a streak."

White House still insist that they are not yet declaring full victory over the lingering effects of a recession that officially ended five years ago.

FAST-FOOD PROTESTS

NEW YORK (AP) -- McDonald's, Wendy's and other fast-food restaurants are expected to be targeted with acts of civil disobedience that could lead to arrests Thursday as labor organizers escalate their campaign to unionize the industry's workers.

Kendall Fells, an organizing director for Fast Food Forward, said workers in a couple of dozen cities were trained to peacefully engage in civil disobedience ahead of this week's planned protests.

Fells declined to specify what is in store for the protests in roughly 150 U.S. cities. But workers recently cited sit-ins as an example of tactics they could use to intensify their push.

The "Fight for $15" campaign is being backed by the Service Employees International Union.

The National Restaurant Association called the protests attempts by labor groups "to boost their dwindling membership."

WEALTH GAP-DIET

CHICAGO (AP) -- A new study says Americans' eating habits have improved -- except among the poor.

Those results show a widening wealth gap when it comes to diet. Yet even among wealthier adults, food choices remain far from ideal.

The 12-year study used an index of healthy eating where a perfect score is 110. U.S. adults averaged just 40 points in 1999, and that climbed to 47 points in 2010. Scores for low-income adults were lower than the average and barely budged during the years studied.

Higher scores mean greater intake of heart-healthy foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats. Low scores mean less of those foods and a greater chance for diet-related illnesses including diabetes, heart problems and obesity.

The study was published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

TOYOTA-US HEADQUARTERS

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina business recruiters offered Toyota more than $100 million for the world's largest carmaker to move its North American headquarters to Charlotte rather than a Dallas suburb but still lost out to a Texas offer half that size.

Texas and local officials in the Dallas suburb of Plano offered Toyota less than $50 million.

Both Toyota and North Carolina Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker agree that the company's decision shows incentive money was just one of many considerations the company considered when deciding to move from the Los Angeles area.

North Carolina recruiting documents and emails released last week after a public records request show only about a quarter of the people filling nearly 3,000 jobs were expected to move from Southern California. The pay for those jobs averages $105,000 a year.

REVEL CLOSING

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -- The most spectacular and costly failure in Atlantic City's 36-year history of casino gambling has begun to play out as $2.4 billion Revel Casino Hotel empties its hotel.

The casino is scheduled to close Tuesday.

Revel is shutting down a little over two years after opening with high hopes of revitalizing Atlantic City's struggling gambling market.

But the business has been mired in its second bankruptcy in as many years, Revel has been unable to find anyone willing to buy the property and keep it open as a casino.

Analysts and competitors say Revel was hampered by business decisions including a total smoking ban, the lack of a buffet and daily bus trips to and from the casino, and the lack of a players' database from which to solicit customers.

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