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2005.05.17

Comments

Roger

I guess this makes me an exception, because I'm not ok with the widening class gap. It's something I've been watching for some time myself.

The American CEO now makes, on average, some 300-500 times what the American worker makes, depending on the source of the figures. Most estimates are closer to 500 times. (Sorry, no references.) This is the highest the gap has ever been. In the '70's and 80's, the figure was somewhere around 50 times. Currently, the highest gap in Europe is I believe in Great Britain, where the multiplier is only 30 times. (I could be misremembering the country, but the figure I believe to be accurate.) And every single year that gap grows, as CEO's rake in huge bonus for cutting their workforces, and cutting the pay of those left. In 2002-2003, corporate income rose 86%, while employee income rose less than 5% - and all the while companies complained about their expenses.

I have no doubt that the moneyed elite control this country.

JF

Fascinating article in Monday's NYT -- "Life at the Top in America Isn't Just Better, It's Longer" -- comparing three New Yorkers' heart attacks, their treatment and their long-term prognosis -- Mel Brooks was right, "It's good to be the King".

Too bad for everyone else.

Lisa

Yeah, I had linked to the series' front page, because it struck me as easier than linking to every article.

Roger, I think the thing that struck me was that very few people in the U.S. seem to be bothered by the growing gaps because they ALL assume they'll be on the other side of the divide. It's like a pre-emptive "fuck you, I've got mine!" mentality.

And the number one way to shut down any measure that seeks to acknowledge or remedy this gap? Is to say that the measure will somehow threaten your ability to advance. It's amazing how people view success in the U.S. as a zero-sum game. Simply position someone as a threat to your chance to jump the gap, and all bets are off.

This is a topic for another time, but I wonder if the reality gap's linked to the way winners and losers are portrayed in the media.

Roger

Yes, I caught that. Typical American arrogance there, and an astounding (and astoundingly widespread) ability to put the blinders on at the first hint of anything that threatens the ideal little worlds we build in our heads. The zero-sum game sure seems typically American, too. I just can't figure out the illogic that goes into thinking that way.

Doesn't it seem obvious that the wider the gap is, the harder it's going to be to cross? Oh, that's right, we're already on the "right" side of the gap!

I neglected to say in my first reply that I long ago gave up the notion that hard work gets you anything but worn out. I have rarely (never?) seen hard work amount to anything unless you're providing your own reward for it. Leaders just don't value it. Instead, they take it for granted at best. Hard work simply earns you more of the same. There's even a truism for exactly that - "If you want to get something done, give it to the person who's always busy." What's valued instead is ass-kissing. It's sad and shallow but true. I've seen far too many worthless backstabbers climb the ranks while decent hard-working people get trampled underfoot to ever consider that my honest efforts might one day get rewarded. "A good job done is its own reward," is far more true than it might at first seem. It may, in fact, be the only reward.

Rachel

As a Brit, I've long been used to people criticizing our class system - but hey, at least we admit that we have one. One argument I heard recently is that the upper classes in the UK, particularly those from long-standing aristocratic families, are well aware of their good fortune and the element of luck in their lives, and are therefore much more sympathetic towards those who aren't successful - rather than blaming them for their misfortunes. Not sure how true that is, but the concept of noblesse oblige and the responsibilities of the lord of the manor to his community is/was engrained in the British countryside. But, Thatcherism in the 1980s encouraged the notion that poverty is self-inflicted and undeserving of help/sympathy, hence the comparatively large British multiplier, perhaps.
In addition, I think women are far more likely to buy into the notion that hard work brings rewards, rather than ass-kissing politicking in the workplace. It's a depressing lesson but a valuable one!

Sheila

I thought this was interesting, from the WSJ piece: "With the higher estimate, it's not only how much money your parents have that matters -- even your great-great grandfather's wealth might give you a noticeable edge today."

I would actually argue that the great-great-grandfather's wealth may matter MORE, for precisely the reasons highlighted in today's NYT article about the woman who fought her way up from the hollers of Appalachia. The main difference between my family and my husband's family is that my parents' families had money before they lost it in the stock market crash of '29, around the time his parents' families were struggling to get here from their respective old countries. Our parents were both middle-class, with moms who stayed home while the dads worked in an office, but the older history is still...there. I tend not to notice it, but if you ask him, he's absolutely aware of the difference, and his parents tend to be sort of bashful around mine.

Girl Detective

In grad school, I had a professor who claimed it took two generations for an upward shift in class to take place. Her example was the Clintons: Bill was born poor in Arkansas but went on to wealth and fame and married well, so Chelsea's kids could run in a higher social circle.

Roger

Similarly, Pres. Bush's grandfather Prescott Bush was very patrician. His father was less so, but still easily elite. Bush himself can't quite pull off the act that he's "common people" with that background. (Of course he hasn't lost the family wealth, so we're not really into the two generation gap here anyway.)

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