Tom Perkins, Income Inequality, And Engaging With The Public

Tom Perkins, Income Inequality, And Engaging With The Public

I groaned when I saw this come through my Twitter feed:

Jumping straight to the Nazi/Hitler comparison’s really streamlines the descent to trollish online discussion. No need to wade through all that high-falutin, intellectual discussion; jump straight to the trash talk! Weak rhetorical technique, I’m afraid. I won’t bother with deconstructing the analogy Mr. Perkins presents, Tim Fernholz did a good job at that on Quartz. I do, however, want to explore the main point: the growing discontent at our income disparity.

Mr. Perkins statement brings to mind a misconception that’s paralyzing the income inequality debate. “You’re just jealous of our success”, generally rattled off defensively. Now I’ve grown weary of this. It’s simply knee-jerk defensive justification that serves no purpose. Simply, it’s folks’ like Mr. Perkins way to avoid dealing with the larger issue. And, of course, the role they play both in the causality of the situation and any solution.

There is a growing groundswell of discontent at the ever widening income disparity gap. From the Occupy Movement to efforts to raise the minimum wage, we’re seeing a populist swelling of “dislike” for the current status quo. There are a number of articles on the subject of the income disparity between CEO and Average Worker pay, some stating it’s as much as 400 times more.  But let’s take a more conservative number, From Bloomberg, “Across the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index of companies, the average multiple of CEO compensation to that of rank-and-file workers is 204…”. What’s more telling, though is that this is growing, “…up 20 percent since 2009”. Economic growth is concentrating in the hands of a very few, while the work is done more broadly. That’s the root of the discontent. And, with that, I don’t feel there’s a great demand for a Robin Hood-eque income reallocation. To take the campaign to raise the minimum wage as an example, the statement really is that more of the profit from that burger (or whatever minimum wage product is being produced) needs to go the cook, and less to the CEO (and other executives) of burger company X.

Personally, I have no issue with some income differential. And I imagine that most people in the US, at least, don’t. However, there comes a point when the rewards of work and initiative are not shared justly that people rebel. It looks like people are feeling these rates are exploitive, and hence morally reprehensible. That’s, ultimately, what needs to be addressed. Whining that progressives aren’t being nice to you adds nothing the debate, and, actually, makes the 1% look crass and uncaring. Mr. Perkins’ op-ed comes across as a temper-tantrum, which is sad. The larger, and more critical, debate will now be lost in the Twitter backlash. At least, for now.

Carl Setzer

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