Oh, sure, we've always had the rich and the poor, but at least we've tried in the past to narrow that gap, recognizing that a cohesive democratic society -- a morally secure society -- is dependent on maintaining both a vibrant middle class and a broad perception of fairness. Today, the Powers That Be -- both corporate and governmental -- have abandoned all pretense of shared sacrifice, shared gains and a shared future. The very, very rich are being made ever and ever richer, and they are sailing blithely away from the rest of us, no longer moored to America's egalitarian ideals.
The latest indicator of this extreme change in our nation's guiding ethic comes from faireconomy.org, which analyzes CEO pay, perks and pensions. Their latest survey finds that the chieftains of Fortune 500 corporations averaged $10.8 million each in pay in 2006 -- more than 364 times the annual paychecks of the average U.S. worker! On top of this, CEOs salted away an average of $1.3 million in pension gains in 2006, and they averaged another $438,000 in such freebies as personal travel on corporate jets, country club fees and even corporate payment of their taxes.
Well, assert the CEO clique, we run huge corporations and are simply being paid accordingly. However, faireconomy.org compared the 20 highest paid U.S. chief executives to the 20 highest paid in Europe. The European chiefs took only one-third as much pay -- even though they ran companies that generated $19 billion more in sales than the U.S. companies.
The ever-spreading pay gap has become a sundering chasm in our society. To learn more about it and to see some proposals for bridging this dangerous fissure, go to www.faireconomy.org.
For more nuggets of wisdom from America's No. 1 populist, check out jimhightower.com.