How Inequality Happens

One reason these Wall Street types make so much is that theirs is a dirty job — they are why inequality happens.

I don’t usually cover hard-luck sob stories, but this one about how inequality happens… well, it is so deeply touching you might have such an emotional response it will make you cry. Or, like me, want to throw up.

It’s not about one family hitting the skids, but about some workers who toiled all last year in the caverns of New York City, only to find at year’s end that their pay was being cut by up to 50% from the previous year. Actually, it’s not their salaries that were cut — but their bonuses.

You see, these are Wall Street investment bankers whose annual salaries might only be a few hundred thousand dollars a year (poor babies), but they always expect to double or triple that in bonus money. One reason they get so much is that theirs is a dirty job — they engineer multibillion-dollar corporate mergers that increase monopoly power, eliminate the jobs of thousands of regular workers and further enrich the superrich. It’s devilish work — hence the big bonus payouts to keep them doing it.

Last year, though, the number of whopper deals plummeted, the revenues of Wall Street investment banks sank… and, oh, how sad it was to hear the wails of so many poor Wall Street millionaires who had their bonus payment whacked in half!

See, I told you it was a sob story.

But the tragedy suffered by these hard-hit financial toilers goes deeper than the mere loss of money; it’s the crimping of their lifestyle that is most painful. The New York Times reports, for example, that Wall Street’s bonus bust has already resulted in fewer of these dealmakers buying 100,000-dollar luxury cars this year. And the dinging of annual bonuses is even stirring radical sentiments among the restive affluent: In one survey of financial professionals, 72% said they would consider quitting their bank if it cut their bonus.

Now there’s an enticing new source of labor activism for unions that’re organizing at Starbucks, Amazon, McDonald’s, etc. Why not a Wall Street banker union? Solidarity forever, brothers and sisters!

For you high-dollar corporate executives and Wall Street bankers who keep telling us that it’s lonely at the top… please, try toiling a while at the bottom of America’s economic ladder.

The radical rise of inequality in our society is a function of the vast political inequality separating the working class from the power structure. The elite rich have many friends in high places paying close attention to their needs, but the further one tumbles down the economic ladder the lonelier you are when your interests conflict with the bosses and big shots. As Ray Charles sang, “Them that’s got are them that gets.”

Consider cooks, waiters, bartenders and other restaurant workers. Generally, these jobs are poorly paid, and abuse by bosses is routine, yet lawmakers mostly ignore all that, cozying up to the abusers, because… well, they are rich and politically connected. As a result, most of today’s workers who serve your food and drink work for a sub-minimum wage that was set 32 years ago at $2.13 an hour! That’s not a wage, it’s an insult. Yet our lawmakers refuse to raise it, bowing to the piles of campaign cash they get through a lobbying front called the National Restaurant Association, dominated by multibillion-dollar food chains.

But wait — the corporate greed doesn’t stop there. In the past decade, this greedy consortium of rich wage suppressors has devised a diabolical scheme to make restaurant workers pay for the industry’s lobbying campaigns to hold down wages! The Association bought an outfit that provides hokey food safety training to restaurant workers, then it lobbied to get California, Florida, Illinois and Texas and other states to require that all employees not only undergo the silly online training course, but to also make each worker pay a $15 fee for the training.

Guess what? NRA then uses those worker training fees to fund its lobbying efforts that let restaurants pay poverty wages. And that, kids, is how inequality happens.

Jim Hightower