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Rulers and Vassals and Pay Differentials

GreedIf you only have time to look at one post today, please go straight to Richard R. Troxell’s piece on the 2011 Universal Living Wage Tax Day Event, because that’s coming up, and you might want to plan. Richard begins by quoting Deuteronomy 24:14-15, which instructs people not to abuse a needy and destitute laborer, because that person’s life depends on being paid. It’s a pretty sure bet that every spiritual tradition calls for similar behavior.

Once you start thinking about the whole subject of work and pay, whether in a religious context or in any number of purely materialistic ways; whether in the framework of homelessness or from the perspective of the millions of families hanging on by their fingernails, many questions come to mind. For instance, how much is a boss’s time worth, stacked up against the time of a low-level worker? This is the question answered by Douglas McIntyre for Daily Finance in a piece published several months ago, so please feel free to assume that the situation has not improved much. McIntyre says,

Even though the gap between executive and entry-level worker pay has shrunk ever so slightly in the past couple of years, it’s still not unusual for the CEO of a large public company to earn more per day than some of his employees earn over the course of an entire year.

Excuse me? What can a human being possibly do that makes one day of his labor worth more than someone else’s entire year? Sure, once in a while an astonishing genius comes along. A case could be made that the work of Thomas Edison was worth many, many times the work of certain other humans. But is the CEO of McDonald’s a reincarnation of Thomas Edison? No offense to whomever she or he may be, but probably not.

McIntyre looked at more than a dozen megacorporations and, working with the total compensation reports from proxy statements, came up with some mind-blowing numbers. The big boss at CVS Caremark Corporation makes the same amount of money as 1,461 entry-level workers. Doesn’t that just make steam come out of your ears? This is the outfit behind Long’s Drugs, #18 in the most recent Fortune 500.

What does it say about Americans that this retailer of pharmaceuticals is gigantically rich? When are we going to stop doing the things we do to make ourselves sick, and stop putting money in the pockets of rapacious health “care” providers? And here’s a heartbreaker. The Walt Disney Company is not all sweetness and light, nor is it all song, dance, and fun. The head honcho pulls down as much as 1,115 lowly employees.

Don’t forget to do business with a couple of companies whose pay scales are a bit closer to fair. At FedEx Corporation, for example, the biggest boss is worth the monetary equivalent of 251 entry-level employees, and at Costco Wholesale Corporation, the CEO’s pay envelope only holds an amount comparable to what 115 serfs are paid.

Mark Karlin wrote for Buzzflash about the amazing resurgence of monstrous bonuses for CEOs. The Wall Street Journal article that attracted Karlin’s attention is certainly provocative. Apparently, the newspaper commissioned a consultant to scrutinize pay disclosures made by corporate heads. Here is an example of the findings:

CEO bonuses at 50 major corporations jumped a median of 30.5%, the biggest gain in at least three years…

No doubt about it, something is wrong with this picture.

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Source: “How Many Workers Can You Hire for the Price of One CEO?,” Daily Finance, 07/07/10
Source: “A Tale of Two Americas: One America Lives on Greed; The Other America Barely Survives to Live,” Buzzflash, 03/18/11
Source: “Executive Bonuses Bounce Back,” The Wall Street Journal, 03/18/11
Image by Beau B, used under its Creative Commons license.