Monday, January 08, 2007

NY Times Bob Herbert: Gap Between RIch and Rest of Us

Readers of my book Slow Is Beautiful know that I like to speak of the growing wealth gap -- not between the rich and the poor but between the rich and the rest of us. It's really about concentrating wealth at the top, and shutting off the mainstream population.

Today's New York Times has a great column by Bob Herbert on just this topic, using the recent "firing" of Home Depot's chief executive Robert Nardelli as a springboard. Herbert notes:

"According to the center’s director, Andrew Sum, the top five Wall Street firms (Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley) were expected to award an estimated $36 billion to $44 billion worth of bonuses to their 173,000 employees, an average of between $208,000 and $254,000, “with the bulk of the gains accruing to the top 1,000 or so highest-paid managers.”

Now consider what’s been happening to the bulk of the American population, the ordinary men and women who have to work for a living somewhere below the stratosphere of the top corporate executives. Between 2000 and 2006, labor productivity in the nonfarm sector of the economy rose by an impressive 18 percent. But workers were not paid for that impressive effort. During that period, according to Mr. Sum, the inflation-adjusted weekly wages of workers increased by just 1 percent.

That’s $3.20 a week. As Mr. Sum wryly observed, that won’t even buy you a six-pack of Bud Light. Joe Six-Pack has been downsized. Three bucks ain’t what it used to be."

Eventually of course the gap catches up with the filthy rich and the French Revolution happens in yet another iteration all over again. As Herbert puts it:

"There’s a reason why the power elite get bent out of shape at the merest mention of a class conflict in the U.S. The fear is that the cringing majority that has taken it on the chin for so long will wise up and begin to fight back."

Or as my friend Jeff Wilkes likes to say, "Sooner or later the peasants show up with pitchforks and torches."

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