“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” This quote from the Usual Suspects comes to mind when I think of the greatest trick that I have seen pulled on the American people. I’m not talking about the Devil. I’m talking about the fact that the one percent has convinced so many middle class and lower class people that their greed and selfishness is in the best interests of the common person.
I’ve known for a while that our country has developed a new aristocracy. These people are usually born to wealth, educated in methods to gain more wealth, and given positions to increase their wealth. The best part is that they have used a perversion of the “American dream” to convince the rest of the country that their increasing wealth is morally right.
Last week, the news broke that Westgate Resorts CEO David Siegel sent a letter to employees threatening layoffs if President Obama wins the election. In the letter, Siegel wrote, “The economy doesn’t currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job however, is another 4 years of the same Presidential administration.” After continuing to rant about how he didn’t agree with President Obama’s policies, he finished the letter by saying, “If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company. Rather than grow this company I will be forced to cut back. This means fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone.”
I have argued with many conservatives about this letter. I believe that this is voter intimidation and that Siegel should be held accountable for holding his employees’ jobs over their heads if they vote for Obama and he ends up winning the election. Some of my conservative friends argued that he was just telling the truth about what will happen if the President is re-elected. I would respond to this argument using Siegel’s own actions and statements. First, this guy has been working to build the largest home in America. This is a 90,000 square foot home with an estimated price tag of $100 million. In an interview with BusinessWeek on October 10th discussing the letter Siegel stated, “The company is doing the best we’ve done in our history.”
This guy’s company is doing the best they have ever done and he can build the largest home in America, but things are so tough under the current administration that he has to threaten layoffs if President Obama is re-elected? How does that make sense? Of course, conservatives always strike back with the argument that there is nothing wrong with him spending his own money instead of investing it into the company because he earned it.
I don’t buy that argument. It’s not because I’m a socialist that wants to take all of his money and give it to the poor. It’s because I don’t believe that this man is royalty who has the right to live like a king while the rest of the lowly working class works to increase his wealth. When those poor working people finally begin to get a break, he uses his power to threaten his workers into voting for the candidate that will increase his wealth. That is just not okay.
There has been a great increase in the wage discrepancy in our country recently. In 1965, the average CEO earned about 20 times the pay of the average worker. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the discrepancy in 2011 was 231 times the average worker. That is a growth of 1,155 percent. Compare that to the growth rate of the average worker at around 6 percent for the same time period. What have these CEO’s done during the last 47 years to deserve such a dramatic increase in pay?
To justify their growing wealth, these rich people have worked hard to convince the rest of us that their success is an example of the American dream. Their justification is that, if they weren’t allowed to make unreasonable amounts of money, then none of us would have a chance to claw our way up from the depths of mediocrity. Unfortunately, this tactic has worked for much of our country.
Consider that the average CEO of an S&P 500 Index company makes about $12.94 million per year. The average worker at these companies makes just under $40,000 per year. If these 500 companies reduced the CEO’s salary by 50 percent (which is still about 161 times higher than the average worker’s salary), they would be able to hire over 80,000 new workers. This is just an estimate of what could happen if CEO salaries of 500 companies were reasonable. Imagine if this took place at all companies in the United States. Imagine if this concept was applied to all of the executives at these companies. That would make an incredible difference.
The problem is that these executives feel that they deserve this money. Their justification is that they drive the value of the company, but reality, and the stock prices, tell a different story. In their hearts, these people feel that they are elite and deserve better than the average person. They have placed themselves into an unofficial aristocracy. Much like the Devil’s trick, they have convinced poor conservatives that this is their rightful place, and it is not our place to question their greed and manipulation. For my part, I will continue to question what these people have done to deserve this kind of inequitable treatment. I will challenge liberals and conservatives to ignore the patriotic ranting of the one percent and their propaganda machines. This is not a way to build the America of our dreams. This is a way to build an American aristocracy.