I was born and grew up in a Communist country, and I am as aware as anyone, and more so than most, of the falseness of the Party propaganda regarding the supposed equality given all workers in the Communist State. I am no Communist. Having lived in the USA since the late 1950’s, I have also witnessed the excesses of unfettered capitalism in our country. With the decline of the power and influence of labor unions (brought about in no small part by their own corruption and greed), the globalization of manufacturing around the world, and tax changes allowing the progressive concentration of wealth among a diminishingly small number of people, we are rapidly developing our own oligarchies along with all their excesses.
Companies no longer feel there is any loyalty due to their employees whose work has contributed to the success of the organization. As power has shifted more and more to management, employees no longer have any freedom in questioning the decisions made by their superiors without fear of reprisals and unemployment. Being a “good corporate citizen” has become a cynical marketing tool of the PR department, and even the term “Human Resource” carries an Orwellian feeling of Soylent Green, where employees are viewed as fodder for the feeding of the machine, rather than as people requiring dignity and respect. There are a few exceptions, but most of those occur among family run businesses where the values of the founder have prevailed overriding desire to create greater and greater profit, even if it is at the expense of those toiling to make the organization thrive. CEO compensation is very high relative to typical worker compensation by a ratio of 278-1 in 2019. In contrast the CEO- to-typical-worker compensation ratio (options realized) was 20-1 in 1965 and 58-1 in 1989. In addition, CEO’s are making a lot more – about five times as much – as other earners in the top 0.1%. (Economic Policy Institute Report, August 14, 2019.) CEO’s are making more because of their power to set pay, not because they are increasing productivity or possess specific, high demand skills. There has developed an inbred industry of compensation consultants providing data to compensation committees made up of people whose own salaries in their respective companies use the same consultant groups.
When I moved to the States, most people if they worked hard and saved their money could eventually afford their own home, a car to drive, and the ability to offer their children a reasonable education. That dream of that opportunity has been shattered for many, which in part drives some of the social unrest we see. The rest is being fueled by a sense of both racial and economic injustice. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of people willing to harness the growing disillusion with existing social and political institutions in order to gain power for themselves, and advance their own forms of tyranny.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to own our own homes, and through our own hard work have managed to save enough money that we can look forward to eventual retirement may not feel like we are one of the rich and the elite, but in the eyes of the less well off, we are still so categorized. For many, in exchange for the illusion of permanence a house provides, means having to plug away at a job which may not satisfy the soul. More insidiously, when we look at our accomplishments, many of us believe that they are as much the result of the good luck to having been born to particular parents who guided us along lines of education and values than as the sole result of our own hard work.
I know too many people who are working fulltime yet not making enough money to be able to afford their own apartment, much less enough to save for a place of their own. Too many of the jobs in the gig economy come without any benefits. And too many people who think they have health insurance come to discover that they have higher deductibles than what’s in their meager savings.
Money has a quietly corrupting power. Psychologists have found that it’s not money per se, but “the independence, the insularity, the security, the illusion of not needing other people” that money affords that can lead rich people to “prioritize their own self-interests and rationalize their good fortune.” (WSJ, 9/11/20 Emily Bobrow)
Like it or not, social and economic injustice impacts us all, and if we don’t recognize and take action to correct what is wrong, the correction will eventually come, and will happen with violence, repression, and ill outcomes for all.