(First, on a personal note, sorry for the delay on blog posts lately. I had a good run for a few weeks and I plan to get back to that consistency. My post tomorrow (hopefully) will explain in more detail.)
I often hear challenges from my conservative libertarian friends when I raise the issue of wage gaps. They have a complete list of excuses why it’s completely acceptable for someone to make millions while putting others in the unemployment line. Here’s some of the best lines I’ve heard from C-Level apologists:
- Companies have to pay executives tens of millions to stay competitive
- They work 400 times harder than the average worker; that’s how they got there
- Corporations are a lot bigger than they were in the 1970s, so the work is harder
- You don’t want to trust major corporate decisions from a disgruntled, underpaid executive
- FREEDOM. GOD BLESS AMERICA, YOU COMMIE.
Taken as a whole, you’d think this list comes from the executives themselves, but these are the words of the Temporarily Embarrassed Millionaires, a growing segment of the overworked labor force who think that enough bootstrap pulling and they, too, can be an overpaid executive. There’s no reasoning with them, because their end argument will always be “This is America, you unpatriotic Pinko, and I’m goddamn free to make all the money I want!”
You can’t argue with that. It’s just too… patriotic.
So what’s wrong with the guy who steers the ship making more than the guy who cleans it? Ah, but we never said there was anything wrong with a wage gap at its core, now did we? Nobody is suggesting that the CEO should make eight dollars an hour (though I’d also suggest that nobody in this country should be working for only eight dollars an hour).
The problem with this discussion, much like the gun rights discussion that’s raging in the media and on every message board I visit, is that many people see the issues as black and white. When I take issue with the fact that a CEO makes more on January 1st than the average worker will make the entire year, I’m met with rebuttals such as, “If everyone made the same amount of money, nobody would want to be CEO.”
Notwithstanding the fact that nobody would want to clean the toilets either, this argument adds new and inaccurate context to my initial concern. Even in a socialist economy, there’s no expectation that everyone will get paid the same wages. According to the Communist Party USA:
…”From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” envisions not some abstract, total equality, but rather a sensible, humane distribution of responsibilities and income. In other words, still some significant differences in wages depending on the type, quality, and quantity of work an individual contributes, and a wage gap between the lowest and highest paid workers on the order of the highest being paid about 8 times the lowest.”
What changes in a socialist economy is the incentive itself. Whereas Americans are a very competitive workforce, always pushing to beat the competition for a new job, for a promotion, to get the largest piece of the pay raise pie, the goal in a socialist economy is cooperation. Even if you’re only flipping burgers or pumping gas, you’ll have enough to live… but if you want to live a little better, you can master a necessary skill and provide something that your town needs. When you win through providing that service, the town wins as well, so there’s a desire to learn what will benefit your town and find a way to reach that goal.
If that just sounds like small towns in the 1950s, when local business thrived downtown because they knew and adapted to what the people needed, you’re right. There’s not as much separation between keeping your economy local and the concept of socialism. Socialism itself is nothing more than the workers owning the means of production, so if you have a local factory co-op making goods to sell in a local shop, and your products get fixed by local, independent service people, you’re living in a legitimate socialist economy!
Sadly, most of that has been replaced by huge chains and contract workers and the like, but we’ve been over that a million times. The point is that we don’t have to pay our CEOs thirteen million dollars to be “competitive.” We don’t even need CEOs. We don’t need large corporations. We don’t need factories in Economic Processing Zones in third world countries. If we want to get the wage gap under control, we can start by finding the local shop instead of going to the megastore, by calling the guy down the street when you need plumbing work done instead of calling the big contractor.
When you do this, you invest your money in workers, not executives. You aren’t contributing to the wage gap, you’re contributing to the growth of the working class. Freedom doesn’t require millionaire executives, it just requires having a choice… and using that choice wisely is the easiest way to preserve your freedom. You don’t need an armed revolution, you don’t even need to vote out any of the politicians. You just need to vote with your dollar and make those CEOs obsolete.
I’ve shopped in a couple of those rare towns that still have an active downtown, where the owner isn’t in a high rise office, he’s actually right there at the register waiting to answer whatever questions you may have. Trust me when I tell you that it’s an experience unlike you’ll ever receive at the mall.
I compiled a little infographic (my first ever!) to help you understand just how much the average CEO pulls in. At the end, I challenge the assumption that they can’t afford to share a little more with their workers, but the truth is that the more we support and invest in bringing back local businesses, the less we’ll need to negotiate with the proverbial one percent. In the meantime, though, you can decide if you want to demand more from the millionaire signing your paycheck. Enjoy: