Thanks to AllThingsFinancial, I came across this piece by Ben Stein, who I’ve mentioned fairly often on this blog. I like Ben Stein even though we don’t always agree on every issue.
In his new column in the New York Times, Ben talks about the huge disparity between worker and executive pay. He provides some examples of how the differential has grown over the last forty years and postulates some reasons on why we have allowed this to occur. His reasoning stems from the lack of governance by the board of directors. The members of the board, who are supposed to work for the shareholders, now exist to protect executives from the shareholders. Ben says this is not a result of a free market.
We should be up in arms! Why has there not been a worker revolution? We have not stormed on Washington or the Board Room demanding a fairer system. Why not?
I think it comes down to the “American Dream,” which was basically a myth perpetuated over the last couple of centuries. The American Dream says that anyone can get rich, anyone can move up in class, anyone can build wealth beyond their wildest dreams. Sure, some do. And those that do are fashioned into “proof” that the American Dream works. (See “anecdotal evidence.”)
Most people will struggle their entire lives to survive or just “get by,” even if the United States is the richest nation in the world. I’m not talking about people who spend as if there were no tomorrow, racking up mounds of debt they plan to leave to their children to deal with. Honest workers, honestly trying to move up through education and networking, will generally remain lower-middle-of-the-road.
We don’t want anything “bad” to happen to the richest in our country because we think we’re going to be there someday. All right, now it’s my turn to get off the soapbox.
Updated July 16, 2010 and originally published February 16, 2006.