Thursday, April 4, 2013

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

There has been much in the news lately about raising the minimum wage.  For those who are unaware, the TSAP believes that the federal minimum wage should be raised to at least $10/hour, and then indexed to inflation (or average wages) from then on.  Less talked about, however, is the idea of a maximum wage, and we feel it is an idea whose time has come. 

We at the TSAP feel that it would be a good idea to do what this petition calls for:  to cap CEO pay at 50 times the salary of the average worker at his or her company.  Thus, if the average worker earns $50,000 per year, then the maximum the CEO can earn is $2.5 million per year.  Currently, the average Fortune 500 CEO makes about 380 times what their average employees make, and that is clearly outrageous.  And it was not always this way.  In 1980, when the top 1% owned "only" about 20% of the nation's wealth (instead of about 40% today), the average CEO made "only" 42 times as much as the average worker.  Back then, of course, America had much higher top marginal tax rates (which were generally north of 70% from 1933-1981) and more sensible regulation of business practices, so a maximum wage was unnecessary.  However, times have changed, and such a policy couldn't come at a better time.

The naysayers may claim that doing so decreases incentives to work harder and that CEOs somehow deserve their outrageously high compensation packages due to their supposedly higher intelligence and work ethic.  To that, we note that while many CEOs are indeed smarter and/or harder-working (not to mention luckier) than the average American, it is highly doubtful that a CEO is 380 times smarter or works 380 times as hard as the average worker.   Making 50 times what the average worker earns is still extremely generous to CEOs, especially compared with the pay ratio in more equal societies such as Japan.  And as for supposedly decreasing incentives to work harder, remember that, as Robert Reich notes, the economy exists to make our lives better, we do not exist to make the economy better.

So consider it part of our party platform from now on, in combination with our call to raise the minimum wage and also raise the marginal tax rate to at least 50% on incomes above $1 million.

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