Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Stupid Things They Say

Billionaire real estate investor Sam Zell recently said that wealthy Americans are being unfairly criticized and added that the 1 percent work harder.

More than a third of all Americans -- and more than half of all Republicans -- believe that the rich are rich because they worked harder than everyone else. When pressed for proof, they usually point to surveys showing that the rich spend more hours working and fewer hours in "leisure activities" than everyone else.

First of all, the rich work more because they can. They have the option to work more hours. Most middle-class and poor Americans have very little control over their work schedules -- and that's assuming they can even find a job in the first place. Thirteen percent of workers can't find a full-time job -- and virtually none of those workers are in the one percent.

Second, it is shockingly obtuse to suggest that an hour spent in a comfortable office doing a job you love is even remotely comparable to an hour spent in a sweltering kitchen flipping burgers. Low-wage jobs are so physically demanding that they drive workers into an early grave. Work too hard in a warehouse or a factory, and you can find yourself crippled for life.

Third, not only are their jobs more enjoyable and less exploitative; they are also more rewarding. The economists Peter Kuhn and Fernando Lozano have found that investing your time in extra work generates a far higher return if you're a high-wage worker. When the lower-paid work more hours, they may earn an overtime wage, but when the rich do it, they get promotions, bonuses and better job offers that far exceed their current overtime rate.

 The richest 0.01 percent of Americans -- the one percent of the one percent -- earn an average income 578 times higher than everyone else. Even if Zell thinks they work harder, does he really think that they work 578 times harder? Does anyone honestly believe that one member of the super-rich works as hard as 578 of the rest of us combined? Clearly, hard work alone cannot justify their outsized earnings.

Over the years, the income of the one percent has been growing a lot faster than everyone else's. If you ask Sam Zell why this is happening, he'd probably say the rich are working more and everyone else is working less. But he'd be wrong. In fact, the exact opposite is happening: The poor and the middle class have taken on a lot more working hours than the rich, even as their income has grown less. If more work is a justification for more income, as Zell suggests, then the one percent should be experiencing less income growth than everyone else. Instead, the 99 percent are finding that they're doing more of the work and receiving less of the income with each passing year.

Zell, worth $6 billion, grew up watching his father invest in real estate in Chicago. Meanwhile, he had the good fortune to attend one of the top-performing high schools in the country. From there, he went to the University of Michigan, where he got his bachelor's, followed by his law degree, at one of the most elite law schools in the world. Zell may have worked hard to become rich, but at every step along the way, someone was teaching him how to work hard -- and rewarding him for that hard work. In 2007 Zell led an ill-fated $8.2 billion buyout of the Tribune Company, which under his chairmanship, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy a year later.  Most Americans don't have access to those opportunities -- and they're becoming scarcer.

From here

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