Friday, July 21, 2017

The super-rich get richer

“There’s been class warfare going on for the last twenty years, and my class has won." - Warren Buffett

Wages for most American workers have remained basically stagnant for decades, but a new report published on Thursday by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that the CEOs of America's largest firms have seen their pay soar. 

The Mega Rich captured most of the national income gains during the last four decades as their share of income increased from 3.4 percent in 1980 to 10.3 percent in 2014. The share of the Merely Rich rose from 6.6 percent to 11.0 percent over the same period. Thus the Mega Rich snared over ­three-fifths of the income growth of the 1 percent and nearly 40 percent of all income growth. In the tepid recovery from 2010 to 2012, the 1 percent took virtually all of the income gains. The Mega Rich again got the lion’s share: their average income increased 49 percent in this three-year period.

The Mega Rich are getting mega richer. Their average household made 113 times as much as the typical American household in 2014. In 1980, this number was 47. In 2014, the 115,000 Mega Rich households had as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. They now hold 22 percent of the nation’s wealth, nearly double their 1995 share. Between 1978 and 2016, CEO pay rose by 937 percent, EPI's Lawrence Mishel and Jessica Schieder found. By contrast, the typical worker saw "painfully slow" compensation growth—11.2 percent over the same period. Mishel and Schieder also note that CEOs of "America's largest firms made an average of $15.6 million in compensation, or 271 times the annual average pay of the typical worker."

Since Fortune 500 CEOs can account for only 500 of the 115,000 Mega Rich, you might be surprised to learn that the majority of the Mega Rich are business executives. CEOs and other business executives constitute the largest ­high-income group in America. Not the old families with their inherited wealth. Not the sports heroes with their ­jaw-dropping contracts. Not the movie stars at $20 million per blockbuster movie. Executives, managers, supervisors, and financial professionals constitute three­-fifths of the top 0.1 percent. Moreover, they accounted for about 70 percent of the increase in income going to the top 0.1 percent from 1979 to 2005.  "While the 2016 CEO-to-worker compensation ratio of 271-to-1 is down from 299-to-1 in 2014 and 286-to-1 in 2015, it is still light years beyond the 20-to-1 ratio in 1965 and the 59-to-1 ratio in 1989," the report observes. "The average CEO in a large firm now earns 5.33 times the annual earnings of the average very-high-wage earner (earner in the top 0.1 percent)."

 Nobel Prize­–winning economist Paul Krugman puts it, “Basically, the top 0.1 percent is the corporate suits, with a few token sports and film stars thrown in.”

"For the 117 million US adults in the bottom half of the income distribution, growth has been non-existent for a generation, while at the top of the ladder it has been extraordinarily strong," Piketty, Saez, and Zucman wrote. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty, after analyzing enormous amounts of data, wrote:'The vast majority (60 to 70%, depending on what definitions one chooses) of the top 0.1% of the income hierarchy in 2000­–2010 consists of top managers. By comparison, athletes, actors, and artists of all kinds make up less than 5% of this group. In this sense, the new US inequality has much more to do with the advent of “supermanagers” than with “superstars.”' 

Furthermore, “CEOs use their own power not only to increase their own salaries, but also those of their subordinates,” one study determined. As a result, the majority of “supermanagers” are either CEOs or executives whose compensation is heavily influenced by their pay—private company CEOs, other senior corporate executives, and the professionals who advise them. There are more than 5,000 publicly traded companies and 5.7 million private companies with employees.

From 1949 to 1979, while the ratio of CEO‑to‑average­-worker pay was relatively constant, the US economy grew 2.56 percent annually. When this ratio surged from 1981 to 2014, economic growth dropped to 1.71 percent a year. This correlation doesn’t prove that income inequality slowed economic growth, but it suggests that overpaying CEOs has not done much to help. 

"Simply put, money that goes to the executive class is money that does not go to other people. Rising executive pay is not connected to overall growth in the economic pie," Mishel argues