New Easter Sunday sermon: The rich get richer

Executive pay

PPL CEO William Spence's total compensation in 2012, it was reported the other day, was 328 times as much as that of the average American worker. (FILE PHOTO, THE MORNING CALL / February 21, 2013)

During his final journey to Jerusalem, Jesus said: "And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

That sort of preaching was not very popular with the right-wingers of Judea in those days, any more than it is popular with the right-wingers of America today.

Theology is not my strong suit, to put it mildly, but that Matthew 19 item from my Sunday school days always stuck with me, especially at this time of the year, and especially in view of recent news events.

In keeping with "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" goals embraced by many American elements since the early 1980s, we just had a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that almost guarantees a plutocracy (government completely controlled by the wealthy), and this past week there was quite a bit said about the fabulous salaries of corporate executives.

"PPL CEO William H. Spence's total compensation in 2012," said a story in The Morning Call on Wednesday, "was 328 times what the average U.S. worker took home in 2013, according to [an AFL-CIO] … database." Spence's $11.4 million a year, the story said, is not as lopsided as some. Walmart CEO Michael Duke was paid $20.7 million, 1,372 times as much as that for a low-level Walmart employee.

"CEOs are cannibalizing their own consumer base," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. "That's not only wrong, it's not only unfair, it's bad economics."

As much as I detest almost any position of any union boss, especially Trumka, his points about executive salaries are incontrovertible. In past columns, I have noted that the salaries of top executives in America average 400 times as much as those of average workers, while in other nations it ranges from 11-to-1 to 42-to-1. As recently as 1982, it was 42-to-1 in America.

Concurrent with obscenely increasing executive salaries, taxes on the rich nearly dropped out of sight. The highest tax rate for the rich was 92 percent when Dwight Eisenhower (a Republican) was president in the 1950s, and the nation prospered. Since Ronald Reagan's presidency, the tax on the filthy rich has ranged from zero to 35 percent, with persistent GOP demands that it be cut further.

When "Reform" candidate Ross Perot was making $3.2 million a week, his tax rate was 6.8 percent, far less than that for schnooks making average money, and sometimes he paid nothing at all.

The ratio of CEO and average salaries is even more scandalous.

"Allentown's Lee Iacocca got $2.9 million in 1991 as a reward for steering Chrysler to a $795 million loss," I wrote in 1993. "In other years he made as much as $20.5 million, while [in Japan] Soichiro Toyoda made $690,000 for running Toyota, one of the world's most prosperous companies."

Two years later, I said the Reagan administration's official motto was a modification of what Abraham Lincoln said about God loving the common people. "God must have loved rich people or he would not have made us so rich," I described it.

I was being facetious, but now I'm not so sure that's not really the official GOP motto.

That brings us to what the five Supreme Court appointees by Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush have been up to on behalf of their Republican benefactors.

With the four Supremes appointed by Democratic presidents in dissent, those five came up with a 5-4 ruling in the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission case. Wealthy Americans, it said, no longer have a $123,200 limit on the amount of money they can dish out per two-year election cycle to political candidates on an aggregate basis. Now, the sky's the limit. (That previous $123,200 limit per individual meant zillionaires had a hard time totally dominating the number of television commercials aimed at brainwashing the public.)

Such limits, said Chief Justice John Roberts (George W's darling), "suppress campaign speech" and thus violate the First Amendment. Never mind that the ruling all but kills the free speech of anyone who is not a zillionaire as far as TV is concerned.

Some of the best commentary on that ruling came in a couple of letters to the editor in The Morning Call on Wednesday.

"I can't imagine Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers intending money to be viewed as a form of free speech," wrote John Mondschein of Fountain Hill. "Only in America could someone determine that money equates to free speech."

William Antrim of Whitehall Township wrote that the ruling "showed just how far money has gone in usurping control of our political process by allowing wealthy people, corporations, unions and other groups to get their lackeys elected." Antrim also invoked what Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address about "government of the people, by the people, for the people. …"

That, as far as today's right-wingers are concerned, is as passe as Lincoln's often-quoted nonsense about God loving common people. "Lincoln was a Republican?" they might say. "No way!"

So have a nice Easter and I hope the Easter Bunny brings you some pretty eggs — even if they are not made of solid gold like the ones in Spence's basket.

paul.carpenter@mcall.com 610-820-6176

Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays

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