During the course of a relatively uneventful meal, our friend of ours a couple states back meandered into one of her favorite topics: the elites.
The elites, she said, controlled just about everything — banking, media, law enforcement, world trade, the price of potatoes, you name it — and what they didn’t have their hands on today they surely were eager to claim.
Never having been a big fan of conspiracy theories, but also believing one should be polite to one’s guests, I pretty much responded with little more than “Oh?” and “Hmm” and “Really, Oprah, too?”
What I’ve long suspected has been at the root of such vast, catchall beliefs is this notion of, well, if they succeeded, they must have cheated. Or they’re part of some secret society.
The Occupy movement — remember them? — deemed their targets, the One Percenters.
Can’t we agree that talented leaders deserve appropriate compensation? Managers with more experience and more responsibility — for people, projects and outcomes — should receive bigger rewards, right?
And do you really think the person you want to run your company should be someone you’d be comfortable having a beer with — or someone who knows the business?
But here’s what seems to have happened:
It used to be that, theoretically, as a company did better financially, all hands — from the CEO in the top office to the guy who shoveled snow off the sidewalk down below — benefited, as University of Massachusetts economist Arin Dube recently noted on the NPR radio program “Marketplace.”
Think of the folk at the higher end of the pay structure as being on one boat, and the employees who occupy (ha) the other end on a different, more crowded boat. Those boats aren’t both rising but instead are drifting farther apart.
As the gap between those boats expands, we get a sort of Second-Law-of-Thermodynamics series of outbursts: the Occupy protests, the janitors union strike in Houston for pay increases, minimum-wage demonstrations — large and some not so large — in Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Los Angeles ….
In July Sen. Tom Harkin introduced legislation that, among its many ambitious goals, would raise minimum wage 35 percent, from $7.25 an hour to $9.80, over two and a half years, then tie it to the cost of living from there on.
Harkin has called his Rebuild America bill “sweeping,” and with its proposed 35 percent pay hike, I’m inclined to agree with that adjective. And it would seem to have as much chance of getting through the House alive any time soon as it would surviving on the moon.
Yet Harkin is right when he says we need a serious conversation. We need to do something about those ever-drifting boats because a strong economic base needs buy-in from all participants, at all levels.
Because the fact of the matter is we’re not really in two separate boats at all, and I think our shoes are getting damp.