Here are some depressing statistics: In 2013, CEOs of S&P 500 companies made 331 times as much as their employees. Your average American worker not in a supervisory role made $35,239, while the average CEO made $11.7 million, according to the AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch website. CEO pay has increased a whopping 937 percent since 1978, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute.
So while CEOs are making a killing, more and more people find themselves with stagnant-at-best pay. People laid off from good-paying jobs (the result of rigged trade deals) are forced into jobs at half their former pay and no benefits, if they can find a job at all. Weak wage growth predates the Great Recession. Between 2000 and 2007, the median worker saw wage growth of just 2.6 percent, despite productivity growth of 16.0 percent, while the 20th percentile worker saw wage growth of just 1.0 percent and the 80th percentile worker saw wage growth of just 4.6 percent.
This one is simply outrageous. Corporations currently owe up to $700 billion in unpaid, “deferred” taxes. The country needs the money – partly because these companies owe so much in taxes. Which of the following choices should the country make?
1. Tell the companies to pay up what they owe, bringing us hundreds of billions to use now and tens of billions a year more from now on.
2. Let them off the hook from ever paying most what they owe, if only they please would let us have a little bit of it now.
Who Is The Boss Of Whom?
The choice depends on who you think is supposed to be the boss of whom. If you believe that We the People are in charge of this country, then obviously you’d say these corporations should just pay the taxes they owe. But if the corporations are in charge of us they’ll tell us they aren’t going to pay these taxes unless we give them something.
Not surprisingly, Congress appears to be working toward option ‘2.’ It’s called a “repatriation tax holiday.” They are proposing to tell the companies that moved jobs, factories and profit centers out of the country that it was the right thing to do. Unfortunately that will tell companies that didn’t do these things that they were chumps.
What Is A Tax Holiday?
Here is what’s going on. Giant, multinational U.S. corporations owe our government up to $700 billion in taxes on about $2 trillion in profits they have made (or made it look like they made) outside of the country. But there is a loophole that lets them hold off on paying those taxes owed until they “bring the money home.” So of course, many corporations have been engaged in all kinds of schemes to make it look like they make their money elsewhere – and/or move jobs, factories and profit centers out of the country.
[Sen. Harry] Reid and [Sen. Ron] Paul are quietly pressing for a one-time tax “holiday” — a special and lucrative tax deduction — to lure multinational corporations to bring profits home from overseas, producing a sudden windfall.
Instead of telling these corporations that it’s time to pay up, it looks like Congress is preparing to just let them keep much (85 percent) of the money. It’s called a “tax holiday.”
What is the “conflict” the headline talks about? It isn’t a conflict between those who want to hand corporations hundreds of billions of dollars and those who do not want to. The conflict is over how to hand them the money!
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, the Finance Committee chairman, and Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican, want that money to help smooth passage of a broad rewrite of the tax code.
So if Senator Reid is on board for a tax holiday and Senator Wyden is on board for a tax holiday, it looks like the idea of giving this huge amount of cash to these corporations is baked in to the thinking in the Senate. And we’re talking about Democrats here. One side wants (Reid) to give them a tax holiday and get a little bit to use to pay for infrastructure, the other side (Wyden) wants to use it as a bribe to get these giant corporations to let the U.S. government “reform” the tax laws. Both sides are conceding that they’ll accept a tax holiday.
But no one in this discussion is just saying, “Hey, we’d get up to $700 billion and tens of billions every year from now on if we just told these companies to pay the taxes they owe.”
The cost: At Least $95.8 Billion
The idea is to give these companies an 85 percent deduction – the “tax holiday” – on their foreign profits and only taxing 15 percent of the profits. In other words, instead of taxing $2 trillion of profits being held out of the country they’ll only tax $300 billion. If these corporations “bring the money home.”
Bloomberg News looks at the cost of this, in “Repatriation Tax Holiday Would Cost U.S. $95.8 Billion.” The “holiday” would bring in a quick $19.6 billion, but would cost $95.8 billion of tax revenue that would come in anyway over the next decade with no changes – not even making these companies just pay up. (Note: This calculation assumes Congress won’t just tell these companies to just pay their taxes. That would bring in up to $700 billion at the top tax rate of 35 percent and tens of billions a year from now on. Companies can deduct any taxes already paid elsewhere, so “up to” means $700 billion minus taxes paid elsewhere.)
An Engineered “Crisis”
That’s right, after all these years of propaganda about budget deficits and the hostage-taking and the “fiscal cliff” and the “debt ceiling” and the sequester and all the resulting budget cuts in essential services and “austerity” and how this has held back the recovery … it looks like Congress is going to just let companies off from paying hundreds of billions of taxes they already owe. This is not about passing another tax break/subsidy, etc. These are taxes that are due and payable on profits that have already been made but that these companies are keeping outside of the country (and away from their shareholders).
Why would Congress even consider letting these corporations off from paying the taxes they owe? Because of rules about not increasing the deficit Congress “needs” the money. This is a “realpolitik” deal, recognizing that the companies have enough power to keep Congress from just making them pay up what they owe. The thinking is they can appease the corporations with an 85 percent tax holiday to get them to pay at least 15 percent of that they owe.
This is another engineered “crisis” where the country is made to believe that deficits are keeping us from doing things we need to do. We need to fund transportation infrastructure, we can’t borrow the money to invest in things like this that make our economy more efficient, hence the need to “incentivize” the corporations to please bring home some of the money they owe us.
They Did This In 2004 And It Made Things Worse
In 2004 corporations ran the same scam on Congress, except that time they promised to use the money they brought back to “create jobs.” So what happened?
In 2011 the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) looked at the results of the 2004 tax holiday and found that “their holiday didn’t just fail to create the promised jobs. Their holiday enriched corporations that actually destroyed jobs in the months right after they received their tax windfall.” IPS found that 58 multinationals who used the “American Job Creation Act of 2004″ tax holiday not only immediately laid off tens of thousands, they continued laying off, and laid off close to 600,000 workers between 2004 and now. From the IPS summary of the study,
One government study looking at the first two years after the repatriation windfall found that 12 of the top recipients laid off more than 67,000 American workers. These firms collectively brought back home more than $100 billion …
According to IPS, the companies that gained the most from the tax holiday actually cut jobs, on top of that they used the tax gift money to buy back their own stock, increasing its value, and pay out dividends, both thereby enriching executives and shareholders.
(This is from 2011. Another half a trillion of profits have been shifted offshore since then.)
In 2004, when Congress approved a similar holiday, lawmakers vowed never to do it again. If it became a habit, they reasoned, companies would keep their profits overseas waiting for the next tax holiday. That, the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation explained, is the idea’s “moral hazard problem.”
The 2004 tax holiday only made things worse because companies realized they could get out of paying taxes entirely if they moved profits offshore and held out until the next holiday season. If we do it again, every company will be compelled to move jobs, factories and profit centers out of the country to stay competitive.
They are going to try to sneak this through under the radar. Maybe We the People can stop it if we make enough noise.
[P]ay for the typical CEO … surged 8.8 percent last year to $10.5 million, it rose a scant 1.3 percent for [the rest of us].
Here are five reasons why CEOs are enjoying lavish pay increases and five reasons many people are stuck with stagnant incomes.
WHY CEOs ARE GETTING HUGE RAISES
1. They’re paid heavily in stock.
2. Peer pressure. Corporate boards often set CEO pay based on what the leaders of other companies make. …
3. The superstar effect.
4. Friendly boards of directors.
5. Stricter scrutiny. … companies often raise pay to compensate for the risk of job loss.”
WHY MANY OF US AREN’T GETTING A RAISE
1. Blame the robots. Millions of factory workers have lost their spots on assembly lines to machines. Offices need fewer secretaries and bookkeepers in the digital era.
2. High unemployment. … Businesses face less pressure to give meaningful raises when a ready supply of job seekers is available.
3. Globalization. Companies can cap wages by offshoring jobs to poorer countries.
4. Weaker unions.
5. Low inflation.
These Didn’t Just Happen, These Are Choices
These ten reasons are framed as “just the way it is.” CEOs get compensated with stock as well as cash, and stocks are way up. That’s just the way it is. China sucks jobs out of the U.S., and robots are doing more of the work, so people are left without jobs or any way to make a living. That’s just the way it is.
Too bad, so sad.
Here’s the thing. Not one of these 10 points “just happened.” They are the result of choices that our country’s leaders made. All of those choices drive the national income and wealth to a few at the top, and away from We the People.
We Are Not Helpless
It comes down to choices, not inevitability. Inevitability implies helplessness. But understanding that these were choices leads to understanding that we have the opportunity to make different choices.
These are things that conservatives and neo-liberals convinced our Congress to DO (or, in the case of needed changes, to NOT do), and we are living with the results. These things are not inevitable. They are not things we just have to accept. They are things that we can change.
What Happened To We The People?
In a country where We the People make decisions, we would choose to do things that make our lives better. But when CEO and corporate types are in charge of the political system, what we’ve got is exactly what you would expect. Look at how things are set up and ask yourself if We the People are benefiting from that, or if only a few already-wealthy people are benefiting at the expense of the rest of us, and decide to do something about it.
Think about some of the things we have come to take for granted. For example – and just one of many, many examples – we are told that corporations are only supposed to be about making money for the shareholders. But would a country run by We the People to do things to make our lives better have set up these things called corporations to be like that? What do We the People get from a system like that? Would corporations have been created for the purpose of doing things that benefit We the People and our country and our economy, not only a few already-wealthy people at the expense of our country and economy?
Think that through. Think about how it would be set up if We the People wanted to make our lives better, and then start working to make it that way.
This is a moment to think about how we got here, and why we let things happen this way. This is a moment to realize that things do not have to be the way they are, and that we can change what is happening to us for the better. Even if we indeed have become a country that only does what CEO types want done, We the People can change that, too.
Word is there’s an economic recovery going on. But approximately 99 percent of us have no reason to believe that.
The public sees that the government bailed out the biggest banks and that the “recovery” is going really well for a very few people. But most Americans are actually falling behind, and know it. Wages are still stagnant at best and the minimum wage has fallen so far behind that people working full time remain in poverty. Unemployment is down largely because of people “leaving the workforce.” And all along government services are being cut and cut and cut.
People see the government working for a wealthy few at the top, and against the rest of us. People see the rigged game at work against them. This is not just an economic and human catastrophe. With an election coming, key Democratic constituencies have simply been left behind during the Obama administration. “Are you better off now than you were 4 or 8 years ago? HELL NO!”
So this could become a political catastrophe as well, potentially bringing the return of the very people and conditions that got the country into this mess.
An Ongoing Catastrophe For Regular People
What Washington has done since the “Reagan Revolution” and especially since the 2008 crash has benefited the few, usually at the expense of the general public. Washington rescued the big banks, and left homeowners and the rest of us to fend for ourselves.
Anti-inflation monetary policy has been a catastrophe for regular people. (Protecting Wall Street at the expense of Main Street? Really?)
Washington’s austerity, budget-cutting fixation has been a catastrophe for regular people. (Laying off hundreds of thousands of public employees, cutting public investment and cutting back on the safety net during an unemployment crisis? Really?)
Washington’s “free trade” policies have been great for giant, multinational corporations but have been a catastrophe for regular people, sending millions upon millions of jobs out of the country. (Not even confronting blatant currency manipulation that is costing 5.8 million jobs? Really?)
Washington’s corporate tax policies have been a catastrophe for regular people. (Giving companies huge tax breaks for moving jobs, factories and profit centers out of the country? Really?)
One catastrophe after another hitting regular people. And people see it coming from a system that is rigged against them, working just fine for a wealthy few.
But that was all it did, and that was it. It worked but it was just not enough to get things going again. And now it’s five years later. As most people can see, after the stimulus the Obama administration capitulated to Republican/Wall Street demands for austerity – and outright budget blackmail. The President even at times reinforced the right’s ideological position by boasting about government progress in balancing its books rather than emphasizing the human cost of not boosting government resources to drive job creation. Democrats even voted to cut food stamp spending and the president signed the bill! (Cutting Food Stamps in the middle of a national jobs and poverty emergency? Really?)
We demand full employment! Full employment means there is a job for everyone who wants a job. There is simply no reason whatsoever that we can’t have full employment – except for policies that are intentionally keeping us from having full employment.
We demand full employment! Why isn’t our government stepping up and just hiring all of the people who need jobs? It’s not as if there are not enough things that need to be done. Our infrastructure is in serious need of repair. We need to retrofit millions of buildings and homes in the country to be energy efficient. We need to build a modern energy grid to bring energy from wind farms that we need to build in the plains states (where the wind is) to the cities and industrial centers (where the need is). We need to cut the number of children per classroom in half. We need to do … so many things. Why isn’t our government the employer of last resort, just hiring people to do those things we need done – in the middle of an employment emergency?
We demand full employment! Unemployment is a human and economic catastrophe. There are so many things our government could do besides direct hiring (which they should be doing). Our government could fix our job-sucking trade deals and balance the trade budget. Our government could demand that corporations return the trillions of dollars they are holding outside of the country to avoid paying the taxes due on that money. That’s a double whammy; take away the huge incentive to move jobs out of the country because of the tax break – and use the money they already owe to just hire millions of people!
The New Populism Conference
Two speakers at this week’s New Populism Conference, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and economist Jared Bernstein will talk about the importance of growth and jobs in order to bring about a rapid change in inequality.
How’s your job going – if you even have one? The odds are very, very high that you haven’t seen a raise in a long time. Or maybe you were laid off and found a new job at half your old pay. They say this is the “new normal.”
Meanwhile, CEO pay just keeps climbing and climbing and climbing (and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing). This inequality is destabilizing our economy.
Soaring CEO Pay
The AFL-CIO has released this year’s 2014 Executive PayWatch at www.PayWatch.org, a “comprehensive searchable online database tracking the excessive pay of CEOs of the nation’s largest companies.”
PayWatch.org offers workers the unique ability to compare their own pay to the pay of top executives. According to Executive PayWatch data, U.S. CEOs pocketed, on average, $11.7 million in 2013, compared to the average worker who earned $35,293. That means CEOs were paid 331 times that of the average worker. (CEO pay was 774 times the minimum wage.)
Here is how it works these days: You start hearing about a big, national problem and then it becomes a drumbeat. First there are a few articles and columns mentioning that such-and-such is a problem. Then a number of articles appear, then a “study” from a “think tank” confirms the problem and sounds the alarm about how terrible it is, and then just as the issue seems to be the only thing you are hearing about a solution is presented. Of course, the solution always involves taking something away from you and giving it to some company or industry standing in front of a billionaire or three. The right question to start asking when you hear about these “problems” is which billionaire is driving this.
Here are five-plus examples of billionaires who use their money to try to get us to think what they want us to think in order to enact a right-wing economic agenda.
The big corporations and the Obama administration are trying to push through a giant new trade treaty that gives corporations even more power, and which will send even more jobs, factories, industries and money out of the country. This is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and they are pushing something called “fast track” in Congress to help push it through.
We have to stop this, and we should take the momentum we have generated in our push-back on this to demand Congress and President Obama instead fix NAFTA first. Then fix all of our trade relationships to help working people on all sides of our borders.
TPP, Fast Track And NAFTA
There has been a lot of news about the upcoming TPP trade agreement. The agreement is being negotiated in extreme secrecy in a corporate-dominated process that appears to be leading to an agreement that would give corporations even more power than they already have. Now there is a push to pass a process called fast track through Congress in order to enable the large corporations to strong-arm TPP into law mobilized organizations around the country to sound the alarm.
After exposing how a supposed “think tank” set up by a PR firm working for the restaurant industry puts out dishonest “reports” claiming that raising the minimum wage is bad policy, the Times writes this:
The campaign illustrates how groups — conservative and liberal — are again working in opaque ways to shape hot-button political debates, like the one surrounding minimum wage, through organizations with benign-sounding names that can mask the intentions of their deep-pocketed patrons.
Because “liberal” groups take in millions of corporate cash and set up phony “think tanks” to spread propaganda about how we should pay people less to enrich the billionaires and their giant corporations, too. Right?
Republicans are engaged in yet more hostage-taking obstruction. (Whatever gave them the idea that hostage-taking can work?) They are engaged in a filibuster of the effort to extend unemployment insurance, using it as a hostage to try to get even more cuts to the things government does to make our lives better. Their “pay-for” demand is really a demand for Democrats to agree to even more economic sabotage.
Senate Republicans Monday continued to fight Democratic efforts to pass an extension of federal unemployment insurance benefits for people who have been out of work longer than 26 weeks. Traditionally our government has provided this assistance to unemployed workers at times of high unemployment. This is an “automatic stabilizer,” meaning that this assistance helps stop the downward spirals that occur when business hit recession. Unemployed workers aren’t forced to pull back from paying mortgages or rent, or buying food and other basic needs, which then causes even more unemployment.
Many feel this economic stabilization effect is the reason Republican oppose the extension. They suspect Republicans want the loss of this assistance to cause more layoffs, foreclosures and economic hardship. This way the economy looks worse as the 2014 elections approach, and voters will turn on what they perceive as the “party in charge” – namely the Democrats.
By requiring “pay-fors” – cuts somewhere else – in exchange for allowing this assistance to the unemployed, they are removing the economic boost that the program provides, causing damage to the economy. In other words: they are engaged in economic sabotage.
One such proposal from Republicans is to stop working people with disabilities from claiming both Social Security Disability Insurance and federal unemployment benefits. Cutting this really means preventing people with disabilities from taking the risk of going out and working to see if they can get off of disability. Michael Hiltzik writes about this at the Los Angeles Times in “An awful idea: Hammer the disabled to pay for unemployment benefits”:
It uniquely burdens the disabled among all workers, and it sets a terrible precedent of raiding Social Security to pay for other social programs.
… The idea that disabled persons are “double-dipping” by collecting wages or other compensation while also getting a disability check is enshrined in conservative attacks on disability. But it’s untrue. The Social Security disability program is designed as a bridge to full employment. Its benefits aren’t intended as a substitute for wages, but a supplement.
Republicans are insisting on cuts from elsewhere in the federal budget to pay for the benefits’ $6.4 billion cost. And Democrats are talking with them. But there’s no progress yet. In fact, it seems today that even the six Republicans who voted in the Senate last week to allow debate to proceed would not vote to extend the benefits just yet.
[. . .] if Democrats win, great. But it looks like they’ll only win by agreeing to the pay-for demand, which means that there’ll be new demands next time. There’s no end to how far right these people will go.
The simple truth is, Democrats are still being outmaneuvered by Republicans on economic policy. They’re letting the GOP call the shots, rhetorically, even though Republicans lost two out of three seats of federal government (the Senate and White House). They even lost the total popular vote for the House of Representatives.
… Here’s a better idea: Don’t try to pay for extended unemployment benefits. Don’t boast, as Reid did last week, that the extension is “entirely paid for.” Sure, Democrats will eventually need to make a deal – if they can – in order to extend unemployment insurance benefits. But why aren’t they first making the case against “paying for” those benefits on the Republicans’ terms?
Why aren’t Democrats instead speaking up against the “pay for” logic that gives a free pass to the wealthy and corporations – especially when the total cost is a blip, a rounding error, on a $1 trillion 2014 federal budget?
Economically, “pay for” is a Catch-22: It means every job-creating proposal must be offset with job-killing cuts elsewhere.
1. The long-term unemployment rate is higher than ever before.
2. The typical unemployed worker has been out of work longer than ever before.
3. More unemployed workers are running out of benefits than ever before.
4. The unemployment rate remains unacceptably high.
5. There are still three job seekers for every job opening.
Call To Action
The Coalition on Human Needs wants us to “tell your senators to renew federal unemployment insurance now, before the next recess, and don’t tie renewal to harmful amendments like denying the Child Tax Credit to low-income immigrant families or denying aid to unemployed workers with disabilities.”
If you haven’t called your senators yet (or even if you have!) please call 1-877-267-2485 (Toll Free). (Thanks to AFSCME for making this toll-free number available.)
Federal unemployment assistance for 1.3 million people who have been unemployed longer than 26 weeks expired last Saturday, after Republicans blocked efforts to extend them. 3.6 million more people will lose these benefits over this year. Restoring these benefits is a moral, economic and political imperative.
On Monday the Senate will hold the first procedural vote on bringing back unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work longer than 26 weeks. The hope is to break a Republican filibuster so the extension can be passed and sent to the House (where Republicans will likely refuse to even allow it to come up for a vote).
When the financial crisis hit the country provided assistance to (“bailed out”) the largest banks. We have a moral imperative to also help our fellow citizens. A democracy provides assistance for people who need help. A fair and just society provides assistance for people who need help. A moral society provides assistance for people who need help.