The secret about Americans is that we have always admired the extremely wealthy. Not just envied -- but respected them as smarter and deserving of their money. That is changing.
The revelation by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that incomes of the top 1 percent tripled in the last three decades while incomes of the bottom 99 percent all but stagnated is spreading like a gasoline fire.
So is the statistic that CEOs of America's top 200 corporations make 350 times the salary of one of their workers.
The biggest reason is that the last decade's tax cuts for the wealthy perpetuated income inequality. Instead of being a level playing field where the poor aspire to become rich, the United States has one of the worst levels of income inequality among developed nations.
But even as the tax cuts helped wealthy Americans making $500,000 or more a year, the rate of job creation plummeted and unemployment rose to 9.1 percent.
That proves what economists have said for years: Tax cuts for the wealthiest do not lead to more jobs.
The other canard bandied about is that if government regulations were eased or ended, such as those to curb Wall Street excesses, jobs would pop up like mushrooms. But while employers yearn for stable, overall economic growth, the evidence indicates regulations shift jobs around but do not result in overall job loss.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that new environmental regulations may kill some jobs in a specific industry but create new jobs in pollution abatement. The BLS also found that in the first half of 2011, employers listed regulations as the cause of only 0.2 to 0.3 percent of jobs lost as part of mass layoffs.
What is happening is that skill levels of the unemployed do not match skills needed by employers. There is little demand for journalists, secretaries or office managers. There is a huge, unmet demand for workers with math, science and technical skills such as engineering. Employers complain they can't find the skilled workers they need because our education system is declining and good teachers are being laid off.
Also, we don't make things anymore.
We are thrilled when a brilliant innovator such as Steve Jobs becomes a billionaire by creating a new industry that changes how we live. We are not happy when they hear of a fired Hewlett-Packard CEO getting $28 million to leave or outgoing Gannett CEO Craig Dubow, who laid off dozens while shrinking the news content of Gannett's 82 newspapers, walking off the job with a $37 million retirement package. That was in addition to $16 million in pay given him since 2009.
Dozens of CEOS go out the door with golden parachutes after laying off hard-working employees, sending jobs overseas, tanking their stock prices, making shoddy products and guessing wrong on market trends. They usually find jobs elsewhere.
You might well argue that's the fault of boards of directors. Yes, but these days boards consist of the CEO's friends paid extremely well for rubberstamping the decisions and pay packages of the CEO. They also are CEOs themselves. Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.
Astonishingly, most Americans didn't mind the huge pay packages and outrageous perks of CEOs and Wall Street financiers. Amazingly, Americans bought into the argument that government regulations are "job killers." (Food safety? Plane safety? Medicinal drug safety? Air and drinking water purity? Consumer products that don't kill kids? Safe working conditions?)
Until now. Fat cats: Be wary. New polls find eight out of ten Americans think the richest Americans are "greedy." A majority view Wall Street financiers as "incompetent" or "corrupt."
And who is the GOP establishment's candidate to fix our problems? Mitt Romney, who made millions as a financier, thinks corporations are people, took over companies, and fired hundreds but said this year he's "unemployed too," and bought a $12 million beach house in California he could tear down to build a mansion four times its size.
His solution for America? Lower taxes on the rich and kill regulations.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)
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