Jacob Hacker of Yale and Paul Pierson of the University of California, Berkeley, argue “Over the last generation more and more of the rewards of growth have gone to the rich and supperrich. The rest of America, from the poor through the upper middle class, has fallen further and further behind.” Hacker and Pierson note in their book that investors and executives at the nation’s 38 largest companies earned a stunning total of $140 billion — a record. The investment firm Goldman Sachs paid bonuses to its employees that averaged nearly $600,000 per person, its best year since it was founded in 1869.
It was revealed last week by David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for The New York Times, that the incomes of the very highest earners in the United States, a small group of individuals hauling in more than $50 million annually (sometimes much more), increased fivefold from 2008 to 2009, even as the nation was being rocked by the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Hacker and Pierson explain the economic struggles of the middle and working classes in the U.S. since the late-1970s were not primarily the result of globalization and technological changes but rather a long series of policy changes in government that overwhelmingly favored the very rich and were the result of increasingly sophisticated, well-financed and well-organized efforts by the corporate and financial sectors to tilt government policies in their favor, and thus in favor of the very wealthy. From tax laws to deregulation to corporate governance to safety net issues, government action was deliberately shaped to allow those who were already very wealthy to amass an ever increasing share of the nation’s economic benefits.It’s a form of warfare.
“It’s a contest,” said Professor Pierson, “between those who are organized, who can really monitor what government is doing in a very complicated world and bring pressure effectively to bear on politicians. Voters in that kind of system are at a disadvantage when there aren’t reliable, organized groups representing them that have clout and can effectively communicate to them what is going on.”
An “organizational revolution” that took place over the past three decades in which big business mobilized on an enormous scale to become much more active in Washington, cultivating politicians in both parties and fighting fiercely to achieve shared political goals. This occurred at the same time that organized labor, the most effective force fighting on behalf of the middle class and other working Americans, was caught in a devastating spiral of decline. Thus, the counterweight of labor to the ever-increasing political clout of big business was effectively lost.
" [globalization and technological change] aren’t by any means a sufficient explanation for this massive change in the distribution of wealth and income in the U.S. Much more important are the ways in which government has shaped the economy over this period through deregulation, through changes in industrial relations policies affecting labor unions, through corporate governance policies that have allowed C.E.O.’s to basically set their own pay, and so on.”
“The only thing we learn from new elections is we learned nothing from the old.” – Proverb