Executive Excess and the Econopocalypse

April 26, 2011

By Amina Waheed


I read something so disturbing recently that I thought my bowels were going to move all the way up to my esophagus and out onto the pavement, only to rest in between to stop my heart: Henry “Hank” Paulson’s networth is $700 million. Let’s say that slowly together. Seven. Hundred. Million. Dollars. That's a lot of extra zeros for a man who - along with his cronies on Wall Street, Capitol Hill, and whatever other dark corners they’ve conjured - has essentially taken a huge crap on our financial security, and then decidedly flushed our children and grandchildren’s now ominous future along with it. Considering that his actions have put most of America in the red, even forcing millions to choose between shelter or food, I’d rather call it, “networthLESS.” 


Before you ask me if I’d like some cheese to go with my “whine,” let me explain. 

According to Executive Paywatch, “based on 299 companies’ most recent pay data for 2010, their combined total CEO pay of $3.4 billion could support 102,325 median workers’ jobs.” In states like Milwaukee, it’s been reported that “state CEO’s make 121 times the average worker.” This is all while more and more Americans are taking huge pay cuts, and facing increasing unemployment despite some package that was supposed to be the viagra for our limp economy. Check out Executive Paywatch’s “Pay Disparity Ratio” graph to see who else companies like Standard & Poor is cutting out.


Let’s break it down relative to a critical part of our country - those who educate and inspire our future: teachers. The average income of a public high school teacher in Chicago is around $50K. In 2010 alone, nearly 3,000  (if not more) teachers have been laid off due to budget cuts, and only more uncertainty lies ahead. Now, if a CEO at S&P is paid approximately $11.5 million, approximately how many teachers could his salary support? 230. Two Hundred and Thirty American families who are probably now struggling to make their mortgage payments, while Wall Street execs could probably live off the bonuses they pocketed after the bailout. 


Oh, and let’s not forget that since these CEOs fall into that magic super rich folk category, they are not taxed on their capital gains. Hence, creating even greater disparities. It’s a glimpse of the unfortunate reality that the American dream has become a series of policies which ensure that the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. 


We all know CEOs make more money. It’s how much more, and how better that money could be used, that’s scary. It’s like we’ve been sucked into a vortex of the Rocky Picture Horror Show that never ends. And the worst part? “We the people” are participating in our own “econopocalyptic” fate by allowing these Freddie Kruegers of Wall Street to get away scotch-free.  


Where can we start? By imitating a more of the “yes, I give a shit about our future” politics of those like the Ralph G. Middle School students and Concerned Youth of America, and a lot less of the mindless Paris Hilton-esque consumerism that would make our founding fathers give our now United States of Bankruptcy back to the Queen willingly. 


America, it’s time... for less plastic, and more action.