Ralph Kingsbury: I Was Right

I was right. Well, kind of right. When in a recent column I said the times had changed I confess I expected a different reaction.  I think it is accurate to say all of the readers agreed that the times had changed, but only half agreed the times had changed as I wrote they had. For the other half their definition of the change was different than what I wrote.

What was that difference? I thought the attitude of the Say Anything readers would be an anti-worker judgment. I really thought most of the comments would be a “that’s for sure” attitude about how most workers today don’t believe they need to give that fair days’ work for a fair days pay.

To be sure, there were comments like that. Many agreed with my premise that today there are just too many workers who don’t believe they need to give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. They don’t believe they owe it to their employers.

What surprised me were the proportion of responses that were very critical of management. When I say it surprised me I am going to say something here that I have quietly written previously and the lack of response to what I wrote was the surprise. That is there has been a critical change in capitalism. That change is how much more upper management makes in relation to how much the average employee makes. 

There is no doubt that change is there and it is large. In 1980 the average S&P 500 manager made 42 times more than the average employee. Today the same average manager makes 204 times more than the average employee. At least according to a Bloomberg report. Then too the manager lived in a nicer house than the employee. You could even say it was a much nicer house. Today, well today there really is no comparison. It is not unfair to say the top manager’s house is a mansion compared to the average employee.

I am not sure of all the details of the comparison when including “average pay”. Does “more” include only salary, or does it include things like health care? Is the health care of both workers the same, or are the deductibles different? How about the retirement account?

How about the employee’s stock option and when they can get cashed in. When the Enron debacle took place the managers could sell their stock much quicker than the average employee and that made a big difference how much the employee didn’t make off his stock compared to the manager.

Readers of my column should know that I am a capitalist. They should also know that any true capitalist would not call something like that difference in pay capitalism.  So too should anyone with any sense of logic and any sense of fairness know that.

Of course some will comment on the Robber Barons like Carnegie, Rockefeller, and many other late 18th and 19th century capitalist were called by the yellow journalist. That description was probably accurate for at least part of what many of those involved at the beginning of the industrial age were doing, things like buying out the railroads in order to control the price of oil (There were no pipelines in those days. All the oil was transported from the oil patch to the refineries in barrels, old whiskey barrels.).

But those early capitalist were the ones that made America the industrial giant of the world. They are the people who made it possible for America to be the country that ended WWI and WWII. They are the people who made America the country that fed Europe and Asia after WWII so that those populations, including England, France and Germany, and Japan and all of southeast Asia didn’t starve following WWII.

They did many things wrong, but they created an economic system that was unmatched by any before, and it is not wrong to say, since. A system that was unmatched.

So, was I right, or wrong about what I wrote? I think  it was both. The attitude today will not allow America to be the economic system it was, but the fairness of that system is gone and it will not be the system in the future that it was in the past unless we see another basic change in the system.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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