Commentary: Bailing out the rich — again

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President Donald Trump recently signed a coronavirus relief package that extends and enhances benefits for America’s rapidly growing numbers of unemployed. But the bill does nothing to fix the payday hardship that crushes so many Americans still working: a federal minimum wage that has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for years.

Millions of U.S. workers — through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond — will continue to earn this starvation wage, or close to it.

Advocates for working Americans were hoping for more. The relief bill that House Democrats put on the table included a $15 minimum wage for employees at any corporation that takes federal bailout dollars. But this was stripped from the version of the bill passed by the GOP-controlled Senate.

For big-time corporate executives, the bailout package quite generously establishes a new “minimum wage” for the power-suit set. American taxpayers will now be guaranteeing at least $3 million in annual pay to the top executives at every U.S. corporation that rakes in bailout dollars.

And some bailed-out executives will grab a lot more than that.

“Executives who made more than $3 million in 2019 could be awarded $3 million, plus half of any sum in excess of $3 million,” the New York Times has reported. That means a bailed-out executive who was paid $100 million in 2019 would be guaranteed compensation of $51.5 million.

Just think about that for a moment. CEOs throughout the United States have devoted much of the last few years to feathering their personal nests. They’ve spent billions on stock buybacks that boost their own compensation. They’ve wheeled and dealed their companies into mergers that trash jobs and communities. And companies including Boeing have cut corners on safety, with disastrous results.

All of these behaviors and more have left top-heavy corporations vulnerable to the coronavirus shock. But the new bailout legislation says, in effect, “No big deal, fellas, Uncle Sam will bail you out to the tune of billions, plus let you keep your cushy executive suite and pocket at least $3 million more next year.”

The vast majority of Americans working today won’t make $3 million in their entire lifetimes.

The last time we had a national economic crisis, after the financial collapse in 2008, bailed-out executives ended up richer than ever as average Americans saw their net worth crater. The response to COVID-19 is now looking like more of the same.

In a deeply unequal America, our democracy clearly has a problem legislating emergency relief without further enriching the already rich.

So let’s concentrate on our post-emergency future. Let’s push to limit CEO pay — and all the tax dollar outlays that go to corporations, for everything from subsidies for economic development to government contracts for goods and services.

The proposal for coronavirus relief the House Democrats tried to advance would have denied bailout dollars to corporations that pay their top executives more than 50 times what they pay their workers. That would be a good start.

In the United States today, we have dozens of corporations that pay their CEOs more than 1,000 times what their typical workers make. Why not apply the 50:1 CEO to worker pay standard to corporate recipients of all government contracts and subsidies?

Why should we let our tax dollars subsidize economic inequality?



Sam Pizzigati co-edits for the Institute for Policy Studies. His latest book is “The Case for a Maximum Wage.” This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is operated by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.


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