These past several weeks I entertained many debates, some turning into arguments, over what's fueling the protests and what the national collective response should be. Like so many others I've spoken to recently, this issue has divided me from my family, and from many others with whom I held friendship for decades. It's been shocking, unnerving, and quite unsettling to listen to such hatred and vitriol pour out from the hearts I once loved, and it's left me many sleepless nights. I've discussed this at length with my husband and our children, and it is with deep regret that we agree we must forever cut ties with many we once called friends, and even some family.
During lunch this Sunday afternoon, I was sharing with my husband what I loved and miss the most about America - the freedom I enjoyed in my youth, long before 911 began a much faster descent into the deep-state controlled politik we have today. It is a freedom even my own children have never known. In particular, I remember when the neighborhood kids would all pile into the back of my father's red pickup truck along with our dog, Jake, and we would head up to the local triangle-shaped, soft-serve ice cream shop. In the summertime we baled hay for the horses, and then would take a flying leap off a rope hung from a tree into the cool waters of the local creek that had been dug out by the neighbor's backhoe. Our houses and cars were never locked; there was no crime worth worrying about. When folks would come into town, we'd walk straight through the airport and meet them right at the gate. You could come and go anywhere at will in this great country - no gates, no walls, and no militarized police. Now, all those enjoyable activities are banned by increasing regulations under the threat of prospective liabilities.
"Executive compensation is far outpacing inflation while the average American worker trails woefully behind."
Opportunities to grow and advance were different, too. If you had an idea, you could put a little muscle into it and try it out alone or with a couple of buddies. There were regulations to be sure, but they were easily navigated, posing nary a hurdle to anyone who had a streak of entrepreneurialism. Then, with the advent of personal computing, things began to shift. Because edits could be made live to documentation whilst in draft, the documents became longer, and regulations did, too. It became easier for municipalities and government agencies of all kinds to implement, track and charge a multitude of revenue raising fees that, in the aggregate, make the cost of compliance for building great ideas prohibitive in many instances.
For example, in 2018, Tennessee was thrust into the national spotlight when the state charged $1,000 fines for each instance of hair braiding without a license. In contrast to half the nation which requires no such license, Tennessee required 300 hours of coursework offered in only 3 schools that charged anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 in tuition. A rich heritage dating back thousands of years, natural hair braiding became out of reach for many black hair stylists due to unjustified attempts at money grabs by the state. In 2015, police were called to stop two teen boys offering to clear their neighbors' driveways of snow after a blizzard. In order to offer help to their neighbors for a reasonable snow-shoveling fee, they were first required to obtain a $450 license good for 180 days. Similar bans around the country have shutdown children selling lemonade at neighborhood intersections during hot summer days, and girl scouts selling cookies door-to-door. These government crackdowns on enterprising folks breed disappointment and despair, and support the development of corporate monopolies in favor of the rich who can afford higher entry fees.
A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that CEO compensation has grown 940% since 1978 while typical worker compensation has risen only 12%. Meanwhile, a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates consumer prices today are 293.24% higher than prices in 1978. Consequently, executive compensation is far outpacing inflation while the average American worker trails woefully behind.
In a sociology class many years ago at Wright State University, I learned about the machinations of poverty cycles, and the role of government and corporations in contributing to cyclical economic decline and the corresponding rise in social unrest. Now, I'm watching those lessons play out right here at home in America. According to the same study by the Economic Policy Institute, "[c]orporate boards running America's largest public firms are giving top executives outsize compensation packages. ... CEO compensation is very high relative to typical worker compensation (by a ratio of 278-to-1 or 221-to-1). In contrast, the CEO-to-typical-worker compensation ratio (options realized) was 20-to-1 in 1965 and 58-1 in 1989." According to the report, from 1978 to 2018, CEO compensation grew by 1,007.5%, where wages for the typical worker grew by just 11.9%. And other very high wage earners saw their earnings grow 339.2% during the same period. "Consequently, the growth of CEO and executive compensation overall was a major factor driving the doubling of the income shares of the top 1% and top 0.1% of U.S. households", while "the wages of most workers have grown very little".
If numbers don't drive home the growing problem of inequality, let's try this. According to the calculations of the reputable magazine Money, Amazon's Jeff Bezos earns every 8.93 seconds what the average Amazon worker earns in a year.
"Amazon's Jeff Bezos earns every 8.93 seconds what the average Amazon worker earns in a year."
You don't need a degree in sociology to know how that will translate to worker disatisfaction and social unrest, especially when the pattern is repeated for the nation's largest employers. Meanwhile, everyday working Americans face increasing taxes on meager wages in the form of runaway inflation caused by the repeated government bailouts of many of these same publicly traded businesses that are "too big to fail". When these same greedy executives who ran these businesses into bankruptcy are rewarded with millions in cash and stock bonuses, working Americans feel rightfully resentful.
Millenials are protesting, but what they don't know is that they are protesting a growing oligarchy disguised as capitalism. They are protesting systemic inequalities that have boiled over beyond race to include all kinds of inequalities, like those government regulations posing as "safety features" that really are barriers to entrepreneurs who might bring much needed market competition. Where education used to be a guaranteed entry ticket, it's now a requirement to work at many minimum-wage jobs that then paralyze worker advancement under the strangling force of non-compete clauses. For example, fast-food franchisor Jimmy John's was sued by the state of Illinois for enforcing non-compete agreements signed by low-wage earners that barred them from working at other sandwich shops under the argument that they would expose trade secrets! Can you imagine? What trade secrets? How to make a sandwich? You can learn more about crushing economic effects of non-competes in another of my blog posts HERE.
The point is, when I was a child, a parent could work hard, earn a living, and enjoy life with their family. Now, however, families live paycheck-to-paycheck with increasing food and housing insecurities. Due to rising healthcare costs, most Americans are one accident or illness away from total bankruptcy or homelessness. Meanwhile, Wall Street and executive management successfully lobby for regulations that favor growing monopolization and greater barriers to entry for small entrepreneurs. Today's America isn't at all reflective of the America of my youth or of my ideals, and I'm betting those taking to the streets are protesting for similar reasons. With little legitimate way to achieve the American dream, locked out by regulations and unbridled corporate greed, we can and should expect growing protests. I might even join them.