The best paid CEO at an Oregon publicly traded company earned $15.8 million last year. A new-hire at his newest plant earns $27.50/hour, a great wage these days for factory work.
I'll admit: this guy is more generous than most CEOs at sharing the wealth, with the ratio between his pay and a new-hire at a mere 287: 1. Today, the national ratio between the rich guys and the peons they hire is 411 to 1. For every worker making the national minimum wage of $5.15/hour, or $10,300/year (far below a livable wage), there's a greed-justifying executive making $4.2 million a year. Why the ramp-up in corporate greed? Because it's legal and for too many people, legal means moral. In 1980, the pay gap between CEOs and the average worker was 42 to 1; using that ratio, the Oregon CEO's annual pay would be a still-kingly $2.3 million.
"If shareholders do good, we do OK, and if they do bad, we don't do anything," this CEO said. "I personally believe that's the right way to go."
Besides the poor grammar, this comment exhibits incredible values: a moral compass for which true north is simply to make investors (himself included) richer. He creates jobs with his company's success, yes, but the latest jobs his company is creating come at the expense of the people at the bottom rung of society's ladder. In exchange for building a new plant, last month he negotiated with (bullied?) the county into foregoing $1.8 million in tax revenue, money that would've gone to schools and emergency services. For a company that's wallowing in profits — net income has tripled in four years — that's immoral. But it's legal.
Is my anger class envy? No. It's class revulsion. I'm revolted at our culture of acquisition and excess consumption. Voluntary simplicity should be the law, not the quirky exception. But in the U.S., it's about voluntary acquisition: get more, take more, because we Americans deserve everything our hands can grab onto. Some people say it's a God-given right.
My husband and I work less than we could. Work is abundant in our fields but we sometimes turn down opportunities to make more money. We earn plenty, by our standards. By working less than a 40-hour week, we have time to keep learning new skills that make us less dependent on money and that let us work with our kids, teaching them what we know. In a culture that tells us to keep getting more, we have to frequently remind ourselves to work just as much as we need to provide the essentials plus some treats, like an occasional trip, and then to stop there.
My advice: Go outside, plant some edible plants, learn to forage for edible weeds, cook from scratch, run a skill saw, build a shed, learn to make cheese, knit a sweater, sew some curtains, learn to draw, split your own wood. We're all so busy earning money to buy crap we don't need that very few of us actually know how to create anything other than wealth for others. Teach yourself a new skill and then teach it to someone else; maybe if enough of us did this, greed's grip on this nation will start to erode.
Enough is as good as a feast. To borrow a phrase from the CEO, I personally believe that is the right way to go.
÷ ÷ ÷
Laura O. Foster is a writer and expert on the history of Portland, Oregon, and the small towns around it. She is the author of The Portland Stairs Book, Portland Hill Walks, Portland City Walks, Lake Oswego (Images of America), and the writer/editor of Walk There! 50 Treks In and Around Portland and Vancouver. When not writing about Portland, Foster is busy creating new urban adventures or leading walks for local governments, civic groups, and nonprofits. She blogs at portlandwalking.blogspot.com.
Books mentioned in this post
Laura Foster is the author of The Portland Stairs Book