No, this isn’t some Marxist fantasy. It’s a clear-eyed response to the fact that in 2012 the ratio of CEO compensation to that of a typical worker in the United States was an astonishing 273-to-1. That’s a gap made possible by a rise in CEO compensation of 875 percent since 1978 — an era when the typical worker’s salary has increased by a mere 5.4 percent. (The lopsided ratio, of course, is an average. The pay discrepancy is much greater in some companies. JC Penney, for example, paid its former CEO Ron Johnson 1,795 times the average wage and benefits of a U.S. department store worker.)
Democratic citizenship depends on a certain commonality of shared experience and power across regions and races and classes. That’s always going to be a challenge in a continent-wide nation of 310 million people with complicated immigration patterns and a sordid history of racial injustice. But it becomes close to impossible when the super-rich use their incomparable wealth, power, and influence to insulate themselves from meritocratic checks of the market as well as government oversight and regulation, ensuring that they acquire ever-greater wealth, power, and influence over time.