Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-California) tackled the issue of income inequality during a House Committee on Financial Services meeting on April 10, featuring the CEOs of several major banks. All too often these hearings are held in vain; nothing ever changes and good arguments are never made. This time, however, was different. Porter stepped up to the mic and grilled JP Morgan-Chase CEO Jamie Dimon about his compliance in perpetuating income inequality, citing the example of a single mother who is employed at one of Mr. Dimon’s banks. She makes a base salary, leaving her with an almost $600 deficit every month. Mr. Dimon’s response to this example was this: “She may have my job one day.”
Porter’s example is not cherry picked, not a statistical outlier, nor is it an example of personal moral failing. Rather, her example is but one of the many victims of poverty as the gap between those with means and those without widens. Back in the 1960s, an executive like Dimon made 20 times more than the typical worker. Now they make 300 times more. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that real wages for most haven’t risen in nearly two decades. Trump takes credit for a booming economy, and Democrats may rightfully point out that our current upswing started under Obama. However, allow me to go a step further and say that no one of either party has done anything to alleviate the situation. In fact, most of the benefits of the Obama-era recovery were concentrated in the pockets of the ultra rich.
So how did this happen? It wasn’t by accident. It’s no coincidence that when Ronald Reagan weakened the formal barriers between Washington and lobbyists in the 1980s, executive earnings skyrocketed while antitrust sentiment languished. Industries have compelled politicians to rollback regulation so they may increase profit margins. More money has been used in turn to buy more political favors. It is for this reason that American wealth inequality was worse in 2012 than in 1774, even accounting for slavery, as reported by The Atlantic.
This is a problem. Mr. Dimon’s cavelier assertion that the woman whose story was brought before him could one day be a rich executive represents so much that is wrong with our country. The powerful have convinced us that the American Dream is alive and well, and that all we need to do is work hard to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps. They ignore the fact that the first millionaires were created by the government, and that they’ve placed unfair tax incidence on the middle class while leaving themselves cavernous loopholes. The government spends outrageous amounts of money on unnecessary wars, tax cuts for the wealthy and bailouts for big banks who gambled with our money. Then, when we decide to push for a stronger healthcare system and college which works for everyone, politicians condescendingly ask, “How will we pay for it?” Meanwhile, Amazon, owned by the world’s richest man, and Apple, briefly the world’s most valuable company, pay no taxes. Even our president, who called for Obama to reveal his birth certificate, has continuously refused to release his taxes.
When people speak, as I do, about gross inequality, a common critique is that we’re inciting class warfare. I’m unashamed to agree. Make no mistake, the revolving door between Washington and the private sector; the rhetoric portraying the poor as morally bankrupt and undeserving of help; the siphoning of money to the top at the expense of everyone else is class warfare—waged against us. Perhaps it’s time the 99% becomes cognizant of that.