Editorial: Workers deserve better (Rutland Herald)

On this Labor Day, think for a moment of the exploited workers in Mexico and China, two of the "developing nations" where many American jobs have fled over the past decade or so, as we have exported our manufacturing base.

Think about the difference in lifestyle between the wealth of the famously corrupt bureaucrats who run those countries and the poverty of the average worker, slaving away in sweatshops to earn a meager existence.

Now think again, because those two countries have about the same disparity between the top incomes and the bottom-level incomes as does the United States. The difference isn't the degree to which the parasites at the top are feeding off those less well-off, it's the overall health of the American economy. So as the economy starts to slide, what does that tell you about the middle-term future of the American working class?

This hasn't happened overnight. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, since 1969 "the long-term trend has been toward increasing income inequality." Between 1967 and 2003, the incomes of the lowest 20 percent of American families had grown less than $4,000, from $14,000 to a little less than $18,000, or 28 percent. In the same time period, the income of the top 20 percent had grown more than $31,000, from $55,000 to almost $87,000, or 57 percent. The farther up the ladder you go, the more skewed the numbers: The top 5 percent saw their income shoot up about 75 percent, from $89,000 to $154,000.

Meanwhile, the government supposedly "of the people, for the people, by the people" cut taxes for those top earners. Those who complained were accused of indulging in class warfare. Class warfare is the government helping the rich get richer at the expense of the poor, not complaining about it when it happens.

Part of the problem is the old saw that what's good for General Motors is good for the country. In 2005, GM lost $10.6 million. In 2006, its CEO, G. Richard Wagoner, "earned" a little more than $7 million, after having cut his actual salary, before perks, in half, to $1.1 million. He kept the $3.5 million in stock options and the $1.4 million in "incentive/retirement" money, though.

Wagoner's salary would be an outrage, except it's par for the course. In his 10-year tenure as the alleged leader of GM, the company stock slid to about one-sixth its starting value, thousands of blue-collar workers have been laid off, and he's banked tens of millions of dollars. Even when companies fail, their top executives walk away with enormous paychecks. Fail badly enough, and they might get a golden parachute.

"The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state."

Sounds like Karl Marx, doesn't it: From each according to their ability, to each according to their need? Only it's that most laissez-faire of capitalists, Adam Smith, from "The Wealth of Nations," recognizing that without the state's protection, laws and structure, capitalists could not make a profit, and so when they did, they should expect to pay the state accordingly in taxes.

Similarly, Smith expected capitalists to invest in their home countries, so its workers would be more prosperous and so able to buy more goods. But modern corporations have allegiance only to profit centers, not countries.

Until our government chooses to put the interests of American workers ahead of the interests of multinational corporations, through appropriate regulation and taxation, there will be little to celebrate on Labor Day.