I think the real explanation for Trump’s election is the fact that millions of Americans feel they have been increasingly left further behind after each successive economic cycle recovery. When we plug inflation into the equation it reveals that in terms of real income the American middle and working class has been losing ground for decades. Politicians of both parties, however, studiously avoid any mention of this disparity. But Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders showed us there is plenty of dissatisfaction out there. And Trump understood exactly how to tap into it
In 1978 top U. S. corporate CEOs were compensated at a generous 30-1 ratio compared to American workers. But today this number had skyrocketed to an outrageous 335-1. The incomes of our wealthy elite and executive salaries are totally out of line with those in the rest of the industrialized world. How did things get this way? Mostly through Washington corporate lobbyists’ use of campaign contribution dollars to influence legislation favoring the top income brackets. Not some, but practically all senators and representatives feed bountifully at the corporate lobby trough. Just twenty years ago there were 500 lobbyists in Washington. Today the number is 12,000 and growing. No wonder things are so out of balance. American workers’ wages as a percentage of the overall economy are at an all-time low, exceeded only by Chile in the developed world.
From the post-World War II period through the 1970s American worker output increased at a 2.8% annual rate. Employee pay increases at a 2.6% average almost kept pace. But today, with productivity still rising 2.5% annually, workers’ wage increases average less than 1%. Today an increasingly greater share of corporate earnings goes toward greater profits and ever higher executive salaries.
Several studies both here and abroad have indicated that societies where incomes are more equitable have less crime and violence, lower infant mortality, higher life expectancy and less mental illness. There is also more trust among people where things are fairer.
We emerged from World War II the only major power with its infrastructure and industrial base still intact. While the rest of the world was rebuilding we dominated things militarily, industrially and financially. We enjoyed a virtual monopoly into the 1960s when the rest of the world began to catch up. By the 1980s Ronald Reagan’s conservative revolution of tax cuts for the wealthy, war on organized labor and the outsourcing of work overseas had further reduced an already-shrinking American middle class.
How do the wealthy elite and the corporations maintain this favorable (for them) imbalance? They give more or less equally to both political parties, thus assuring preferred access to government no matter who controls the White House and Congress. After the 2008 election the faces in the Treasury Department remained essentially the same, as did the policies.
I said this before the election and I’ll say it again: America is ready for a third political party; not just a party of protest, but one with a compelling message of change and one capable of electing a president, vice president and Congress. But so far I hear few rumblings. Are things not bad enough yet?
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.