Brodie Farquhar: American dream
Kudos to reporter Tom Ross and his focus on affordable housing in Sunday’s “The American Dream – Is it still alive in Steamboat Springs?”
A Monday letter to the editor from Robert Boyd, a worker bee who pays $1,350 a month for a studio apartment, attempted to answer the previous day’s question about the American Dream. Boyd railed against the businesses and 10-percenters who reap the rewards of hard-working employees but don’t pay a living wage or invest in affordable housing.
As a curmudgeon in training, allow me to provide some historical context.
When I graduated from high school in 1970, average CEO pay was 30 times the pay of the average worker in that business or industry. Today, the average CEO pay is over 300 times average worker pay.
Are today’s CEOs harder working, smarter, more creative than their counterparts back in 1970? Do they deserve that level of income? Did they earn it? Or did they just take it because they could?
From the ’50s through ’70s, worker pay tracked closely with increasing worker productivity, according to the Economic Policy Institute. That parallel tracking ran off the rails beginning in 1980. While worker productivity continued to rise, worker pay leveled off and has been stagnant ever since. Inflation has disguised this disparity, but when inflation factors are controlled in economic analysis, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class/working class are hanging on by torn and bleeding fingernails.
The nation has not seen this level of income or wealth disparity since the Gilded Age, the era of the Robber Barons in the late 1800s, when captains of industry and finnance bought senators, representatives, judges and entire legislatures. Income inequality was moderated by the Great Depression and the progressive policies of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, who essentially saved capitalism (and capitalists) from their own excesses. The power of the richest was dampened by high, progressive tax rates – at one time, 92 percent.
The whole picture is complicated by globalization, technology, education and government taxation/regulation. Economists can and do argue endlessly about what’s produced income/wealth inequality and what can or should be done about it, if anything.
What we have here in Steamboat is a microcosm of the nation. We, the workers who make this place function, cater to the top 20 percent, who range from vacationers of the top middle class, to the top 1 percent and 0.01 percent who build vacation mansions that they use maybe a week or two in the year.
Increasingly, workers commute from Hayden and Craig, just to find affordable or barely-affordable housing. The trend lines are not sustainable. Things are getting worse for workers and ever better for the top 20-10-1-0.01 percenters.
Something’s gotta give. The danger is that if there is no peaceful change, or possibility of peaceful change, what’s left?
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