On my first trip to New York City, must have been around 1972, when I was a fledgling court manager, a friend showed me a sign on a building. Wait – it wasn’t just a sign that was hung on a building or in a window. The words were etched into the stone facade of the building itself, not unlike one might see on a statue. Or a tombstone.
The words were the title of this article, all in capital letters in a style that evokes memories of a Mel Brooks film title: “TOO MUCH IS NOT ENOUGH.” I am reasonably certain the person responsible for those words chiseled them in that stone with tongue firmly placed in cheek, but those five words came to symbolize for me the attitude of too many people when it comes to money, cars, houses, electronics, vacations, etc.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Around 1995 I met a young couple at a party. I knew they had just built a 6,000+ square foot house. I asked them if they had any children, an innocent enough question in an informal social setting. Or so I thought. They proceeded to lecture me on government and how they could not afford to have children because the government took too much of their money in taxes. Which left me to wonder, among other things, how often they were able to see each other in their 6,000+ square feet. That probably also contributed to the no children situation. The probability of bumping into each other in a large house, not the taxes.
Then this fine Carolina June morning along comes the Sunday News & Observer with an article from the Charlotte Observer (I guess there is little news in Charlotte, just things to observe) about the Charlotte Observers “Annual Executive Compensation Report.” The article contained photos of mostly smiling North Carolina executives – and I’d smile too, though it would be a slightly sheepish, possibly even embarrassed smile – the 2012 compensation for whom ranged from $544,500 to $7,757,046. The increases the group received over their 2011 compensation I calculate to range from $26,625 to $2,442,363.
Even the least of the increases, $26,625, amounts to what a lot of jobless U.S. citizens would love to earn. Today.
I don’t agree with the various studies and reports that claim the income disparity in our country has widened so much that we should take money away from some and give it to others. The math for that idea doesn’t work anyway. But I do think there is evidence to suggest that there are just too many people who aren’t sharing in our country’s good fortune. But that can’t be resolved by taking a few million from the 1 or 2%, because Mitt Romney’s famous 47% is too big a number. The math doesn’t work.
What I do suggest is that when executives or anybody else are piling up so much they can’t possibly spend it in two lifetimes while millions can’t even find a job – that’s a recipe for something more than discontent. It’s a spirit thing akin to those who speculate that since we made no sacrifices -material sacrifices such as rationing – for the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns – those have dragged on way too long, costing way too much in lives and fortune, because nobody back home was hurting. Except, of course, for the thousands of fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and others who lost their loved ones.
When down and out people read about executives who make 10, 20, 30, 100 times or more what they earned in their best years, there exists a perceived reason to think that it is all unfair, that there is no use even trying, that it will never get any better.
It’s a spirit thing. And to me it is clear that millions of our fellow citizens can’t earn enough or even get a job. They are dispirited.