Arkansas’s only Republican congressman generally sticks with those of the same unprogressive feather, but, gripped in a fit of enlightenment, John Boozman was one of a small band of House Republicans who joined a large majority of Democrats to pass legislation giving shareholders a say on the extravagant compensation packages awarded corporate executives by their cronies. All three Arkansas Democrats — Vic Snyder, Mike Ross and Marion Berry — voted for the bill too.
The ever-so-revealing remarks of fellow Republicans may be what drove Boozman over the line. Even with the gap between rich and poor Americans greater than it’s ever been and still growing; even with executives paid thousands of times what their workers make ($14.78 million a year is average compensation for CEOs of the biggest American companies), Republicans still are solicitous of the CEOs, not the workers. House members who casually deny the rights of individuals, as in the anti-abortion bill upheld by the Supreme Court last week, insist that Congress stay out of corporate affairs. The Republican philosophy couldn’t be expressed more plainly.
Before we get carried away with admiration for John Boozman — not a problem heretofore — let’s note that while the shareholders bill deserves to pass, it will have little effect on the larger problem, which is the vast inequality of income in America. The shareholders’ recommendations on executive compensation will not be binding under the bill, and even if they were binding, shareholders won’t reduce executives’ pay as long as the value of their own shares is rising, and shareholder returns have generally risen alongside CEO pay. Workers’ pay has not.
The gulf between the super-rich few and the struggling majority is as stark in Arkansas as anywhere. Last year, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott Jr. earned 900 times as much as the average Wal-Mart worker. The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce at this very moment is fighting federal legislation that would make it easier for workers to join labor unions. The American middle class was created in large part by labor unions. Arkansas has stayed near the bottom of the states economically because of a dearth of union workers — who, incidentally, would have money to buy the goods and services that Chamber members sell.
To achieve a fair and prosperous America, the policies of recent years must be reversed. No more handouts in the form of tax cuts for the very wealthy. Raise the income tax rate on them instead; they won’t feel it, but beneficiaries of the tax increase will. Keep the estate tax. Stop trying to privatize Social Security and Medicare out of existence — those programs have given elderly Americans a chance to live out their lives with some dignity. Think a little more of others.