But most of America's rich actually saw their fortunes sink,
and significantly so, during the Great Depression.
The average incomes of the nation's richest tenth of 1
economist Emmanuel Saez, fell from $1,242,237 in 1928, the last full
year before the Great Depression, to $737,861 in 1931, as measured in
Our current Great Recession is most
definitely not repeating this sinking-at-the-top history. Our
rich today are more than holding their own.
But few "average" JPMorgan employees will make anywhere near
that $369,651 figure. Bonuses at JPMorgan -- and every other Wall Street
giant -- go disproportionately to top bankers and traders.
At Goldman Sachs, 35,700 employees will
"share" $15.4 billion in compensation for 2010, a $430,700 average,
down somewhat from 2009's $498,246 average. For Goldman execs, not to
worry. The $15.4 billion 2010 pay total doesn't include any of the
stock trading windfalls that Goldman's top executives -- the bank's 475
managing "partners" -- will soon be reaping.
U.S. employers, notes Leonhardt, now "operate
with few restraints." With labor protection laws loophole-ridden and
courts tilting aggressively the corporate way, companies can dictate
outright labor relations terms with their employees.
To maintain profit rates, these companies can downsize,
outsource, and replace full-timers with temps. Or shove down wages and
slash benefits. Or hoard cash and speculate on financial markets -- and
never have to worry that anyone in government will intervene.
We historically, here in the United States, have had a word
for power imbalances this striking and stark: plutocracy, or rule by
How long can this state of affairs continue? History can be a
guide -- and an inspiration, too. In the Great Depression, over five
years passed before Congress felt enough grassroots heat to start
passing the landmark bills -- like the Wagner labor rights legislation --
that truly upended America's power dynamics.
We're still only three years into the Great Recession. Wall
Street's bonus boys may not be as home-free as they think.
Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality published by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies. Read the current issue or sign up to receive Too Much in your email inbox.