FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Maxing Out

by JOHNNY E. WILLIAMS

Tackling income inequality through the minimum wage alone is an inadequate way to counter the economy’s anti-egalitarian tendencies. The minimum wage exists because the federal government recognizes the economy undervalues the average worker’s contribution and fails to provide a fair livable wage. Conversely, the economy’s overvaluing a few people’s contribution is also in need of governmental oversight. Since the government believes the economy is not a reliable gauge for determining how little is too little, it cannot assume the “market” is capable of determining how much is too much. Given this it is incumbent on the federal government to implement an income ceiling to eliminate the extreme income disparity between top and average wage earners.

Before dismissing the maximum wage idea outright, consider President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s call for 1942 maximum wage of $25,000 a year (in 2012 dollars $364,000) as a means to fuel economic growth and reduce income inequality. In a recent Le Monde Diplomatique article Sam Pizzigati of the Institute for Policy Studies revealed that two short years after President Roosevelt’s proposal, Congress increased the top tax rate to 94% for individual incomes over $200,000 (in 2012 dollars $2.6 million) The 94¢ tax on every dollar over $200,000 limit help initiate the longest period of economic growth for the middle class in U.S. history. This tax rate remained in place until President Lyndon Johnson dropped it to under 70% in the late 1960s. About two decades later President Reagan reduced the rate to 50% and then to 28% in 1988 before it settled at today’s 35% rate. But this tax rate overstates the rich’s tax burden given that most of their income comes from 15% capital gains tax on profits acquired from buying and selling stocks, bonds and assets. This tax rate is about the same as that for working Americans earning between $50,000 and $75,000 before itemized deductions and exemptions.

Opponents of the maximum wage assert that cutting the top tax rates rather than increasing them will spark revenue and job growth. Their “trickle down” rationale assumes that making the rich richer will create good paying jobs, making working people more prosperous. But the trickle down approach and other piecemeal provisions like the minimum wage, earned income tax credit, and other minimalist economic programs and policies have proven ineffective in reversing the growth in income inequality over the last four decades. The ineffectiveness of such programs and policies is apparent in Emmanuel Saez’s recently released study showing that during the current recession one-percenters captured 93 percent of the income growth in both 2009 and 2010. In real dollar terms this means that the bottom 90% income on average declined $127 while the top 1% income increased $106,000.

One of the most proficient ways to restart job growth and alleviate poverty and inequality is to impose a maximum allowable wage tied to minimum wage and enforced through a progressive income tax. The maximum is set at a specific multiple (maybe twenty five times) of the minimum wage, so that all income over the multiple limit is subject to a 95% to 100% tax. Limiting and linking average and top wages earners in this way will help Americans clearly see that poverty and suffering is necessary for an individual to accumulate wealth.

The fact is that income and wealth inequality impedes economic recovery, and efficiency and stability because it weakens demand for goods and services. By implementing a maximum wage the government could generate billions in revenue that can be invested in health, education, technology and infrastructure maintenance in ways that ensure the economy is sustainable, productive and efficient.

Europeans, especially those dealing with economic austerity measures, are already debating how to enact a maximum wage policy to ameliorate economic calamity. The idea of the maximum wage is also starting to resonate in the United States with a public that is increasingly aware of the destructive and anti-democratic consequences of lopsided disparities in income and wealth. This emerging awareness encourage people to question and challenge the legitimacy of economic values and a political system that, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it: “permit necessities to be taken from the many to give luxuries to the few.”

Johnny E. Williams is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Trinity College.                

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
Rob Seimetz
Measuring Manhoods
Edward Curtin
Sorry, You’re Not Invited
Vern Loomis
Winning the Lottery is a State of Mind
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mary V. Dearborn’s “Ernest Hemingway”
David Yearsley
The Ethos of Mayfest
May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail