I have written before about the outrageous salaries being paid to some of those in charge of large public companies and the impact on our society as a whole caused by the disparity between their pay and those of the workers within those companies. In the May 28, 2017, issue of The New York Times, there is a listing titled “CEO Pay: The Rankings.” Number one is Thomas M. Rutledge of Charter Communications, which is described on line as “Charter Communications is an American telecommunications company, which offers its services to consumers and businesses under the branding of Spectrum.” In 2016 Mr. Rutledge’s total compensation was reported as being $98,012,344, which was a 499% increase over his total comp the previous year. 499%. I wonder if that’s enough for him to live on comfortably?
Granted, that’s total compensation not straight salary, which was a mere $2,000,000. Not surprisingly, I was not able to find the exact salaries for employees in Charter, but I did find a listing of average salaries in the telecommunications industry. For a software engineer the average salary was listed as being $79,178 in 2016. Another survey estimated that the average 2017 increase in salaries across various sectors would be about 3%, with Social Security payments soaring at a rate of .3%. Any way you look at this, it is a terrible comment on where our society is right now, and why we have growing problems between the 1% and the rest of us.
So, what I am intending to write about today does not, actually, have to do with CEO pay, but it does have to do with what, apparently, we most deeply value as a society. As an opening disclaimer I want to say that I love professional sports. I watch or listen to or record every San Francisco Giants game. I cheered as hard as anyone as the Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship for the second time in three years. And until this year I was an ardent San Francisco 49ers fan with season tickets for many years. I cannot, however, agree with Ann Killion, my favorite sports reporter in the San Francisco Chronicle, when she gives a resounding “YES” to the questions she asked her readers: “Is Curry worth his giant deal?” No, Ann he is not.
For those of you outside the SF Bay Area, Stephen Curry, or Steph as he is known, just negotiated a new contract with the Golden State Warriors for $201,000,000 over 5 years. And it is estimated that he earns over $35,000,000 per year in endorsements. Maybe Mother Theresa’s work was worth this money, but very, very few other people make that kind of contribution to our world, and certainly no corporate leader or sports figure or Hollywood celebrity or rock star.
By way of quick comparison, the average salary for kindergarten teachers in Contra Costa County, which is where I think the Curry family lives, is reported as being $56,040 with a median salary of $52,470. The average firefighter’s salary there is $54,980-$88,800 plus overtime. But there apparently is an ongoing controversy about how overpaid firefighters there are. I do not know and never will know for sure, but my hunch is that the larger percentage of people living in Contra Costa Country agree with Ann Killion when she says Steph Curry definitely is worth $201,000,000 over five years. See how out of line our values are?
And it does not help if some highly paid CEO’s or sports figures do some good things with all their money. I applaud their actions, and yet. . . what would happen if the top 10% of highly paid sports figures took a permanent 75% reduction in pay and redirected it to the pay of civil servants in their area and to lowering the cost of admission to their games so more families could again afford to attend? Or if the top 10% of highly paid CEO’s took a permanent 90% reduction in total compensation and divided it among the salaries of the lowest 50% paid in their companies?
I suspect some of you are laughing and others are rolling their eyes. I agree that these suggestions sound fanciful, at best. But we need to do something dramatic to stop the direction we are going toward ever increasing greed, toward more and more and more while the largest percentage of others have less and less and less. This trajectory we are on is not sustainable. It is unconscionable now, and it will be disastrous later.
Is this enough? Yes, right now it is enough. Let each of us decide that we must take some individual or collective action right now, however large or small, to change the course we are on. If you agree with me on this, what will you do?