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For Minimum Decency, A Maximum Wage

Amid rising inequality, a new book argues, the notion of capping income has suddenly become politically plausible.

"Income and wealth have concentrated to a degree unimaginable in the early 1990s."(Photo: Steve Rhodes/flickr/cc)

"Income and wealth have concentrated to a degree unimaginable in the early 1990s."(Photo: Steve Rhodes/flickr/cc)

In the United States today, a just-released Federal Reserve report informs us, over a fifth of the nation’s families simply cannot afford to “pay all of their current month’s bills in full.”

Over a quarter of families, the report goes on, skip “necessary medical care” because they can’t afford the cost. And an even greater share — 40 percent — wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected expense of $400 without having to borrow cash or sell something they own.

In other words, many millions of American households have essentially almost nothing in the way of savings. And not much in the way of income either. Two out of every five Americans, the new Federal Reserve study details, have annual household incomes less than $40,000.

Meanwhile, at the other end of America’s economic spectrum, we have households raking in much more than $40,000 every day. Half the CEOs at America’s 200 biggest corporations now make over $336,538 per week, according to a review of 2017 corporate compensation that Equilar, a pay consulting firm, has just completed for the New York Times.

These top execs and their fellow wealthy can afford to handle any personal emergency life may throw their way. More importantly, they can also afford to buy a level of political influence that turns their needs — and their needs alone — into national priorities.

The end result? We find ourselves in a United States where nearly half the nation lives at the edge of economic disaster while government wallows in a “gridlock” that magically vanishes only when lawmakers have a chance to enrich the already rich.

So what do we do about all this? Maybe we need to start thinking more boldly about solutions to our ever-widening economic divide. One such solution: a maximum wage.

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