Americans may not know the exact numbers (e.g., about wealth inequality or the CEO-to-worker pay gap). But, as it turns out, they’re very clear that their country is characterized by declining opportunity and growing inequality.
According to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute,
Americans across the political spectrum and from all walks of life are deeply concerned that the American economic system is not fair. What’s more, concerns about the fairness of the economic system have increased significantly over the past year.
For example, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans believe that “one of the big problems in this country is that we don’t give everyone an equal chance in life,” while fewer than three in ten (28 percent) believe that “it is not really that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others.” Concerns about the lack of equal opportunity have increased considerably since 2010, when 53 percent said that one of the big problems in the United States was the lack of equal opportunities for all.
Here are some of the other findings in the survey:
There is widespread agreement that the current economic system is heavily tilted in favor of the wealthy. Nearly eight in ten (79%) Americans agree that the economic system unfairly favors the wealthy, compared to roughly one in five (21%) who disagree. Current views represent an increase of 13 percentage points from 2012, when 66% of Americans agreed.
negative feelings toward large business corporations in the U.S. have also increased in recent years. Eighty-four percent of Americans agree that business corporations do not share enough of their success with their employees, compared to 15% who disagree. These negative views are up 15 percentage points from the previous year, when 69% of the public agreed that American businesses were not sharing enough of their profits with their workers. There is broad agreement with this assessment across a range of demographic groups.
The public today remains less confident that hard work is the key to economic success. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans agree that hard work is no guarantee of success, while more than one-third (35%) disagree. Current sentiments represent a 10-point increase since 2013, when 54% of Americans agreed with this statement.
More than three-quarters (76%) of the public supports raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. Support has ticked up slightly since last year, when 69% of Americans expressed support for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
Americans overwhelmingly support requiring companies to provide all full-time employees with paid sick days if they or an immediate family member gets sick, and requiring companies to provide all full-time employees with paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. Eighty-five percent of Americans favor paid sick leave and 82% support paid parental leave.
Americans correctly understand that both declining opportunity and increasing inequality are significant problems in their country.
The question now is, what are they going to do about it?
Last week, in our discussion of The Theory of the Leisure Class, we decided to add “conspicuous philanthropy” to Thorstein Veblen’s conspicuous leisure and consumption. I used Bill Gates as an example.
One of the students just sent me a link to Linsey McGoey’s article on a relatively new dimension of philanthropy, the “business of altruism”—the growing trend of foundation grants directed towards private corporations.
And, as it turns out, the Gates Foundation is there, too:
In 2014, the Gates Foundation announced an $11 million grant to Mastercard to establish a financial inclusion “lab” in Nairobi, Kenya. The grant will last three years, after which Mastercard has indicated that, should the venture prove sufficiently lucrative, the company may be willing to foot the bill for further financial expansion in the region.
Mastercard’s management rationalized the grant in economic terms: investing in developing nations such as Kenya is risky, and there’s no guarantee that investments will pay off. As Mastercard explains in a press release, the money from the Gates Foundation enables the company to reach “new markets that may otherwise be commercially unviable.”
The gift to Mastercard — and it is a gift, rather than a loan or an equity investment — is the latest in a long list of donations that the Gates Foundation has offered to the world’s wealthiest corporations. From Vodafone, a British company notorious for paying zero corporate tax in the United Kingdom, to leading education companies such as Scholastic Inc., the Gates Foundation doesn’t simply partner with for-profit companies: it subsidizes their bottom-line. . .
The Gates Foundation has insisted that the private sector should play a stronger role in global development and now regularly subsidizes corporations who want to turn education, health care, and poverty alleviation into business ventures. A few years ago it seemed outlandish that a highly profitable company like Mastercard was receiving philanthropic grants.
But the the role of foundations is evolving rapidly and soon it may seem odd that charity was once designated for those living in poverty; those who have no housing; those fleeing situations of domestic abuse; those reliant on food banks; those bankrupted by skyrocketing medical bills, and not to a multinational company taking a taxpayer-funded bet on the idea that what the poor really need is a new credit card.
This new gospel of private-private justice, “with a nod to Adam Smith that market expansion is a naturally philanthropic process,” puts conspicuous philanthropy in a whole new light.
Remember Gravity Payments, the company that established a $70,000 minimum wage?
Well, according to Paul Keegan [ht: sm], things have been going pretty well since the change was made.
Six months after Price’s announcement, Gravity has defied doubters. Revenue is growing at double the previous rate. Profits have also doubled. Gravity did lose a few customers: Some objected to what seemed like a political statement that put pressure on them to raise their own wages; others feared price hikes or service cutbacks. But media reports suggesting that panicked customers were fleeing have proved false. In fact, Gravity’s customer retention rate rose from 91 to 95 percent in the second quarter. Only two employees quit — a nonevent. Jason Haley isn’t one of them. He is still an employee, and a better paid one.
But there is one problem:
the biggest threat to [Dan] Price’s company isn’t his strategy; it’s his brother. Lucas’s lawsuit, scheduled to be heard in May, could ruin Gravity. Price estimates legal fees will reach $1 million by then. The suit was filed on April 24, 11 days after the pay-raise announcement — perhaps to pressure Dan to sell when Gravity was in the limelight, thus maximizing the value of Lucas’s share. Dan says Lucas has refused his offer to buy him out for $4 to $5 million. (Lucas’s attorney says the suit is unrelated to the raises.)