By Jacob Vito
Earlier this month, JPMorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon released his annual letter to shareholders. But unlike what may have been initially expected, Dimon used the opportunity to go past figures and margins to talk about concepts like racial inequality, political unrest and working towards the greater good.
Statements like this have become far from unusual from Dimon, who has become a more progressive face among America’s CEOs. Recent actions by Dimon and others like him perhaps signal a new mindset for America’s wealthiest. Some have argued that such sentiments show the potential for kinder, more progressive executives that ought to become the new force for good in America.
But they shouldn’t.
Because even after all of his posturing towards forward-thinking ideas and stopping injustice, Dimon was paid $31.66 million during one of the worst economic crises of the last half-century. While millions suffered and starved Jamie Dimon walked away with a paycheck worth more than they’ll earn in their lives.
And Dimon’s not alone. During the pandemic, the world’s billionaires saw their wealth increase by $5 trillion total, with those like Tesla CEO Elon Musk raking in over $100 billion in wealth last year alone.
Such data shows a massive spike in the wealth of the already ultra-wealthy, but this kind of economic stratification is far from new. Wealth concentration has been steadily rising for the past 40 years, and those trends show no signs of stopping. In fact, the rich are on trend to be richer than they’ve been for the last 80 years.
However, let’s not dance around the obvious: wealth doesn’t come from nowhere. If one group is suddenly gaining large swaths of money, others must be losing something. And they were because while the richest Americans gained trillions of dollars, they pulled that wealth from America’s poorest.
Both across the years and during the coronavirus pandemic especially, the share of wealth controlled by non-wealthy Americans has been shrinking and shrinking. Wages compared to productivity have stagnated and formerly attainable financial goals like home or vehicle ownership are now slipping out of reach for much of the modern middle class.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly multiplied these trends. Due to lockdowns, many have lost the jobs they needed to pay their bills. And because of the restructuring and automation that occurred during the pandemic, it’s likely that many of those jobs won’t come back even after restrictions have been lifted.
XYZ. But through all of this data, an important question arises:
Why are we letting them get away with this?
There’s a famous quote from the American author John Steinbeck: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” We subconsciously hope that one day we’ll be the next Bezos, or Carnegie or Jobs, exploiting millions so that we can take our turn on top of the pyramid.
There’s only one problem with that: at any time, out of a country of 300 million, there can only be one richest man. The chances for the bulk of the population of finding real wealth are unbelievably slim. So realistically, we’re all better off in a fair economy than hoping that we win in an unfair one.
Put succinctly, for this country to be better we need to fundamentally shift the way we think about the economy from a position of greed to one that allows for a fairer world.
I won’t be the first to say that a change like this takes time. Such a shift in the American mindset may require years, if not generations, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary. Indeed, as this trend of growing wealth inequality pushes on, the fight for a fairer economy will only grow more important with time.
As long as we continue to hopelessly grasp that dream of success in a rigged game, we’ll continually miss the opportunities to better this country that lay right in front of us. Because today, there’s only ever one person who can own the world. But if we work to craft something better, if we build an economy that is fair to those who really labor in it, then we can all be kings together.
Jacob Vito is a first-year Community and Regional Development major at UC Davis. He is from western Pennsylvania.
Support our work – to become a sustaining at $5 – $10- $25 per month hit the link: