The following is an email I received from Gregory Gore, the photographer, entitled “The Rule of 100”. He who was so distraught over the current condition of the world, he felt compelled to write and asked that we pass it along. It struck a chord with me so here it is:
When George Bush was re-elected I basically decided to go silent on politics. I decided that most people either don’t care about politics or have simply stopped paying attention to the important issues. In either case, I withdrew my voice out of a sense of hopelessness and despair.
Now I see so much going wrong in the world around us and feel so little inspiration for the candidates that have come forward for 2008 that I feel compelled to say something. Maybe my words will register somewhere and have a blowing in the wind effect. Maybe there are others who are thinking along the same lines. Maybe some conversations will get started on a national level about some of the issues that really matter to all of us.
For the moment, let’s forget 9/11. Yes, it was a tragic day and I will never truly forget the images I saw that day and the horror and revulsion I felt. Yes, I do sometimes worry about the broader threats of mass destruction that still linger out there inspired by the same forces that brought us 9/11. But, for a minute, let’s put that tragedy in perspective.
Let’s think about some of the bigger threats to our way of life that loom out there…many of them getting very little of the attention and resources that have been marshaled in the name of 9/11.
I have recently been watching one of my favorite BBC series on DVD: Planet Earth. If you haven’t seen it, then you should definitely buy it or rent it. The imagery is astounding and the series literally encompasses our entire globe. It is awe-inspiring to see the beauty and majesty and life of our planet. It is frightening to also see how rapidly things are changing.
The DVD series has segments that go behind the scenes into the making of the series. On thing that caught my attention was a bit where one of the producers wanted to film a mass migration of some unusual animal in the Far East. 15 years ago, the BBC filmed it for another series and there were millions of the animals stretching from horizon to horizon. They were unable to film it for this series, because the animals are now almost completely gone. The reason, as it turns out, is that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the people in the area where the animals live fell into such poverty that had to subsist on the animals and practically wiped out the population in 15 years time.
We have all heard about wildlife conservative and environmental havoc and poverty and war for years now. We have also heard about corporate greed and seen how middle class wages have gone stagnant while the wealthy elite have made huge gains. The average CEO now earns about 308 times as much as the median household income. Please note that household income is often the combination of two income earners pooling the resources and should therefore not be confused with an individual’s earnings. Median household income for the United States in 2006 was $48,000.00 according to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which is an international organization of those developed countries that accept the principles of reprentative democracy and a free market economy. That fact that a single average CEO earns about 308 times as much as the median household income is amazing and outrageous. It is also amazing that 45 million people are uninsured for health care in the richest country in the world. Poverty is known to be a breeding ground for crime. I am throwing out a lot of issues here, but the reason is because I think these things are connected. Greed and overconsumption are the forces that feed many of the ills of our world today. I strongly believe that we have to get our politicians to start addressing these issues. Whether we like it or not, America is a world leader. It needs to start acting like one. What kind of example does it show the world when we let our people rot in the streets and our corporations run rampant with callous greed? We talk about being competitive in a global environment, but do we offer free public college education to our populace to encourage the development of our national mind? We publicly talk against racism and slavery and what those things stand for, but in practice we allow those principles to thrive by continuing to allow the development of socio-economic caste systems from which few will escape.
We cannot save the environment or the endangered species without addressing poverty and greed. People who are able to meet their basic needs in life and still have some time and energy left over to think and to love and to care will be the ones to make a difference. As long as we as a society allow greed to rule the day, those types of people will too become endangered species. Before long we too will be living in a third world country. The time to act was yesterday, but it is not yet too late.
One novel idea I dreamed up to address the issue is something I call The Rule of 100. It is a simple concept: As a matter of public policy, no one in any organization can earn a total compensation of more than 100 times the hourly wage of the lowest paid worker whether that is a part time employee, a temporary worker, a full-time employee. It doesn’t matter. No loop holes. Is this a communist idea? Hardly! Communism was based on a notion of everyone being economically equal. That didn’t work in part, because it took away incentive for the best and the brightest to go the extra mile. However, The Rule of 100 is simply one concept of wealth distribution where the rewards of an organized effort could be shared a little more fairly. For example, if the lowest paid worker only earns $5.00 per hour, then the highest paid person in the organization could still earn $500.00 per hour. Not bad, if you ask me. At $500.00 per hour, that would equate to a salary of $1,040, 000.00 based on a 40 hour per week, 52 week per year calculation. To most of us, that is lottery money. However, The CEO of a Standard & Poor’s 500 company made on average $14.78 million in total compensation in 2006, according to a preliminary analysis by The Corporate Library according to www.aflcio.org. That comes out to $7,105.77 per hour. Staggering!! The compensation of celebrities has become even more outrageous. What do these people actually DO that makes them worth so much more than the rest of us? With The Rule of 100, the people at the top might find the incentive to pay the rest of us a little more in order to keep their own incomes high in the sky.
Politicians today generally represent this ruling class of the super-rich. They represent their interests while distracting and dividing the rest of us with hot-button issues such as abortion, gay rights, religion, immigration and….drum roll please…terrorism!! Has it ever occurred to anyone that there might not be as much crime or terrorism if there wasn’t so much human poverty and suffering in the world? America’s economy is described as a consumer economy and it is supposedly the richest economy in the world. Do you ever wonder what will happen in the world if that economy goes off the rails, because the driving engine (the middle class) has run out of fuel (disposable income)? How will we be in a position to influence other countries to adopt our way of life, our way of government when our socio-economic ills become so pronounced that we become an example of how NOT to run your country. Are we there yet?
We in America need to lead by example. We need to show the world that we are a prosperous, strong and capable nation to be emulated. Instead, we are becoming a symbol of internal decay and of the destruction of the environment. We are becoming the culprits of many global ills. China rightfully asks why we should ask them to curtail their development due to its destruction of the environment and rapid consumption of resources when we have never used such restraint ourselves? Are we becoming the villains of the world instead of the heroes? What do we really stand for anymore?
These are all questions and issues that need to be addressed by our politicians. We need to make them represent us. Our government is supposed to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Instead, it has become a government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. We need to take it back before it’s too late. The world just might hang in the balance.
A final thought: Is a doctor really worth that much more than a garbage collector? It might sound like a dumb question, but think about it a bit. If not for the garbage collector, trash would pile up and fester in urban areas. Disease would flourish. How many doctors would it take to deal with that? On a individual basis, a heart surgeon can be a lifesaver in a moment of dire need. Yes, we want to have them around. Yes, it takes a special kind of person and a lot of education to do that work. I understand all these things, but The Rule of 100 would not kill anyone’s motivation to excel. Many of us would go a few extra miles just to double our current income. With The Rule of 100, it would still be possible for most people to do a whole lot more than even quadrupling their income. The point of The Rule of 100 is that something must be done to reign in the greed and share the fruits of our labors. I’m sure there are better ideas out there.
All I know is that changes in the trends we’re seeing won’t be implemented voluntarily by CEOs, celebrities, business owners, trust fund babies, rich politicians or others in positions of financial power and influence. Greed and poverty are literally destroying the world….the only world we and future generations will ever have. Let’s speak up and demand action with our voices, our choices and our votes.
If you think my thoughts here have any merit, please pass this on. A few lonely voices combined can create a thunderous chorus and few novel ideas can fuel a revolution.