For some reason—pathological liberalism? being in the pay of the Washington Post?—Matthew Yglesias wants to blur the distinction between worker and boss. In a strange post at his new Slate playpen (“CEO Pay Drives Inequality”), Yglesias declares the old “rhetoric about ‘workers’ is really a legacy of an outdated time.” Why, you might ask, when class distinctions have a salience not only in fact but in discourse that they haven’t seen in many decades? Because unlike the rentiers of old, today’s rich work hard.
Really, Matt, the point isn’t how hard you work, it’s what you take home. In 2010, the average big-company CEO pulled down $11.4 million. If you assume these “well-compensated wage slaves,” in Yglesias’ phrase, put in 3,000 hours a year, that works out to $3,800 an hour. Last month, the average nonsupervisory worker in the U.S. earned $19.54 an hour, or 0.5% as much as the CEO. That average not-so-well-compensated wage slave would have to work 292 years to match the boss’s paycheck (assuming a more conventional 2,000 hour workyear).
Seth Ackerman, from whom I learned of Yglesias’ curious epiphany, offers up this quote from Andrew Carnegie for historical perspective:
Working people have my full sympathy, and I always extend a helping hand. I am a workingman and in my young days worked in a cotton mill and ran an engine. In all my life I suppose I have done more work than any employee I have ever had.
At least Carnegie gave us a few libraries to remember him by. You have to wonder what today’s crop of CEOs will bequeath us as their legacy.