UNCsystemBe sure to check out this morning’s front page Progressive Voices commentary over on the main Policy Watch site by Appalachian State professor Michael Behrent. In it, Behrent decries the massive expansion in the number of highly paid university system administrators and calls on the chancellors of the various UNC campuses to return the fat raises bestowed upon them by the Board of Governors. This is from Behrent’s essay:

“Seriously, though: as contemptuous as the Board of Governors’ decision is of faculty and students everywhere, chancellors have options. Like a handful of rare but inspiring university leaders across the country, they can resist administrative bloat and academic inequality by simply refusing the new salary hikes….

These university leaders set an example UNC chancellors should follow: they should renounce the Board of Governors pay increase. They should make it clear that they cannot be bought. And they should openly declare that a vibrant system of higher public education means investing in faculty, staff, and students. It does not mean handsome rewarding the agents entrusted with dismantling it.”

Some of the substance of Behrent’s piece is echoed in an editorial this morning in Raleigh’s News & Observer entitled “Spread the wealth to NC state workers.” As the N&O notes, the root of the flawed salary structure has much to do with the trickledown tax policies of the General Assembly:

“But the awarding of these raises at the executive level spotlights the need for the General Assembly to do more than award a one-time $750 bonus to faculty and staff and state employees. The on-the-cheap treatment of all those employees is going to cost the state valuable workers and set up a teacher shortage.

Do legislative leaders not see the irony here, that people who are already among the highest paid in the state get raises of tens of thousands of dollars retroactive to the start of the fiscal year on July 1, while regular employees get a relatively small bonus?

The problem, of course, is that Republican legislators have reduced state revenue by cutting taxes for the wealthiest North Carolinians and big business. After the rich get richer, there’s not much left for the rank and file.”

Sadly, there is little mystery about what’s going on here. As is noted in the post immediately below, the folks running North Carolina right now are employing precisely the same tactics that modern American capitalists have used to transform our once broadly middle class society into, effectively, a plutocracy. And unless caring and thinking people wake up and fight back, even our public institutions and structures will soon be poisoned and transformed by this toxic and destructive trend.


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Princeton economist Angus Deaton, who was named a Nobel Prize winner today, is best known in his field for his work showing that consumption choices and other individual factors — as opposed to those of larger groups as a whole — may provide better insight into the workings of the economy.

But as Vox points out here, Deaton also  authored this book, The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, in which he makes a compelling case as to “why income inequality in society as a whole is a threat to democracy — and why worrying about it isn’t just class warfare or resentment.”

Quoting Deaton:

The political equality that is required by democracy is always under threat from economic inequality, and the more extreme the economic inequality, the greater the threat to democracy. If democracy is compromised, there is a direct loss of wellbeing because people have good reason to value their ability to participate in political life, and the loss of that ability is instrumental in threatening other harm.

The very wealthy have little need for state-provided education or health care… They have even less reason to support health insurance for everyone, or to worry about the low quality of public schools that plagues much of the country. They will oppose any regulation of banks that restricts profits, even if it helps those who cannot cover their mortgages or protects the public against predatory lending, deceptive advertising, or even a repetition of the financial crash. To worry about these consequences of extreme inequality has nothing to do with being envious of the rich and everything to do with the fear that rapidly growing top incomes are a threat to the well being of everyone else.

Read more on Professor Deaton here.


Rep. Barbara Lee

Rep. Barbara Lee (Photo:

We’re now a decade and a half into the 21st Century and the notion that our nation’s runaway inequality is going to get any better anytime soon via the “genius of the market” has been shown to be utter nonsense. To the contrary, the incomes of the nation’s ruling class continue to skyrocket at such an astounding rate that the idea of the U.S. as a “middle class society” has come to seem quaint.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that congressional Republicans can’t get their act together to do much of anything.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. If a majority of the members of Congress possessed a modicum of courage and common sense, they’d be rushing through this bill as soon as possible.

As Congresswoman Barbara S. Lee of California explained here about the Income Equity Act of 2015 that she introduced last week:

“Few realize that CEO bonuses and ‘performance pay’ are subsidized by the American people. Corporations are given major tax breaks for providing exorbitant compensation.

Surely we can agree that corporations don’t need taxpayers to subsidize massive CEO pay?—?pay that’s grown nearly 1000 percent since 1978.

In America, corporations and executives are playing with a deck stacked against hardworking families.

And the Republican response to this profound income inequality has been a collective yawn.

It’s wrong for any business to keep workers in poverty while padding CEO’s wallets.

It’s even worse that some of these same businesses take huge tax deductions for millions in bonuses.

Clearly, our tax code is not designed to work for all Americans?—?just the select few.

My bill, the Income Equity Act, prohibits employers from taking tax deductions for excessive compensation—defined as any pay more than 25 times that of the company’s median wage worker or $500,000.

Congress should get to work for hardworking families, not millionaires and billionaires that want to get even richer on the backs of taxpayers.”

Amen, Congresswoman.


The good people at Too Much Online – a newsletter put out by the group have an interesting and provocative idea that would seem guaranteed to improve the image of  America’s nonprofit community (which has been suffering from depressed contributions of late) and help combat the nation’s runaway inequality: cap nonprofit CEO salaries.

“Jack Gerard, the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, pulled down $13.3 million in compensation last year. Yet his Institute operates as a ‘nonprofit’ — and reaps a variety of tax benefits from that status. In effect, average Americans are subsidizing this lobbying giant for the fossil fuels industry. Back in 1998, a member of Congress from New Jersey, Robert Menendez, introduced legislation to cap the salary that nonprofit executives could grab at no more than the salaries of U.S. cabinet secretaries, currently just under $200,000. That legislation never moved. But economist Dean Baker recently resurrected the notion of limiting the executive pay nonprofits could dish out and still qualify for nonprofit status. That limit could be tied to the ratio between a nonprofit’s CEO and typical worker pay. The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act requires for-profit corporations to disclose this ratio. Menendez introduced this disclosure mandate provision.”

Sounds like a good idea to us. As economist Dean Baker notes in the column cited above (which discusses the idea of capping the pay of university presidents):

“The universities will also complain that they cannot get qualified people for $400,000 a year. This one should invite a healthy dose of ridicule. If we can get qualified people to run the Defense Department and Department of Health and Human Services for half this amount, perhaps their school is not the sort of institution that deserves taxpayer support if it can’t find anyone willing to make the sacrifice of running the place for twice the pay of a cabinet secretary.

Free market economics is so much fun!”