EDITORIAL: New Gilded Age bodes badly for middle class

June 7, 2014 

The median pay package for a CEO in this country has now climbed past $10 million. What this means, among other things, is that a retired corporate executive can cheerfully drop $2 billion on a National Basketball Association team.

How rich are the super rich?

So rich just in California that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison -- one of the billionaires who was outbid for the Los Angeles Clippers by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer -- could have bought that team and still had enough cash to buy, oh, a couple of California counties.

So rich that record tycoon David Geffen could have purchased the Clippers and still paid off the student loans of every kid in the UC system.

Of course, it's another story for the 38 million-plus Californians who aren't among the 111 billionaires on Forbes' list occupying the courtside seats of the state's economy.

For everyone else, this is a state where a median-priced house is now nearly eight times the state's median income, and where, according to Redfin Research, more than 80% of the homes are unaffordable on a teacher's salary.

Where the income gap between the top 1% and the middle 20% has doubled in a generation. Where the long-ago promise of a free education for every Californian has given way to soaring student debt and steep hikes in tuition and fees.

Not that basketball isn't fun, and not that successful executives aren't to be applauded, but at what point do we do more than gape at our economic disparity?

A bill that would have addressed the income gap by tying corporate tax rates to executive compensation was killed recently in the state Senate. Authored by Democratic Sens. Mark DeSaulnier and Loni Hancock, SB 1372 would have encouraged corporations to keep CEO pay below, say, 100 times the pay of the median worker.

The bill was put down with the efficiency of a LeBron James jump shot. No wonder that the people's best-seller lists herald a different sort of MVP -- the French economist with the book on our new Gilded Age and its perils, Thomas Piketty.

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