Panel discusses the politics of wealth and wages on the CWA’s last day
A Conference on World Affairs panel met in Macky Auditorium on Friday to discuss the inequities of wealth and wages in America and how politics and power affect this disparity.
The panel, which consisted of Paul Krugman, Jurek Martin and Joy Zarembka, spoke to a full auditorium about the different ways that inequality of wealth in America manifests, whether through CEOs getting paid 300 times more than their employees or the construction of lavish $60 million dollar mansions.
“Our self perception has not caught up with reality,” said Krugman, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times and a professor at Princeton University. “We are in a situation where a large part of the population thinks they are middle class, but can’t afford health care or pay their mortgage.”
In addition to this, Krugman said, there is a misconception that financial success is all about education. While he admitted that this notion is not entirely false, he pointed out that on average, CEOs and high school teachers have had the same number of years of education, and it is common knowledge that their pay is nowhere near to being equal.
“CEOs are getting away with murder,” Krugman said. “Something extraordinary has happened, and if you look closely, it really seems to be the politics behind the economics.”
Panelist Jurek Martin agreed with this sentiment, adding that the corruption of international organizations is another serious matter. Martin, a columnist for the Financial Times, criticized World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz for the promotion and pay increase of $10,000 that he gave to his girlfriend Shaha Riza at the State Department. According to Martin, this is a perfect example of how power and politics can, and unfortunately do, affect wealth and wages.
“How lucky we are in the Paul Wolfowitzs, the Duke Cunninghams, and the Bushs,” Martin added with a laugh. “If these people were able to be a little more restrained, keep their hands out of the cookie jar and say, ‘There are some things I just can’t take for myself,’ they wouldn’t get caught and boy, would we be in trouble!”
Joy Zarembka, executive director of the Break The Chain Campaign, provided a lesser known angle on this topic. Zarembka works with migrant women from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America who have come to America under visas provided by diplomats to work as their household help. According to Zarembka, many of these women are practically slaves, getting paid $1 an hour if at all, and are often times physically or mentally abused. Their employers sometimes use fear tactics, saying Americans are crazy and will kill them, or threatening to take away their passport or visa to keep them from seeking help, Zarembka said.
“I am shocked that this is actually happening on U.S. soil,” Zarembka said. “It’s strange that diplomats from the U.N. who are doing such great work are the same people who abuse their nannies and household help.”
Taking all of these components of disparity into consideration, Krugman compared modern American wealth distribution to the inequality present in the gilded age.
“As of 2005, we have returned to a level of inequality that was present back in 1928,” Krugman said. “The Great Gatsby era is back.”
To Roy Ostenson, an 86-year-old member of the audience, the topics discussed reminded him of the way things were in the 1930s, right before the country went into depression.
“It’s a repetition of what has happened,” Ostenson said. “There are enormous inequities and there will be some sort of correction to even it out. Whether it will be a gentle or terrible correction remains to be seen.”
Contact Marisa Ware at email@example.com.