If Charles Dickens were alive today, he’d have no trouble recognizing modern-day Scrooges.
Just like the old Scrooge, the corporate Scrooges of today are hoarding their wealth rather than helping to create general prosperity. Corporations are sitting on a record $2 trillion in profits but refuse to bring investment, employment, wages and benefits back to pre-recession levels. Instead, corporate executives are spending billions on their own compensation and $445 billion to buy back the stock of their own companies.
Just like the old Scrooge, the corporate Scrooges want austerity for the many and prosperity for the few. For instance, over the last three years, Verizon earned $21.5 billion in U.S. pre-tax profits and gave $181 million to its top five executives. But it eliminated 40,000 jobs and is demanding $1 billion in concessions from its 45,000 union-represented workers - an average $22,000 cut per worker.
Just like the old Scrooge, the corporate Scrooges have been confronted with the consequences of their actions. They have been challenged by the spirits of economic crises past (Great Depression), present (the Great Recession) and Future (an impending Great Stagnation). These spirits teach us the causes of economic crises: the massive transfer of income to the top 1 percent; the unregulated use of deposits in financial institutions for wildly speculative schemes rather than investment in production; cuts in government investment, spending and employment; and cuts in workers’ wages and benefits.
However, the old Scrooge — unlike the corporate Scrooges — paid attention to the lessons taught by the spirits of the past, present and future. He transformed himself into the “New Scrooge” by understanding the consequences of his actions. The old Scrooge saw his worker as a cost to be minimized. The new Scrooge provided a living wage with good benefits, “I’ll raise your salary and endeavor to assist your struggling family.”
The old Scrooge had the goal of accumulating and hoarding his wealth. The new Scrooge had the goal of shared prosperity and recognized the importance of providing direct assistance to all those in need, “to think of people below… as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
We should take the same two steps as the new Scrooge: Provide decent wages, benefits and respect for all workers and a social safety net for all those in need.
By implementing such policies, we will put into practice the economic lesson Dickens taught us in A Christmas Carol: that each of us will be better off when all of us are better off. Prosperity for the 100 percent is surely better than austerity for the 99 percent.
Kenneth R. Peres is an economist with the Communications Workers of America. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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