The Top 1% Of Americans, The Top 10%, And Then; The Rest Of Us

A lot has been said lately about how great the stock market is doing so, to many, this means that the American economy is doing great.  News flash for those who do not already know it, the stock market is not the be-all-end-all that says that the economy is doing great.  It is a part of what determines the health of the American economy but it is certainly not the be-all-end-all indicator of how the economy is doing.  Why?  Because the top 1% of Americans own 49% of stock, the top 10% own 89%, and the bottom 50% of Americans own only 1% of stock.  So, the top 1% of Americans soar, the top 9% glide, and the bottom 50%…well, they do whatever.  In the meantime, the economy just motors along until it finds its way.

After this very brief lesson on the American economy, I cannot resist adding a lamentation on how overall wealth distribution impacts on the everyday American.  I am sure that somewhere along the way during the more than a decade that I have been posting articles to this blog, I must have lamented the special attention paid to the rich by the American government and the waning attention, if not complete neglect, paid to everyday Americans.  With the downward spiral that our government is in right now, I am compelled to again express my frustration with its disparate treatment of everyday Americans when compared to that of the top 10 percent of them.

It is obvious that the rich are given greater consideration than are everyday Americans when it comes to how our government and its great institutions treat one group versus the other.  It is likely that everyday Americans are treated differently from our rich counterparts because the rich have greater access, just one of their perks, to those in power; our elected officials.  They constantly have the ears of these officials readily available to them through their highly paid lobbyists; lobbyists who likely constantly remind these politicians, just by virtue of being there, who their big money contributors are.  Although everyday Americans know that the rich are given special treatment, we have disregarded it: we know that we cannot do anything about it because we have tried and failed so many times in the past.

Everyday Americans use to feel some small degree of comfort because we had, at least, a few senators and representatives advocating for us.  We had a few government organizations in place that were fighting for us.  Even if they were not successful in closing that gap of special treatment, they were continuing to fight to keep it from widening.  They were relentless in their mitigation on behalf of the larger percentage of Americans who are the target of this disparate treatment despite that there are no lobbyists constantly pressuring them on our behalf.  They kept a bright light shining on this unfair practice.  But those days are long gone.  There is no longer any light that illuminates what these money hungry, power-seeking politicians are doing.  Instead, now, the American congress is too busy with the Republicans’ agenda of retribution and fighting about petty issues.  Further, the Republican half of our two-party system of government acts as if it no longer wants America to be a democracy but prefers it to be an autocracy!

To be clear, what prompted me to once again bemoan how the American government is treating the rich and powerful special while virtually ignoring the needs of everyday Americans is the whining of insurance companies about their declining profit margins.  They are whining about how much money they are losing as the result of the claims that they are paying out.  Everything is fine as long as Americans are paying in money and not making any claims: free money!  Yes, that’s great; for insurance companies.  First, they go to the government and talk it into mandating that everyone has insurance on everything from health insurance to car insurance to home insurance and more, then they complain when they must pay out claims?!  But I am getting sidetracked.

The particular insurance company, which is a subsidiary of CVS, that brought on my need to vent my frustration is Aetna.  According to an article in Newsweek, CVS is concerned about its profit margin and has said that it plans to cut 10% of its Aetna health insurance plans in an effort to prioritize its profit margin.  I do not know what the expected profit margin of a health insurance company is but what I do know is this.  CVS paid more than $63,459,882 in salaries and other compensation to five of its executives in 2023.  The total compensation figure for each of these executives likely include stock and stock options.  And I have no doubt that these are not the only CVS executives that are being paid hefty salaries and receiving “other” compensation.

Like any public owned company, CVS needs to pay its stockholders a reasonable return on their investment but maybe they would be better able to do this if they gave their executives less in salaries and other compensation – which again, likely includes stock and stock options.  But, in large part, because the American congress is dysfunctional, corporations are taking full advantage of the situation.  Corporate greed is alive and well and most American companies are fighting hard to make sure that their hand also is in the average Americans’ pocket before we are stretched to our limit and it is too late for them to get their fair share of the plunders.

The bottom line is that these corporations that are swamped in corporate greed need to take a deep breath, take a step back, see the big picture and closely examine it.  The odds are that they will find that everyday Americans are already stretched to their limit.  And even if these billionaires and multi-millionaires who own these corporations find that they cannot bring themselves under control out of (gulp) compassion and empathy for their fellow Americans plight; surely, they will be able to do it when they consider that persisting in gouging them will ultimately bring about the demise of their own lifestyle.  Surely, they will stop gouging them when they recognize that their fellow Americans need to always have a reasonable amount of money to purchase their already overpriced products and goods and that this will not even put a dent in their lavish billionaire and multi-millionaire lifestyles.

Will they do this?  Who knows; we can only hope that they will.  Just like the truth is not agreeable to a liar, perhaps empathy and even the thought of sharing is incomprehensible to the super rich no matter the potential threat to their existing lifestyle.  Most of them are probably far too busy contemplating how to keep what they have and add to it while always fearing that some other super rich person might be successful at taking it away from them.  Be that as it may, one can always hope, right?

Eulus Dennis – author, M2: Street Cop To Top Cop, Operation Rubik’s Cube, and Living Between The Line