When I asked my MBA students what they thought was the most pressing ethical issue today, a number identified the growing gap between the very wealthy and everyone else. Just that day the news reported that last year the average salary of a major corporation was over $10 million and the CEO of CBS earned four times that.
This is a serious problem from several perspectives. There is the ethical consideration of fairness, for one. After the recent economic crash, there was much talk about putting an upper limit on top pay in publicly traded companies. That voice has been muted lately. Wall Street has rebounded but most Americans haven't benefited from the surge in stock prices. The reality remains that those at the top benefit in out-sized ways, not necessarily because they work harder, but because of the skewed economy in which we now operate.
The widening wealth gap has practical consequences. The middle class is being squeezed out of affordable living spaces as the wealthy push up housing prices.
And there is a long-term problem of social unrest as more people feel shut out of the promise of the American Dream. There is a disconnect to the political system when people feel cut off from the possibilities of a better life, if not for themselves, at least for their children.
A picture, it is said, is worth a thousand words. Here are visuals to help put the wealth gap in context: