Sometimes it pays just to go away. You could ask Jim Skinner about that. He was CEO of the hamburger behemoth, McDonald's, pulling down a hefty $8.8 million in pay. Last year, though, Skinner retired, and, rather than getting a gold watch, he was given a load of gold — so large that even a Brink's armored truck would have been too small to haul it all away. His salary of $753,000 was the least of it. The Big Mac chain also served up $1.7 million to the chief in stock and $3 million in option awards. Then it slathered on another $10.2 million in retirement pay. All that was topped by a super-rich dessert: $11.6 million in "incentive pay."
What? Why does a guy with millions already on his food tray need any incentive to do his job? Maybe because Skinner found it hard to stomach the biggest part of his job, which was to pay poverty wages to McDonald's workers, shove thousands of them onto food stamps and other programs paid for by taxpayers, and lobby aggressively to prevent any increases in the minimum wage or any tax hikes on uber-rich elites like him.
It's dirty work, but Skinner did it, finally skipping away with a 2012 pay package totaling $27.7 million. Yet, in the phantasmagoric plutocracy of CorporateLand, too much is not enough. Last year, for the first time ever, the 10 highest-paid CEOs in America hauled in at least $100 million each, even as the great majority of workaday families have lost income.
This gaping (and ever-widening) inequality is the greatest threat to our society's cohesion. Too few people now control an unconscionable and untenable share of America's money and power, using it to grab more of both for themselves. They can build a $100-million wall, but it won't be high enough to hide their greed from the rest of us.
But there's an added dimension to this inequality that you might find especially interesting: Not only are low-wage corporations overly generous to their top dogs, but so are you and I. For example, I'm sure you'll be as delighted as I am to know that we — all of us taxpayers together — contribute day-in and day-out to the very big global cause of Supersizing McDonald's.
The world's largest hamburger chain is a particularly needy charity case, because without your and my generous tax support, the Big Mac bosses in charge would have to pay a living wage to their 860,000-plus American workers. But, thanks to us, the $27 billion-a-year hamburger-flipping flim flammers can get away with paying poverty wages — and then send their workforce to get food stamps, Medicaid, child welfare payments, public housing and other tax-funded poverty benefits. This public subsidy of the Golden Arches adds up to a very golden $1.2 billion a year. What a creative business plan! Who says giant corporations aren't enterprising?
Well, sniff the chain's top executives; we operate on razor-thin profit margins, so we can't afford to throw money at workers. Really? Last year's $5.6 billion in profits doesn't sound thin to me. Also, note that McDonald's more than tripled the pay of its new CEO last year, elevating him from $4.1 million to $13.8 million.
But what really galls its workers (whose low wages and forced part-time schedules mean they average less than $12,000 a year) is that the taxpayer-subsidized profiteer laid out a fat $35 million in October to add a brand new executive jet to its corporate fleet. This one is a "Bombardier 605" with the full package of luxurious amenities, and it cost $2,500 an hour to fly it.
Just flying one hour on the Bombardier cost more than the combined hourly wages of more than 300 McDonald's workers. Remember, you're subsidizing this. Aren't you just "Lovin' it," as the chain's ad slogan puts it? To tell McDonald's CEO that this is immoral, go to OurFuture.org.
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)