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Walter Williams
Walter E. Williams
10 Feb 2016
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Pitting Us Against Each Other


President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party have led increasingly successful efforts to pit Americans against one another through the politics of hate and envy. Attacking CEO salaries, the president — last year during his Midwest tour — said, "I do think at a certain point you've made enough money."

Let's look at CEO salaries, but before doing so, let's look at other salary disparities between those at the bottom and those at the top. According to Forbes' Celebrity 100 list for 2010, Oprah Winfrey earned $290 million. Even if her makeup person or cameraman earned $100,000, she earned thousands of times more than that. Is that fair? Among other celebrities earning hundreds or thousands of times more than the people who work with them are Tyler Perry ($130 million), Jerry Bruckheimer ($113 million), Lady Gaga ($90 million) and Howard Stern ($76 million). According to Forbes, the top 10 celebrities, excluding athletes, earned an average salary of a little more than $100 million in 2010.

According to The Wall Street Journal Survey of CEO Compensation (November 2010), Gregory Maffei, CEO of Liberty Media, earned $87 million, Oracle's Lawrence Ellison ($68 million) and rounding out the top 10 CEOs was McKesson's John Hammergren, earning $24 million. It turns out that the top 10 CEOs have an average salary of $43 million, which pales in comparison with America's top 10 celebrities, who earn an average salary of $100 million.

When you recognize that celebrities earn salaries that are some multiples of CEO salaries, you have to ask: Why is it that rich CEOs are demonized and not celebrities? A clue might be found if you asked: Who's doing the demonizing? It turns out that the demonizing is led by politicians and leftists with the help of the news media, and like sheep, the public often goes along. Why demonize CEOs? My colleague Dr. Thomas Sowell explained it in his brand-new book, "The Thomas Sowell Reader." One of his readings, titled "Ivan and Boris — and Us," starts off with a fable of two poor Russian peasants.

Ivan finds a magic lamp and rubs it, and the jinni grants him one wish. As it turns out, Boris has a goat, but Ivan doesn't. Ivan's wish is for Boris' goat to die. That vision reflects the feelings of too many Americans. If all CEOs worked for nothing, it would mean absolutely little or nothing to the average American's bottom line.

For politicians, it's another story: Demonize people whose power you want to usurp. That's the typical way totalitarians gain power. They give the masses someone to hate. In 18th-century France, it was Maximilien Robespierre's promoting hatred of the aristocracy that was the key to his acquiring more dictatorial power than the aristocracy had ever had. In the 20th century, the communists gained power by promoting public hatred of the czars and capitalists. In Germany, Adolf Hitler gained power by promoting hatred of Jews and Bolsheviks. In each case, the power gained led to greater misery and bloodshed than anything the old regime could have done.

Let me be clear: I'm not equating America's liberals with Robespierre, Josef Stalin and Hitler. I am saying that promoting jealousy, fear and hate is an effective strategy for politicians and their liberal followers to control and micromanage businesses. It's not about the amount of money people earn. If it were, politicians and leftists would be promoting jealousy, fear and hate toward multimillionaire Hollywood and celebrities and sports stars, such as LeBron James ($48 million), Tiger Woods ($75 million) and Peyton Manning ($38 million). But there is no way that politicians could take over the roles of Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga and LeBron James. That means celebrities can make any amount of money they want and it matters not one iota politically.

The Occupy Wall Street crowd shouldn't focus its anger at wealthy CEOs. A far more appropriate target would be the U.S. Congress.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



13 Comments | Post Comment
Let's see. Oprah, Lady Gaga, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Howard Stern all get their compensation as the result of corporate compensation committee meetings in their respective corporations and all of them serve on each others compensation committees? (That must explain their high compensation!) Does Oprah support the de-unionization of hair dressers to make sure she gets her hair done by minimum wage workers? Does Lady Gaga ship jobs to China while demanding special tax breaks for performers because they are "job creators"? While there are obvious similarities between top athletes / performers and CEOs, there are some significant differences and those differences help explain why athletes and performers tend to get a pass where CEOs do not.
Funny, one those CEOs, Warren Buffet, also thinks that millionaires have been coddled too long by their friends in Washington. Wonder what Mr. Buffet understands that escapes Mr. Williams?
For a good primer on why all of this seems to be resonating at this time, visit this interesting site:
Comment: #1
Posted by: Mark
Mon Oct 17, 2011 9:39 AM
So why not ask all of those people if they are willing to up the ante to save the American dream? Nobody is criticizing those who have been lucky enough to be born into or to earn their wealth, and I dare you to argue that the welfare deal that comes from being born into the right family isn't the best to be found here on Planet Earth.

All the po' folks are asking is that the lucky rich to step up and pay their fair share to support the system and morale that helped to get them there. It's only the refusal to chip in that earns the rich folks contempt.

Why are you dopes so unable to understand that? You are being penny wise and pound foolish. The perception that the wealthy elite does not pay its fair share is what foments revolution. Get your tea-party tantrum under control and read up on a little history. As the old saying goes, those who fail to understand history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Masako
Mon Oct 17, 2011 8:22 PM
I agree with you liberals that taxes are not distributed fairly. The bottom 47% of wage earners pay no income tax, and some get a tax credit. Oh the other hand, the top 1% of wage earners pay 40% of the tax revenues, and the top 10% pay 90%.

Seems to me, making the tax system fairer would have the bottom 47% paying SOME taxes, and the top 10 and 1 percent wage earners paying less.

Bill Gates was born rich, but he became much, much richer because of his entrepreneurial efforts, as did Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and a host of other successful people. They weren't born into their wealth, they made it by taking risks, and working hard. The more the government confiscates in taxes, the less incentive their is to take risks and work hard, and the fewer jobs their companies create.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Richard
Mon Oct 17, 2011 10:12 PM
The poor pay a fair bit of taxes, just not income tax. As a percentage of income, the poor pay much more in sales taxes than do the rich because they spend a much greater percentage of their income buying things. When is comes to questions of tax fairness, why does Warren Buffet, a guy who knows more than most about being rich, find that he pays a much lower percentage of his income in taxes than does his secretary? When challenged by the GOP to release the numbers, he did. The question is not what percentage of TAXES the rich pay. The question is what percentage of their INCOME do the rich pay. When challenged on this, a representative of Eric Cantor's office responded that Warren Buffet is welcome to pay more taxes if he wishes. Of course, this suggests that Eric Cantor believes that all of the taxes the secretary pays should be mandatory, but that a portion Warren Buffet's taxes should be optional.
On the subject of the earned income tax credit for the poor:
“the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.” -Ronald Reagan
Comment: #4
Posted by: Mark
Mon Oct 17, 2011 11:35 PM
<i>"Let me be clear: I'm not equating America's liberals with Robespierre, Josef Stalin and Hitler."</i>

You're too generous Dr. Williams. So, let me do it for you. Today's looney left leadership, and the dedicated rank and file and never shown any reluctance ,in either speech or deed, to demonize any opponent or to threaten that opponent with deadly force. To avoid facing that fact may be a good political move for you, but for me, it deserves to be said.

Thank you.
Comment: #5
Posted by: vidyohs
Tue Oct 18, 2011 5:01 AM
That is because actors and actresses belong to unions.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Jim
Tue Oct 18, 2011 8:55 AM
RE: comment 5. Apparently there are more than a few on the loony right who are happy to "pit Americans against one another through the politics of hate and envy".
Comment: #7
Posted by: Mark
Tue Oct 18, 2011 6:10 PM
I love the goat tale. It helps me understand that the mere Liberal wants to take everyone's goats and redistribute them but the true hard-core Leftist wants everyone's goat dead. They don't want to share the wealth; they'd rather share the poverty.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Phillip Schearer
Wed Oct 19, 2011 1:04 PM
Where was Mr. Williams and his ilk with all their bleating about how "they" are pitting Americans against each other a couple of years ago when it was the tea party that was out to "take America back"? Why no cries for unity then? Could it be that they were happy with that development because it encouraged participation from the right wing nut case fringe? That pitting some Americans (conservatives as well as nut case conservatives) against other Americans (unions, liberals, the poor, etc.) was just fine with them because it served the right wing corporate interests? Could it be that all of this interest in national unity now is because the right's corporate masters don't like this new citizen's movement?
I find the right wing's new found interest in citizen unity to be a relaible indicator that the new movement is on to something that most Americans are very interested in. The more they work to demonize the movement, the clearer the need for the movement becomes.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Mark
Wed Oct 19, 2011 9:54 PM
CEOs are targeted not because they are rich, but because they pollute, put profits before well-being of people, put harmful chemicals in food, engage in self-serving and risky financial gambling with the livelihoods of the people of the world, that brought down the world's economy, and on and on.... Celebrities DO NOT carry out any of these harmful activities.
Comment: #10
Posted by: American
Sun Oct 23, 2011 9:38 AM
Re: Richard
The fact that people can't understand percentages is scary. I love when I hear what a large percentage the wealthy pay of the total tax rate. How much do you think 1% of Bill Gate's earnings are compared to 30% of the poorest? He has the wealth of a small country. You do realize that if your net worth is - let's be generous here - $600,000 - and his is $56b, 1% of his worth is $560,000,000 which is equivalent to you paying $6000 of yours.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Tru
Thu Dec 15, 2011 10:23 AM
Democrats pit Americans against each other? Really? Were you feeling so bonded with your fellow man when Bush was President? Did you think liberals were just part of the big melting pot of Americans? But, besides that - what is it you do for a living Mr. Williams? Obviously, you're not in business. I have worked in four companies at varying levels of management. A CEO can run a company into the ground and his fellow board members will let vote him millions on his way out the door since he set it up so they could make early (gigantic) earnings off IPOs or he served on the board of one of their companies, etc. I have seen great CEOs unable to sustain a company for long-term growth because the stockholders and board members were only interested in the earnings for that quarter...and they are soon replaced by bad CEOs who make a whole lot of money as the company crumbles and all those jobs they created fold. Why do people not want the wealthiest of Americans to pay their FAIR share? Why don't they want all Americans to have a little skin in the game so we are one nation. That is what is dividing the American people.......we've got a gilded age going on here and you can't understand why everyone doesn't love the robber barons....
Comment: #12
Posted by: Tru
Thu Dec 15, 2011 10:31 AM
I wish it were only half the politicians in America who demonize people, but I am afraid both sides do it. Republicans do it less, but they make up for their lack of viciousness with an excess of timidness - in other words, they are double losers. Let me give a sort of random example: In 1995 Speaker Gingrich hired my mother to be congressional House Historian. She left her position at Kennesaw State and we moved to D.C.
In short order Newt's opponents were denouncing my mother as an "anti-Semite" and demanding she be fired. The charge was based on her notes from a "confidential" curriculum evaluation. She said the course was inappropriate for middle school, (it called for children to role-play Nazis and Jews), and it lacked balance (students should understand Nazi mentality or risk repeating history).
Of course the Democrats knew my mother wasn't an anti-Semite. They wanted to hurt Newt with a controversial headline. He couldn't abandon her fast enough.
Politics is a dirty game but we can make a difference by electing principled, decent, and loyal leaders. Georgia can do better.
Comment: #13
Posted by: Chrissie
Sat Mar 3, 2012 1:23 PM
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