August 15-21, 2002
There are lots of reasons why very little is expected to emerge from the president’s Economic Forum. It’s not just the lopsided guest list; it’s also the limited list of topics. What really needs to be discussed will never make it to the table.
The conference in Waco is being billed by White House PR flaks as an opportunity for the president to "hear directly from working Americans and small investors, who are the backbone of our economy."
Asked directly, these little guys would say that the backbone is breaking because we need to get the fat out. But this sprinkling of blue collars in a confab of blue chippers will have little opportunity to raise their most pressing issue: their own shrinking personal income.
"What we have is a grinding slowdown in the incomes that people have available to spend, from whatever the source," concludes Lee Price, chief economist for the Senate Budget Committee, quoted recently in The New York Times.
Not surprisingly, the topic of wages is not on the president's agenda. And yet it is the lopsided scale of enrichment that most rankles the rank-and-file of ordinary wage-earners.
Why, they might ask, do the salaries and retirement accounts of corporate managers and CEOs continue to rise while the income and 401Ks of ordinary folks falter and fall? Why is there such a disparity between the goodies garnered by the top 2 percent and what's left for the rest?
I've looked through the list of topics to find a forum that analyzes how the fat cats ate everyone else's kibble. But, alas, such a discussion is not to be found.
How come the ratio between the lowest and the highest paid in a corporation might be 50 or even 100 to one in America, while in Europe it is closer to 20 to one? Ordinary inquiring people might like to know.
I don't expect that the president's men will change the agenda at this late date, but I still have a suggestion that might prove instructive for future econo-conferences, especially for a president still sipping from the silver spoon with which he was born.
You know those little cards that are used to identify who each conferee is and what they do? In addition to the Who and What, I suggest that they add How Much. How much does this person make, and how much do they have to retire on?
That way, when we regard this newest incarnation of the "Big Tent," we'll be able to distinguish the corporate clowns from the working fools.
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