Bryce Covert writes that "Entrepreneur and self-described one percenter Nick Hanauer warned Congress that rich people like him aren’t the engines of the economy. In a testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, he explained why, in fact, middle-class workers are the economy’s real job creators:
In the same way that it’s a fact that the sun, not earth is the center of the solar system, it’s also a fact that the middle class, not rich business people like me are the center of America’s economy. […]
As an entrepreneur and investor, I have started or helped start, dozens of businesses and initially hired lots of people. But if no one could have afforded to buy what we had to sell, my businesses would all have failed and all those jobs would have evaporated.
He described what he calls a “virtuous cycle” in which middle class consumers have money to buy goods, which increases demand and therefore hiring. The rich, on the other hand, don’t fuel the economy with their consumption in the same way. “I earn 1,000 times the median wage, but I do not buy 1,000 times as much stuff,” he noted."
In the op-ed “When Capitalists Cared”, author Hedrick Smith states that “In 1914, not long after the Ford Motor Company came out with the Model T, Ford made the startling announcement that he would pay his workers the unheard-of wage of $5 a day.
Not only was it a matter of social justice, Ford wrote, but paying high wages was also smart business. When wages are low, uncertainty dogs the marketplace and growth is weak. But when pay is high and steady, Ford asserted, business is more secure because workers earn enough to become good customers. They can afford to buy Model Ts.”
He goes on to note that “Other executives bought his logic, and just as important, strong unions fought for rising pay and good benefits in contracts like the 1950 “Treaty of Detroit” between General Motors and the United Auto Workers.
Riding the dynamics of the virtuous circle, America enjoyed its best period of sustained growth in the decades after World War II , from 1945 to 1973, even though income tax rates were far higher than today. It created not only unprecedented middle-class prosperity but also far greater economic equality than today.”
When Hedrick Smith talks about the “virtuous cycle” he is pointing to the fact that employers like Ford, GM, Chrysler, etc. at that time understood the importance of paying their workers a livable wage. A wage from which a worker could raise a family, save for the future and hope to live a virtuous life, meaning they did not need to depend on anybody else’s pity or handout. And he also points out that even though taxes were higher then, than today, it created a very prosperous middle class and thereby upward mobility & greater economic quality.
We now seem to have the case of the “Vicious Cycle”. This phenomenon started quite a while ago and one of the earlier instances were seen after the 2001 dotcom crash. Even during those times, Wall Street Executives & CEO’s got huge salaries & even bigger bonuses. It did not even seem to matter that those same companies are laying-off massive number of employees. The New Straits Time (September 3, 2001) reported that even as companies laid of tens of thousands of employees (CISCO- 8500 Dell- 5,800), their CEO’s John Chambers & Michael Dell made roughly US$157 million & 201 million respectively. And that was just the beginning. A similar scenario was repeated during the 2008 financial meltdown. Even while the whole economy was crashing, massive layoffs were taking place and the Lehman Bros were imploding, senior executives at firms such as AIG, Goldman Sachs, Chase, BOA, Countrywide, etc. were giving themselves huge salaries & bonuses. This transition from “Virtuous Cycle” to “Vicious Cycle” over the past 2 decades has not only led to major layoffs but overseas shipping of most of the manufacturing and support jobs, salaries cut across the board, health benefits & 401Ks decimated.
When employers devalue a workers work and pay them lesser than what they were being paid for the same work even an year ago, what did they think was going to happen? When the worker can only pay for the essentials, their disposable income goes down and they start cutting down on other expenses and this leads to even lesser services or cheaper products from businesses as that becomes the new normal. With cheaper products or poorer services, the workers make even lesser money and in return they can afford even less and hence cut further back on their spending. The bankrupting race to the bottom continues and the “Vicious Cycle” continues until the only ones left are the very rich or the very poor. That scenario cannot be good for the economy. And that’s why squeezing the middle class is not good for the economy.