When Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Republican nominee Ronald Reagan held their only debate on October 28 in the final week of the 1980 presidential campaign, the two candidates were running neck and neck, with Carter having turned around dismal poll numbers months earlier. In his final statement during the debate, Reagan asked Americans to consider how they were faring under the leadership of Jimmy Carter.

Here’s what Reagan said:

Next Tuesday all of you will go to the polls; you’ll stand there in the polling place and make a decision. I think when you make that decision, it might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off than you were 4 years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was 4 years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was 4 years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were 4 years ago? And if you answer all of those questions yes, why then, I think your choice is very obvious as to who you’ll vote for. If you don’t agree, if you don’t think that this course that we’ve been on for the last 4 years is what you would like to see us follow for the next 4, then I could suggest another choice that you have.

Certainly no one remembers what the hell Carter said that night,” recalled Rick Shenkman, a former presidential historian at George Mason University. “It was Reagan’s debate.”

A week later, Reagan won by a landslide, garnering 489 Electoral College votes to Carter’s 49 and 50.7% of the popular vote to Carter’s 41.0%.

Bloomberg TV screenshot

Jeffrey Zients, Joe Biden’s chief of staff and former Covid czar, recently filled in for the president at a meeting with the Business Roundtable, an influential organization representing more than 200 U.S. chief executives. One wonders if Zients, who became a millionaire in his 30s  from his involvement in companies that paid tens of millions of dollars to settle allegations of Medicare and Medicaid fraud, asked his fellow one percenters if they were better off under the rule of Joe Biden.

The answer would have been a resounding yes.

FT, June 16, 2022

In 2023, median chief executive pay at S&P 500 companies rose 12 per cent, according to ISS Corporate, part of proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services. That compares with a 4.1 per cent year-on-year increase in US wage growth, according to official figures. The FT reported that CEO pay last year increased at the fastest rate for at least 14 years. That’s a better bump in pay than CEOs enjoyed under the leaderships of Trump and Obama.

Who would have guessed that a president who promotes himself as a champion of unions and working-class folks would prove to possibly be the best White House friend CEOs ever had.

Although CEO pay dipped slightly in 2022, America’s top executives have enriched themselves considerably over the decades to levels unparalleled in any country. The realized compensation of the top CEOs soared 1,209.2% from 1978 to 2022 (adjusting for inflation). Top CEO compensation grew roughly 28.1% faster than stock market growth during this period and far eclipsed the slow 15.3% growth in a typical worker’s annual compensation. CEO granted options compensation rose 1,046.9% from 1978 to 2022.

“Exorbitant CEO pay is not just a symbolic issue—it has contributed to rising inequality,” according to the Economic Policy Institute. “CEOs are getting paid more because of their leverage over corporate boards, not because of contributions they make to their firms. Escalating CEO pay in recent decades has likely pulled up the pay of other top earners. This concentration of earnings at the top leaves fewer gains for ordinary workers.”  

EPI strikes me as an outfit committed to doing God’s work. The organization bills itself as a “a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank working for the last 30 years to counter rising inequality, low wages and weak benefits for working people, slower economic growth, unacceptable employment conditions, and a widening racial wage gap.”

According to Robert Reich, who served in the Carter administration and was Obama’s labor secretary, the top 1% of Americans hold 15 times more wealth than the bottom 50% combined. The wealthiest one percent own about 35 percent of the nation’s total household wealth, compared with about 20 percent in the 1970s.

“Wealth inequality is eating this country alive,” warns Reich.

Railing about obscene CEO pay is a recurring theme of this blog, particularly the more than $200 million GM CEO Mary Barra has received in her ten years on the job, despite her company’s dismal stock performance until she boosted GM shares with $16 billion in stock buybacks. With regards to leverage over GM’s board, Barra serves as chair and CEO, which experts say is poor corporate governance, but no one dares to criticize Mary Barra for fear of being deemed sexist.

Here’s a detail that shouldn’t come as a surprise: Barra also served as chair of the Business Roundtable for a two-year period, stepping down in January, although she remains an “active member” on the organization’s board. I can’t imagine any more worthy executive to further the personal financial interests of the Business Roundtable’s members.

Politico, September 19, 2023

If Barra was in attendance when Zients recently addressed the group, it would have been a homecoming of sorts. According to Politico, Barra and Biden are “buds,” underscored by Barra having visited the White House at least eight times since Biden was elected. One might cynically argue that GM and the Biden Administration is a family affair.

Missy Owens, the president’s niece, joined GM in February 2022 and now serves as director of global sustainability policy. According to The Detroit News, she would work under GM Vice President David Strickland, an Obama administration alum who ran the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Politico reported in November that Jeff Ricchetti, whose brother Steve Ricchetti is a counselor to Biden, currently lobbies for General Motors. GM has paid his firm over half a million dollars since the start of 2021. Steve Ricchetti himself also lobbied for General Motors between 2001 and 2008, a few years before he became counselor to then-Vice President Biden, and later his chief of staff. Brothers Ricchetti both lobbied the Senate for GM while Biden was a senator from Delaware, according to disclosure records.

NYPost, November 9, 2023

Jeff Ricchetti took in $8.3 million between the first quarter of 2021 and the third quarter of 2023, according to Senate lobbying disclosures.

I have no doubt that the Biden Administration and someone from GM’s brigade of spinmeisters would assure us that everyone adheres to unrivaled standards of ethics, selflessly promoting the respective interests of U.S. taxpayers and GM shareholders. The Biden Administration’s recent relaxation of its fuel economy rules that saved GM an estimated $6.5 billion in pollution penalties one must believe was driven by practical environmental considerations. That GM announced an additional $6 billion stock buyback days later, on top of its previous $10 billion buyback, likely was just an inconvenient coincidence.

One would have to be awfully naïve to believe that the Business Roundtable has the best interests of America at heart. Barra is the biggest vehicle manufacturer in Mexico, where GM builds two of its EVs and plans to manufacture its electric Cadillac Optiq.

The AP reported that the Business Roundtable has made low taxes its top legislative priority. The group plans to spend at least $10 million on a campaign to keep Trump’s corporate tax rate cut at 21%, as well as promote business-friendly changes to the U.S. tax code and push to extend tax incentives for research and development. Trump reportedly told the Business Roundtable in private that he wants to reduce corporate taxes to 20 percent.

According to an analysis published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Trump’s corporate tax cuts boosted business investment, but didn’t sufficiently generate the additional growth needed to cover the cost of those tax cuts. U.S. companies also used their windfalls to spend more than one trillion dollars buying back their shares and increasing their dividends to shareholders.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that a full extension of the expiring tax cuts would cost $4.9 trillion over 10 years, including additional interest on the debt. The federal government’s publicly held debt stands at nearly $28 trillion.

WSJ, June 21, 2024

Gerald Seib, a former Wall Street Journal columnist who I’ve long respected, this weekend warned that America’s debt is a national security threat. A conclusive historical lesson is that over the centuries and across the globe, nations and empires that blissfully piled up mountains of debt eventually imploded.

“Any great power that spends more on debt service (interest payments on the national debt) than on defense will not stay great for very long,” Seib quoted historian Niall Ferguson as saying. “True of Habsburg Spain, true of ancien régime France, true of the Ottoman Empire, true of the British Empire, this law is about to be put to the test by the U.S. beginning this very year.”

 According to Seib, the Congressional Budget Office projects that, in part because of rising interest rates, the federal government will spend $892 billion during the current fiscal year for interest payments on the accumulated national debt of $28 trillion—meaning that interest payments now surpass the amount spent on defense and nearly match spending on Medicare.

I’m not on Facebook, Instagram, or X, but I’m confident speculating that Seib’s thoughtful analysis isn’t the talk of social media. While the Biden Administration is looking to raise taxes by nearly $2.2 trillion over ten years, rest assured if Democrats remain in power the additional monies will be used to fund questionable DEI initiatives, such as training military personnel on the proper use of pronouns.

Trump has repeatedly called the media an enemy of the people. He got that right. It’s because of the media that Americans are unaware of how their country is possibly in danger of imploding like great empires and nations over previous centuries. It’s also because of the biased media that come November, Americans likely must choose between two sorry candidates more interested in enriching the one percent, themselves, and their families than ensuring America’s security and reigniting its prosperity.

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