CEOs Share Insights on the Income Inequality Issue

Income-inequality-illustration-compressorSelin Kesebir is the kind of person who drives capitalists nuts. The assistant professor of organizational behavior at the London Business School’s new research posits that “nationwide happiness” may depend on evening out income inequality. Kesebir also asserts that job creators themselves should be happy to pursue that goal.

“Is making money the major goal for entrepreneurs?” she asked in a recent paper. “For most of them, probably not. Not making big money, but making some money so they have income security, will be fine.”

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has also fueled the controversy, notably when he visited the Vatican in April. “The issue of wealth and income inequality is the great economic issue of our time, the great political issue of our time and the great moral issue of our time,” said the socialist from Vermont.

“The general mindset appears to be that income inequality is the great fault of capitalism, which seems to ignore the reality of dire poverty around the world in non-capitalist societies.”

However, more CEOs have been pushing back against the view that income inequality demonstrates some sort of villainy on the part of the 1 percent or even the global economic system. And it is only natural that they should complain to Chief Executive about the victimization.

In part, that’s because Chief Executive kicked off a discussion of the effects of an uneven economic playing field with the story, “Why Crony Capitalism Hurts Us All,” in the September/October 2014 issue of the magazine. After the magazine ran another story, “8 CEOs Weigh In on Income Inequality,” in the January/February issue this year, MMI Outdoor CEO David Cobb took the trouble to write a long and eloquent letter to the magazine.

“The general mindset appears to be that income inequality is the great fault of capitalism, which seems to ignore the reality of dire poverty around the world in non-capitalist societies,” wrote Cobb, a maker of tents and other outdoor gear based in Montgomery, Alabama.

“If we are to ultimately fix the problem,” Cobb continued, “we have to candidly address all of the factors that contribute, rather than seek to put a Band-Aid on the issue through tax increases or more welfare for the lower class.”

In Cobb’s analysis, the country’s education and healthcare systems contribute to the issue by creating “protected oligopolies that do not have to compete openly for their customers.” In education, for example, “poor lifestyle choices and values systems” are partly to blame, as well as “the concept of throwing more federal tax dollars into the public system.”

Also to blame is a rising dropout rate stemming from a “cultural values problem,” and the fact that “as our societal values have changed, postsecondary education choices have become alarmingly bad.”

“The problem we face with income inequality is an indictment of our collective values in this country, not an indictment of capitalism, and we can’t fix every problem overnight,” Cobb concluded. “But as CEOs, we can lead by example.”

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Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.

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