Elon Musk's tantrum in translation: Don’t jeopardize my shot at hitting the biggest executive pay windfall in corporate history. More this week on our tantrum-throwing wealthy and the workers pushing back on the austerity that grows grand private fortune.
The latest news on billionaire Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man: A study is predicting that the Amazon chief may well become by 2026 the world’s first trillionaire, should current trends continue.

Few pandemic profiteers have been making bank off the misery of their own employees more relentlessly than Bezos, as we’re now tracking in our regular Inequality.org pandemic profiteering updates. Bezos has actually been cutting hazard pay for Amazon warehouse workers, choosing instead to hand out “thank you” t-shirts.

But let’s remember we have plenty of tools — a wealth tax, for one — to prevent profiteers like Jeff Bezos from ever reaching trillionaire status. Check our Billionaire Bonanza 2020 report for details. Meanwhile, more this week on our tantrum-throwing wealthy and the workers pushing back on the austerity that grows grand private fortune.

Chuck Collins, for the Institute for Policy Studies Inequality.org team
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New Orleans Sanitation Workers Strike for Safety
As the coronavirus pandemic continues on, workers on the front lines are refusing to choose between their jobs and their lives. The labor news site Payday Report has identified more than 200 wildcat strikes since the beginning of March. New Orleans sanitation workers recently added to that total, walking off the job to demand hazard pay, a living wage, and protective gear. The hoppers, as the workers are called, are also pushing back against the privatization responsible for their working conditions. We have more on their fight.
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CEO to Frontline Staff: Be Kind, Especially to Me!
Oh, those tough choices our CEOs have to confront! Just ask Kroger supermarkets chief Rodney McMullen. Option 1 for McMullen: Cut his $21.1 million 2019 pay down to a mere million and produce enough surplus to ensure 20,000 Kroger workers their $2 hourly pandemic hazard pay for another three months. Option 2: Eliminate the hazard pay. McMullen chose the eliminating, then had the nerve to post a video reminding his employees that a smile will always be “easy to give, even when you have a mask on.” Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery chain, has seen sales soar since the coronavirus shut down restaurant dining. So why cut hazard pay when at least five Kroger employees have so far lost their lives? One reason: By cutting hazard pay, McMullen is inflating his own pay, since McMullen’s personal “performance” contract rewards him for generating “free cash flow,” the dollars that pump up dividends and stock buybacks. But his greed grab will have to wait. Union pressure and media attention this past weekend forced the company to back down. Kroger will continue with limited “thank you” pay for five more weeks.
Fix Our Financial Pipes With Public Banking
The coronavirus crisis has exposed the rust and corrosion of our country’s financial pipes. As big banks have exited the business of serving poor people, 1 in 4 U.S. households are now under or unbanked. This trend has predictably led to marginalized communities and households waiting in distress for life-sustaining corona relief funds simply because they lack access to a bank account. A bold solution: individual Federal Reserve accounts for every American, accessible through the U.S. Postal Service. Today, only privileged banks and governmental entities can have these high-interest, low-fee Fed accounts. But the Fed could easily offer everyone the same types of accounts, with stronger consumer safeguards as well as higher interest rates on savings than Wall Street banks provide. Raúl Carrillo has more for us this week.
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Practicing Civil Disobedience, U.S. Billionaire-Style
Early last week, billionaire Elon Musk defied public health officials and reopened his flagship Tesla auto assembly plant in Fremont, California. Local safety officials had ordered that plant shut down — over Musk’s fierce opposition — some two months earlier. “Dumb” concern about the coronavirus, Musk had raged with that shutdown impending, had morphed into a useless “panic.” His rage would only increase when officials extended their original shelter-in-place orders. Stormed Musk in a conference call with business journalists: “This is fascist. This is not democratic. This is not freedom. Give people back their goddamn freedom.” Translation: Don’t jeopardize my shot at hitting the biggest executive pay windfall in corporate history. Inequality.org co-editor Sam Pizzigati has more on Musk’s rush to become the world’s richest mogul.
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This week on Inequality.org 

Negin Owliaei, Reopening the Economy is a Death Sentence for Workers. The wealthy may be fine with sacrificing the vulnerable, but workers are fighting for the sanctity of human life.

Elsewhere on the Web

Anders Melin, CEOs cut millions of jobs amid coronavirus yet keep their lofty bonuses, Los Angeles Times. Inside the twisted pandemic world of CEO virtue signaling.

Tara Isabella Burton, Billionaires are playing savior now. But they broke the economy to begin with, Washington Post. The cultural and economic systems that made these deep pockets successful exist at the expense of our collective good.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, The ‘American Way of Life’ Is Shaping Up to Be a Battleground, New York Times. The pandemic is revealing limits to what ordinary people are willing to endure to secure their employers’ bottom line.

Naomi Klein, Under Cover of Mass Death, Andrew Cuomo Calls in the Billionaires to Build a High-Tech Dystopia, Intercept. The refusal to transfer anything like the needed resources to states and cities means that the coronavirus health crisis is now slamming headlong into a manufactured austerity crisis.

Sarah Lahm, Billionaires Are the Biggest Threat to Public Schools, Progressive. Under billionaire Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Department of Education stands poised to allow private schools to gain a larger share of corona relief funds than public schools.

Pirmin Fessler and Martin Schürz, The Wealth Effects of Bailouts: A Quantitative Assessment, New Economic Thinking. Once again, income earned by the many is boosting the wealth of the few.

Matthew Walther, The dark decade ahead, The Week. Is The Time Machine future H.G. Wells saw — a civilization split between idle aristocrats totally incurious about the mysterious means by which they receive sustenance and an invisible underclass — our future?

Mary Pilon, Can millionaire college coaches defend their salaries during Covid-19? Guardian. Time for some social responsibility from multi-million dollar coaches and athletic directors.

Brendan O’Boyle, Latin America’s Plans to Tax the Rich, Americas Quarterly. Now on the table, everything from levies on grand private fortune to new tax rates on top income brackets.

Lawrence Wittner, Amid the Pandemic, America’s Billionaires Thrive, LA Progressive. As one yacht broker puts it, a yacht “in a nice climate isn’t a bad place to self-isolate.”

Stefan Wagstyl, The wealthy should welcome an opportunity to reduce inequality, Financial Times. Economic recovery will depend on the rapid return to work of hundreds of millions of workers. The owners of capital cannot function properly without them.
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