“Purposeful Darwinism”

Those who work in the upper levels of Amazon, as the New York Times reported, inhabit a world of “purposeful Darwinism,” in which employees strive to meet or exceed numerical goals. Those who succeed receive substantial monetary rewards; those who don’t may find themselves out of a job, armed with a pink slip. Of course, the thousands who toil as relative minions may feel fortunate to even have employment, but struggle to pay the rent and put food on the table.

I doubt that Amazon is unique, as the Times suggests in an article today. Economists are gathered in San Francisco, the paper reports. They are focused on rising inequality and its causes, and large companies like Amazon contribute disproportionately to wealth gaps.

For workers at this threshold [those in the top one-quarter of one-percent], who earn at least $640,000 annually, their salaries rose 96 percent from 1981 to 2013, after taking account of inflation.

The trend was especially pronounced among the most successful enterprises in the American economy, creating a divergence between the highest-paid people at companies that employ more than 10,000 people and the rest of the work force. In this rarefied circle, overall pay jumped 140 percent versus a 5 percent drop for the typical employee at these corporate behemoths.

The nearly 13,000 economists assembled seem to agree that inequality is bad for us, but remedies remain elusive. Indeed, there is no consensus on the causes of unequal pay. Lacking consensus on causation, economists’ proffered solutions will diverge, frustrating policy choices.

Economists doubt that the “free market” will solve inequality, which should come as no surprise. After all, it is the “market,” operating by the tenets of “purposeful Darwinism,” that produced the inequities in the first place.