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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Sometimes it pays just to go away. You could ask Jim Skinner about that.

He was CEO of the hamburger behemoth McDonald’s, pulling down a hefty $8.8 million in pay. Last year, though, Skinner retired, and rather than getting a gold watch, he was given a load of gold — so large that even a Brink’s armored truck would have been too small to haul it all away. His salary of $753,000 was the least of it. The Big Mac chain also served up $1.7 million to the chief in stock and $3 million in option awards. Then it slathered on another $10.2 million in retirement pay. All that was topped by a super-rich dessert: $11.6 million in “incentive pay.”

What? Why does a guy with millions already on his food tray need any incentive to do his job? Maybe because Skinner found it hard to stomach the biggest part of his job, which was to pay poverty wages to McDonald’s workers, shove thousands of them onto food stamps and other programs paid for by taxpayers, and lobby aggressively to prevent any increases in the minimum wage or any tax hikes on uber-rich elites like him.

It’s dirty work, but Skinner did it, finally skipping away with a 2012 pay package totaling $27.7 million. Yet, in the phantasmagoric plutocracy of CorporateLand, too much is not enough. Last year, for the first time ever, the 10 highest-paid CEOs in America hauled in at least $100 million each, even as the great majority of workaday families have lost income.

This gaping (and ever-widening) inequality is the greatest threat to our society’s cohesion. Too few people now control an unconscionable and untenable share of America’s money and power, using it to grab more of both for themselves. They can build a $100 million wall, but it won’t be high enough to hide their greed from the rest of us.

But there’s an added dimension to this inequality that you might find especially interesting: Not only are low-wage corporations overly generous to their top dogs, but so are you and me. For example, I’m sure you’ll be as delighted as I am to know that we — all of us taxpayers together — contribute day in  and day out to the very big global cause of Supersizing McDonald’s.