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If Switzerland Can Crack Down on CEOs, Why Not the US?

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Cross-posted from The Nation


The Federal Palace of Switzerland, which houses parliament and other government offices. (Wikimedia Commons)

Does anyone seriously doubt that, if America had the same national referendum system that Switzerland does, voters in the United States would vote just as aggressively as the Swiss have to curb CEO abuses?

Actually, the 68 percent support for Sunday's Swiss referendum that gives shareholders broad new powers to curb excessive pay for bankers and corporate executives might well be shy of the mark that the US could hit.

Polls of American voters have regularly shown that over 70 percent favor restrictions on executive compensation, with even self-identified conservatives registering majority support for clamping down on CEOs.

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And rightly so. It is not jealousy that motivates concerns about CEO pay. As the AFL-CIO's Executive Paywatch campaign notes, when CEO pay rises so too does income inequality. In 2010, as the United States emerged from the depths of the Bush recession, a study by University of California economist Emmanuel Saez found that the top 1 percent of Americans captured 93 percent of the growth in income.

Worse yet, CEOs use their money to game the system so that they get richer while the great mass of Americans are squeezed. More than 120 CEOs are currently supporting billionaire Pete Peterson's "Fix the Debt" campaign, which is chaired by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. A deficit-reduction plan proposed by Bowles and Simpson last month would slash cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients while at the same time reducing the top marginal tax rate for corporations and the wealthy.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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