“Nobody is talking about thisâ€¦it’s astounding how dangerous this trend is and it must be addressed before it’s too late,” exclaimed a passionate John W.B. Rich, Chairman of AOL Inc.
Mr. Rich is not talking about Climate Change, COVID-19, or even Tesla’s ballooning stock price, but something more dire and immediate – wealth equality. Sharing a view that has pervaded the upper echelon of society, John desires to resolve an inconvenient truth: the advancement of technology, labor rights, and progressive taxation are leveling the playing field.
Over the span of the last several decades we have witnessed a massive wealth windfall for families across the country. According to a 2017 Harvard Business Review article titled ‘Why Wages Aren’t Growing in America,’ the hourly inflation-adjusted wages received by the typical worker in the United States is rising an alarming 0.2% annually.
Coupled with this sobering figure is the symptom of privilege: vacations have escalated, upward mobility shows signs of life, and literacy is now the norm. However, Mr. Rich believes that while the point of no return is fast approaching, a crisis can be averted if drastic actions are taken.
John W.B. Rich a seasoned executive emeritus in the tech sector, has lived a life that few can imagine. Inheriting from his father, John W. B Rich IV, a fortune generated from textile milling, the younger John envisioned a life away from the dingy corridor of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
In the spring of 1968, the spry septuagenarian flew his Falcon 20 to burgeoning Silicon Valley to pursue a career in the nascent field of software development. Having never used a computer, John was viewed as a “man with a different perspective,” and naturally quickly ascended the corporate ranks.
In 1992, when he finally reached the summit of AOL, the primed 94-year-old was ready to act on his dream to provide a high cost, terrible interface: “I knew my audience was poor people, and I wanted to keep them poor. My consultants ran the analyses and we got down to work.” The following decade can only be regarded as nothing short of competent corporate governance as AOL merged, acquired, and divested its way to the top of the corporate stratosphere.
Because of such a unique path, John has had the opportunity, at nearly 127 years of age, to see how social demographics have shifted around him.“It was a simpler time when I inherited that first mill from my father,” reflects Rich, “workers under me worked seven days a week, work conditions were way below today’s standardsâ€¦I mean we barely paid for our labor.”
Across the Greenwich and Westchester social circles John heard the whispers of economic prosperity below his tax bracket, but like most of his contemporaries, he dismissed this as hyperbole. When he finally made the move out to California, however, he saw the approaching storm of what was to come. Families were able to afford homes and “work-life balance” was catching wind.
Mr. Rich has long feared these developing trends would interfere with labor productivity, and he foresaw his worst fears 20 years head of anyone else when he imagined robust benefits packages. While the damage is not apparent, yet, the elder executive fears, after years of loosening the reigns, that it will irreversible.
“I think I speak for the majority in that we need some sort of accord. We need developed and poor countries to set goals to stymie this phenomenonâ€¦say a goal of a 5% reduction in wages across the board by 2030â€¦maybe entertain making every other Saturday a workdayâ€¦et cetera. Anything to save our planet.”