The answers are varied.
James G. Galbraith offers a provocative answer in his review of Thomas Piketty's book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century:
What is “capital”? To Karl Marx, it was a social, political, and legal category—the means of control of the means of production by the dominant class. Capital could be money, it could be machines; it could be fixed and it could be variable. But the essence of capital was neither physical nor financial. It was the power that capital gave to capitalists, namely the authority to make decisions and to extract surplus from the worker.Extracting surplus from the worker.
Today's New York Times yields a number of different suggestions, from Robert J. Shiller who examines inequality through the prism of taxation:
Paying taxes is rarely pleasant, but as April 15 approaches it’s worth remembering that our tax system is a progressive one and serves a little-noticed but crucial purpose: It mitigates some of the worst consequences of income inequality.Taxation mitigates the worst consequences of income inequality.
.... But it’s also clear that while income inequality would be much worse without our current tax system, what we have isn’t nearly enough. It’s time — past time, actually — to tweak the system so that it can respond effectively if income inequality becomes more extreme.
Peter Eavis, NYTimes business columnist, points to corporate CEO compensation:
Corporate America’s well-oiled compensation machine is running like a dream.CEO supercompensation drives the engine of inequality.
Browse the proxy statements of the nation’s largest corporations and you’ll find the instruction manuals for this apparatus explaining how to finely calibrate the pay of top executives with company performance.
.... But putting aside whether those particular metrics for aligning pay with performance make sense ... , the elegant machine itself would seem to have a dark side. Some say, in fact, that it is the main engine of inequality in America today.
But then, there's the issue of gender. Phyllis Korkki, another NYTimes business columnist, takes a look at what she calls "brokering" and how it divides along gender lines:
A growing body of research has pointed to the importance of informal leaders known to researchers as “brokers,” who have the gift of connecting employees in productive new ways.Aggressive, forceful, independent and decisive women are punished financially and politically.
New research by Raina A. Brands of the London Business School and Martin Kilduff of University College London has uncovered a bias surrounding brokerage roles within organizations that gives advantages to male brokers and their teams.
.... “To the extent that women were perceived to be brokers, they incurred reputational penalties,” Professor Brands says. “They were seen as more competent, but less warm.” Other research, she says, has shown that men who take on brokerage roles tend to receive benefits in the form of compensation and promotions, whereas female brokers’ careers are negatively affected.
.... In a paper describing their research, she and Professor Kilduff noted that men are traditionally defined by words like aggressive, forceful, independent and decisive. Women, on the other hand, are stereotypically expected to be kind, helpful, sympathetic and concerned about others.
On the other hand, kind, helpful, sympathetic and concerned about others women don't get no respect.
One of my fav NYTimes business columnists, Gretchen Morgenstern, has, possibly, an ironically titled column, Pay for Performance? It Depends on the Measuring Stick, which talks only of male CEOs and opines:
Year after year, as executive pay continues its inexorable climb, it’s amusing to watch corporate directors try to justify the piles of shareholder money they throw at the hired help. Check out any proxy filing for these arguments, which usually center on how closely and carefully the executives’ incentive compensation is tied to the performance of company operations.Frankly, the measuring stick appears to be a penis, for whatever that's worth.
But pay for performance is only as good as the metrics used to determine it. And as a recent study shows, some metrics — including the most popular — are downright ineffective at motivating executives to create shareholder value.
And, to cap it, I've got to quote the plaintive note from Sofia Elena de la Garza for pointing out that the evil engineers of sexism and inequality start attacking their victims at an early age:
Tell me what you think it’s like to be a girl in New York City. To walk down the street and feel the construction workers sexing us up. Looking at our skirts and wondering what color panties we have on.
Sometimes they ask. Did you know that? Sometimes they get in our faces and ask about the thong they can see through our leggings.
Tell me why you would think we like it. When a man gropes us on the subway, do you expect us to thank him?
And don’t say that we should do something about, it because, yeah, we should. But we’re 17-year-old girls in New York City. So why not tell him to stop instead of telling us what we should have done?
Being a girl in New York City is like being the sick animal in a pack that gets picked on for parts. ...Because we are more than what our clothes may say we are. We are deserving of respect. And we will continue to flip off the truck drivers and construction workers and early-morning pervs until they realize that.