institute for Policy Studies -In 1942, Franklin Roosevelt advanced what may have been the most politically daring policy proposal of his entire presidency. FDR called for the equivalent of a maximum wage. No individual American after paying taxes, Roosevelt declared, should have an income over $25,000, about $370,000 today.
A half-century later, in 1992, Bernie Sanders — then a relatively new member of the House of Representatives — marked the 50th anniversary of FDR’s maximum wage initiative. Sanders placed a commentary on FDR’s 1942 proposal in the Congressional Record.
Last week, in the 75th anniversary year of Roosevelt’s 1942 proposal, British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gave FDR’s income cap idea a considerably wider public airing. In a series of media interviews, Corbyn called for a ceiling on UK individual income.
“There ought to be a maximum wage,” Corbyn told The Herald, a Scottish newspaper. “The levels of inequality in Britain are getting worse.”
The Labor Party leader repeated that call for “some kind of high-earnings cap” the same day in a radio interview with the BBC.
“We cannot set ourselves as being a sort of grossly unequal bargain basement economy on the shores of Europe,” Corbyn explained. “If we want to live in a more egalitarian society and fund our public services, we cannot go on creating worse levels of inequality.”
Right-wing think tanks chimed in with more vituperation. Corbyn, the Adam Smith Institute charged, had gone “bananas.” The leader of Donald Trump’s favorite UK party, the anti-immigrant UKIP, claimed that Corbyn was practicing the “politics of envy.”
Franklin Roosevelt’s critics made the same sort of hyper-ventilating attacks 75 years ago when FDR proposed his cap on the income of the awesomely affluent. In the end, Roosevelt didn’t get from Congress everything he wanted on the pay-cap front. But the political courage he showed helped pave the way for the much more equal — and average-people friendly — America of the mid-20th century.