I always agonize while compiling a list of the 10 greediest Americans of the year. Every holiday season, I find so many candidates deserving this distinction that bankers alone could fill this list. Or fast-food CEOs.
Male masters of the universe again dominate this year’s top 10. But for the first time since 2008, two women made the cut. Neither of them rates as a global powerhouse of avarice. Still, both really do belong. Their stories tell us quite a bit about our despicably unequal times.
One of the women who earned this dubious distinction personifies the garden-variety greed that inevitably grows in the shadows of escalating grand fortunes. In that shade, people in positions of modest power and authority clumsily emulate the avaricious high-and-mighty they see and feel all around them.
Meet Angela Spaccia, the former assistant city manager in the small Los Angeles County working class community of Bell. Over a seven-year span that ended in 2010, Spaccia helped orchestrate schemes that stuffed hundreds of thousands of dollars into the pockets of the city’s top officials, including her own. Spaccia in one year alone took in $564,000.
Prosecutors eventually caught up with Spaccia and her pals. Her boss, the Bell city manager, cut a plea deal in October to 69 corruption charges. He pulled in $1.18 million in his most lucrative year. Spaccia chose to go to trial instead, claiming she did nothing illegal.
“Everyone’s greedy,” her defense attorney argued in November. “There’s no crime in taking too much money.”
Jurors disagreed. Last week, they found Spaccia guilty on multiple counts of criminal behavior, including one misappropriation of public funds that would have pumped $15.5 million in pension checks to Spaccia and her boss.
The second woman on my list of the nation’s 10 greediest people of 2013: Dylan Lauren. (You can read about the eight men who made the cut, too, at TooMuchOnline.org, including No. 1 greedy guy Larry Ellison, the billionaire CEO of business software giant Oracle.)
On the surface, Lauren shares precious little in common with Angela Spaccia. They just don’t come more suave and sophisticated than this entrepreneur, billionaire designer Ralph Lauren’s only child.
Or more ambitious. The empty heiress life isn’t for her. A dozen years ago, Lauren opened up her own business, a luxury candy emporium on Manhattan’s Upper East Side where moldings atop display cabinets mimic dripping chocolate and a cocktail bar offers gummy bear martinis.
Dylan’s Candy Bar would soon become wildly successful, with outposts in Miami Beach, Los Angeles, and the Hamptons — all prime watering holes of America’s super rich.
Things today could hardly be peachier for the Lauren heiress. She has by her side a smitten hedge fund manager husband, and the 39-year-old has realized her life’s dream ever since she saw Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at the ripe old age of six.
“I just wanted,” as Lauren gushed recently, “to live in a world full of candy.”
Her employees, meanwhile, would be satisfied with a world where they could just make ends meet. Workers at her Manhattan flagship store have been protesting for months their meager $8.50 hourly compensation and management policies that make sure employees never work enough hours to qualify for overtime pay.
The New York workers are seeking predictable full-time weekly schedules and an hourly wage of $13.99, the price customers pay for a pound of sweets at Dylan’s Candy Bar. At an early December protest in the pouring rain, the workers demonstrated outside the candy shop. They carried lollipops that read, “Dylan, we’re not suckers.”
They may not be. But what about the rest of us? We’ve tolerated, after all, still another year of rampant and ridiculous inequality in America.
Let’s turn the tide in 2014.
OtherWords columnist Sam Pizzigati, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow, edits the inequality weekly Too Much. His latest book is The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class. OtherWords.org