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Billionaire Ken Langone on income inequality: 'My driver is very happy'

Aarthi Swaminathan
Finance Writer

Billionaire Ken Langone, one of the co-founders of Home Depot (HD), believes capitalism is better than ever and that the current state of affairs “lifts all boats.”

Langone, who is worth about $3.5 billion, told Yahoo Finance’s Jen Rogers that he wrote his new book to “let the world know that capitalism is alive and well.” After Rogers noted that income inequality in the U.S. is getting worse, Langone responded:

Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You look at the people that I’m blessed to have work with me. Nobody works for me. A lot of people work with me. Look at the people in my office. You look at my driver. Look at our help at home. And they’re doing very well. They’re very happy. One of the reasons they’re doing very well is, we can afford to treat them very well.

“And we can treat them very well because we succeeded in [capitalism] — it lifts all boats!”

Ken Langone speaks with Jen Rogers on Yahoo Finance’s The Final Round.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that as of May 2017, the mean annual wage of chauffeurs in New York was $34,470. The mean annual salary for maids and housekeeping cleaners is around the same mark at $34,070.

While Langone is right in saying employers bear the responsibility of paying well — Donald Trump’s driver earned $75,000 in 2010 — the lack of an institutional framework to ensure a more equal distribution of wealth exacerbates inequality in the long-term.

(President Donald Trump’s personal driver of more than 25 years recently filed a lawsuit asking for more than 3,000 hours in unpaid overtime over a six-year period.)

(Picture: EPI)

The top 1%in the U.S. take home 21% of all the country’s income, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

In Connecticut and New York, the average income of the top 1% was 48 times more than everyone else — largely due to the salaries doled out by Wall Street and the financial sector.

Across all 50 states, the top 1% — which includes billionaires like Langone — earn 26.3 times more than the bottom 99%.

‘Trump was right’

Langone also voiced support Trump’s moves on tariffs, calling out previous Presidents for letting China have the upper hand for years.

“I wanna ask you a question —  you and I have a deal, we’ve had a deal for 30 years,” Langone said, laying out a hypothetical. “It’s a great deal for you, it’s a bad deal for me. I say, ‘Oh, come on, we gotta work this out — it’s gotta be better for me.’

“So what’s better for me might be a little less good for you … Our competitor says, ‘Let’s talk about it next year,’ and this goes on for 30 years. Finally, [I say], ‘Hey, guys, enough. We can do one of two. We can go to war with you, which we don’t want to do, or we can say, OK, we’re going to unilaterally correct it.’

“‘You want to put your stuff in our country? You’re going to pay a tariff.'”

Vice President Mike Pence laughs as U.S. President Donald Trump holds a baseball bat as they attend a Made in America product showcase event at the White House in Washington, U.S. (Photo: Reuters)

Langone added that Trump’s assertiveness is fresh approach from a U.S. president: “Let me tell you right now, these idiots … that came before Trump … Trump was right when he said, ‘I don’t blame our foreign partners. Our people let them do it.’ …

“Well, right now, he’s saying, ‘Wait a minute, guys. When we agree to wait, I lose, you win.'”

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