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Is America too complacent with income inequality?

Peter Georgescu, Chairman Emeritus and former CEO of Young & Rubicam, is "scared" by America's complacency on inequality today and is now calling on corporate America to help narrow the income gap.

Posted: Sep 25, 2018 1:01 AM
Updated: Sep 25, 2018 1:06 AM

Few are more grateful for US citizenship and the American Dream than Peter Georgescu.

He came to the United States a political refugee in the 1950s and went on to build a storied business career, which included being chairman and CEO of the global advertising firm Young & Rubicam.

That's why he feels compelled to speak out about the perils he sees for US society if American businesses don't take a more active role in combating income inequality and narrowing the economic opportunity gap.

"What scares me is our complacency. We have two countries. We have 20% of Americans where life is about as good as it gets. Then we have the other America a couple of miles away," Georgescu tells CNN's Poppy Harlow in the latest episode of Boss Files.

Born in Romania under Communist rule in 1939, Georgescu was separated from his parents in 1947 because the fall of the Iron Curtain prevented them from returning home after they took a business trip in New York. He lived with his grandparents after that, but was arrested and sent to a hard labor camp at 10 years old.

He and his brother worked at the camp for several years. In 1953, their parents, who had by that time become American citizens, were told by Romanian diplomats, "'Spy for us or you may never see your kids again,'"Georgescu said. His parents refused and went to the FBI with their story. The press reported on it. A member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and President Eisenhower took up the cause to get the boys freed.

It worked. They arrived in the United States to join their parents in 1954. Georgescu was even invited to attend the exclusive Exeter Academy even though he didn't know a word of English at the time.

For him, the American Dream meant becoming the best version of himself. "Not only am I alive because of America and the American people, but because along the way I have always gotten help," he told Harlow.

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That's why Georgescu is so pained by what he sees as growing rips in the fabric of US society — not only from disproportionate wealth and opportunities enjoyed by the top 20%, but also the anti-immigrant sentiment championed by the Trump administration.

"This is a country of immigrants. The power of the energy that immigrants bring to America is extraordinary. ... They have always looked to America as the land of opportunity, as the land to learn and practice and live the values that we have possessed for a long time. [Now] we don't recognize this. We choose to say 'America first.'"

His latest book, "Capitalists, Arise: End Economic Inequality, Grow the Middle Class, Heal the Nation," is a call to the private sector to act.

Related: A former refugee, she's now the first Latina CEO of a major US company

One thing business leaders can do is drop the mantra that one always needs to maximize short-term shareholder value at all costs.

"That's the problem," said Georgescu, who is on the board of JUST Capital, a nonprofit that tracks and aims to encourage fair and just corporate behavior. "Corporations have more than one stakeholder. Yes, the shareholder is important. But so is the customer. And so are the employees. ... And so is the nation and the communities."

Businesses can no longer afford to say "'We must grow and I don't care about what happens to the community or the nation,'" he told Harlow.

Or to not care for their employees, Georgescu added. "They have to be treated well, because a worker is not going to spend his nights worrying about productivity increases and innovation if [he is] being treated like dirt."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 764448

Reported Deaths: 13965
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1049701803
Lake567981029
Allen42685698
St. Joseph37253568
Hamilton37131426
Elkhart29699470
Tippecanoe23347230
Vanderburgh23106404
Porter19538327
Johnson18755391
Hendricks18012321
Madison13463345
Clark13450198
Vigo12789255
LaPorte12533224
Monroe12494178
Delaware11100198
Howard10612237
Kosciusko9736123
Hancock8707149
Bartholomew8235157
Warrick8031157
Floyd7975181
Grant7337181
Wayne7222201
Boone7145105
Morgan6886142
Marshall6323116
Dubois6267118
Cass6083111
Dearborn598578
Noble595790
Henry5939111
Jackson514677
Shelby509097
Lawrence4901127
Gibson460696
Montgomery454492
Clinton453555
DeKalb451585
Harrison450576
Whitley414745
Huntington411781
Steuben409560
Miami404073
Jasper399455
Knox387091
Putnam383762
Wabash367383
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Jefferson340486
White338954
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Fayette285864
Posey280435
Scott278058
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Washington252437
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Spencer237531
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Starke229859
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Sullivan219043
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Jay202832
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Franklin171635
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Pike141234
Blackford137832
Pulaski122948
Newton122436
Benton109215
Brown105743
Crawford105116
Martin92515
Warren87615
Switzerland8308
Union73510
Ohio58211
Unassigned0428

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1120922

Reported Deaths: 20467
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1300711493
Cuyahoga1169882259
Hamilton822191259
Montgomery533351059
Summit487911014
Lucas43688832
Butler39879614
Stark33752937
Lorain25937509
Warren24850312
Mahoning22663612
Lake21429396
Clermont20338260
Delaware19088138
Licking16820227
Trumbull16744491
Fairfield16735207
Medina15800276
Greene15468254
Clark14325308
Portage13391218
Wood13327201
Allen12026245
Richland11707213
Miami10976228
Wayne9238227
Columbiana9182236
Muskingum9114137
Pickaway8729123
Tuscarawas8706254
Marion8691140
Erie8109166
Ashtabula7264179
Hancock7039134
Ross7004165
Geauga6939153
Scioto6636108
Belmont6203179
Lawrence5905104
Union590049
Jefferson5718162
Huron5622122
Sandusky5467130
Darke5436130
Seneca5373128
Washington5352111
Athens526260
Auglaize506787
Mercer490285
Shelby480497
Knox4603112
Madison446966
Ashland441898
Defiance438099
Fulton435275
Putnam4349104
Crawford4103111
Brown408862
Preble3940107
Logan391479
Clinton387966
Ottawa374981
Highland364668
Williams355478
Champaign347560
Guernsey329554
Jackson321154
Perry298050
Morrow294543
Fayette287950
Hardin278865
Henry276967
Holmes2725102
Coshocton272461
Van Wert251465
Gallia248450
Adams247758
Pike244537
Wyandot235257
Hocking221763
Carroll200349
Paulding179342
Meigs150740
Noble137639
Monroe137445
Harrison115038
Morgan111524
Vinton87117
Unassigned03
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