Time Essay: The Big Puzzle: Who Makes What and Why

Why on earth should Muhammad Ali get $5 million for one night's performance when college professors average only $24,400 a year? Or why should a Johnny Carson be paid a fortune ($3 million-plus a year) while only peanuts, comparatively, go to the workers who happen to keep the TV industry operating? Such questions from typical Americans are familiar. The tone is usually perplexed and often indignant. And no wonder: the pattern of personal income in the U.S. is riddled with wide and often bewildering disparities.

These become joltingly clear in any random sampling of...

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