Wealth inequality is an existential threat to modern society. A driving force of that inequality are the default structures of ownership - a landlord class, and a working class. A managerial class, and an execution class. Those in the landlord & managerial class will argue that there is simple mobility from the working & execution classes - it just takes time. You'll own a home one day, you just have to save up and stop spending your money frivolously. It's early in your career; you're young; one day you'll inevitably have lots of money, you should focus on learning and enhancing your skills (a narrative typically used to underpay junior staff, and often at the expense of taking jobs with higher salaries & better stock options somewhere else). And this narrative rings true for a select few. If you are a white man who's had tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on you and your general education, it is an attainable goal. It's the default path, if you stick with it and don't become disillusioned. One day you too can start a company and keep 50% of the equity for yourself. One day you can own 10 homes and rent them out; maybe taking advantage of a 1031 exchange to defer capital gains tax on the properties you buy.
But what about everyone else? If you start a company, what about your employees? If you build a real estate empire, what about your tenants? "At least I'm creating jobs and housing opportunities for people," you often hear "I did all the hard work and took the risk, surely I should be able to reap the benefits." But what if you thought outside of yourself? What if your goal was to create wealth for others as well as yourself? Because no company is the fruit of one man's labour. The man who owns the rental property is not usually the one who fits the electrics, renovates the kitchen, lays new tile in the bathroom. The founder may start off by sending marketing emails and responding to customer service queries himself, but as the company evolves those necessary functions become filled by others. Soliciting help from others to enrich yourself, and not to enrich the whole group, is the systemic problem.
The determinants for salary and wages are complicated. We conceive that it's primarily driven by a mix of age, experience, education; but it's often moreso driven by expectations of the scarcity of a skillset (proxied by how difficult it seems to acquire the skills) or the expected value that the labour could bring (which can be overblown by hype e.g. AI, Data Science). It is also driven by wage bargaining - and in most instances, a company will try to pay you the least it possibly can, while still meeting some minimum competitive threshold of what seems fair (this 'fair' benchmark is usually whatever the person making the offer's salary was when they were your age). It is of course also driven by 'general market conditions' & the cost of living, although as we all know, wages have stagnated relative to the cost of living for the past 40 years.
But equity is different. When you create a company, you get to create the cap table. It's often extremely secretive, and as a result there's less visible social norms that dictate it. The VCs know; other founders know. But employees rarely do. Most people don't get equity, and if you do, you're told to keep quiet about it so as not to perturb the other employees (or you get such a nominal amount it's like getting equity in name only). The reason for this, of course, is that equity is where the actual upshot is. Where the real money gets made. The VCs don't take salaries; the founder usually takes a lower salary than they've had for the rest of their career. A real estate investor isn't going to give a carpenter 1% of the equity in a property he's buying; he's already paying him $15/hour to do the job, what more could he ask for? If the company is a success, or the investment property sells, the upside is felt by the ownership & managerial class, and the working & execution class will get to write down what they did on a piece of paper in the hopes of finding another gig. How could you create a structure where everyone gets to share in the rewards of their joint labour?
It's a complicated problem because it is antithetical to the structure of a capitalist society. You'll inevitably have to give away a chunk of the equity to investors; even if you crowdfund some seed money. But I wonder how a company would function where everyone employed has an equity share equivalent to the number of days they've worked. Age, experience, education, bargaining ability aside - leave those determinants to the broken salary & wage market that no one individual can exercise control over. Exercise control over the cap table. The founder would still end up with the biggest share as they've been there the longest. Early employees would still have greater shares than other employees. It would be true that as new people come in, each existing employee would have a lower share in the total stock of equity - but the value of that equity would rise as the output capacity of the company increases.
"Fairness" and logistics aside - what would that working environment be like? Would you still get founder worship? Would people still play games to rise to middle management for hopes of a greater salary & equity package? Would people feel more enfranchised and care more about the work they do? Would there be a greater sense of unity & commitment? Would decisions be made more democratically? I don't know. But in the event of a company's success, would the financial rewards be shared more broadly? Yes. Would this reduce inequality? To an extent. But if equity was extended not just to white collar employees, but to all labourers in the supply chain (following Hamdi Ulukaya's example) we could maybe make some progress towards greater equity.