Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income. . . . In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous — 12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades — and more — has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.
Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century — inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin.
. . . Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important. America has long prided itself on being a fair society, where everyone has an equal chance of getting ahead, but the statistics suggest otherwise: the chances of a poor citizen, or even a middle-class citizen, making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries of Europe. The cards are stacked against them. It is this sense of an unjust system without opportunity that has given rise to the conflagrations in the Middle East: rising food prices and growing and persistent youth unemployment simply served as kindling.
. . . In recent weeks we have watched people taking to the streets by the millions to protest political, economic, and social conditions in the oppressive societies they inhabit. Governments have been toppled in Egypt and Tunisia. Protests have erupted in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. The ruling families elsewhere in the region look on nervously from their air-conditioned penthouses—will they be next? They are right to worry. These are societies where a minuscule fraction of the population—less than 1 percent—controls the lion’s share of the wealth; where wealth is a main determinant of power; where entrenched corruption of one sort or another is a way of life; and where the wealthiest often stand actively in the way of policies that would improve life for people in general.
As we gaze out at the popular fervor in the streets, one question to ask ourselves is this: When will it come to America? In important ways, our own country has become like one of these distant, troubled places. . . .
– Joseph E. Stiglitz
"Of the 1%, By the 1%, For the 1%"
"Of the 1%, By the 1%, For the 1%"
Recommended Off-site Links:
It's a Plutocracy, Stupid – MJ Rosenberg (Al Jazeera, April 4, 2011).
Capitalism's Dismal Future – Paul Mattick (The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 13, 2011).
This is What Democracy Looks Like – Chris Hedges (TruthDig.com, April 3, 2011).
When Pigs Rule – David Michael Green (CommonDreams.org, April 4, 2011).
How Milton Friedman and Chicago Economics Undermined America – Russell Mokhiber (Corporate Crime Reporter, April 2, 2011).
Why We Must Raise Taxes on the Rich – Robert Reich (CommonDreams.org, April 4, 2011).
The End of Progressive Government? – E.J. Dionne, Jr. (TruthDig.com, April 3, 2011).
A Primer on Class Struggle – Michael Schwalbe (CommonDreams.org, March 31, 2011).
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Quote of the Day – March 28, 2011
At the Minnesota Capitol, a Show of Solidarity for Workers' Rights in Wisconsin and Beyond
Across America, "the Giant is Awake"
Capitalism on Trial
R.I.P. Neoclassical Economics
In a Blow to Democracy, U.S. Supreme Court Affirms Corporate Personhood
Obama a Socialist? Hardly
Playwright Tony Kushner on Being a Socialist
A Socialist Response to the Financial Crisis