Sunday, May 9, 2010

Stratospheric Inequality

There is a phenomenon in the United States that confuses me mightily and it never quite manages to be explained to my satisfaction. I do not understand how ordinary working people can side so staunchly with the forces arrayed against their own economic best interest. For instance, in the health insurance reform debate we heard endlessly from opponents of reform, people who themselves had no insurance, or who enjoyed the benefits of the single payer system we call Medicare, who rejected as evil "socialism" any attempt at reform of our grossly inefficient cruel "system" of private health insurance.On the subject of the implosion of the economic system in 2008 and subsequent economic devastation, we see no widespread protests or demands for change. Already we hear the storyline of the economic implosion changing to reflect the desire of the private banking sector to avoid blame for our troubles. It is extraordinary how easily public opinion can be swayed, how little it takes to convince a population that lives in dread of unemployment, that the people who profited most from the wreckage had nothing to do with it's creation. To suggest otherwise is to engage in that most pernicious lie of all " class warfare." It seems obvious to me that to avoid laying the blame for the collapse squarely where it belongs is a form of class warfare far more cruel and vicious than simply telling the truth. Yet the American population cannot bring itself to protest; we leave such activities to the Greeks who are loud in arguing the sins of the rich should not be expiated by the population at large. They take to the streets to make their point; we don't.

Just this week the minutes of a Federal Reserve meeting from 2004 were revealed. Chair Alan Greenspan made the following breathtakingly snobbish remark:

We run the risk, by laying out the pros and cons of a particular argument, of inducing people to join in on the debate, and in this regard it is possible to lose control of a process that only we fully understand.



Perhaps in 2004 only the federal Reserve bankers understood the housing bubble they had created but they, among all of us, failed to take corrective action to spare us all the Depression level misery we now collectively suffer at their hands. Yet we do not protest.



It is said that Americans labor under the delusion that the American Dream is alive and well and thus they too can one day benefit from the breaks we give to the very rich. Indeed this is a country that sees widespread admiration for the accumulation of wealth (in defiance of the religious stereotype that recommends abandonment of wealth as the true portal to eternal happiness!). Furthermore the theories of one William Sumner are suddenly making themselves known. This 19th century philosopher had apparently become fashionable in conservative circles which have adopted his two principle characters to describe the best of modern America. That would be the Captain of Industry who epitomises free wheeling capitalism. And then there is the Forgotten Man, who represented the substance of the self reliant member of the capitalist world. This Darwinian view of the world is coming back to haunt the United States where the forgotten men and women are laboring under the delusion that it is government, not the absence of government oversight that is wrecking our world.


My contention that our working class world is being wrecked is supported by new figures that should the top one percent in this country are taking home the bacon and the rest of us are getting the shaft. This inequality is now at levels not seen since the 1920s.

Notice how the boom years of growing expectations and expanding wealth from 1960 to 1980 show historic high levels of parity, falling away with the election of Ronald Reagan as President. The problem with income disparity at these levels is that in an economy like ours driven by "consumer spending" you won't see much spending by people if they have neither income nor security. And we thus get back to the original contention: without a fair share and moderate distribution of wealth we as a nation suffer. Everyone does better when everyone does better, as the saying goes. That isn't dreaded Socialism, that's common sense.

8 comments:

Milton's Freeman said...

"I do not understand how ordinary working people can side so staunchly with the forces arrayed against their own economic best interest" - the simple explanation is they ARE supporting forces which DO align with their economic interests - free choice. Some people are wise enough to see that "Free healthcare" is far from free, that gov't is the most INefficient way to deliver any service, and the inevitable lowering of the average amerikans std of living as a result of the Gov't taking more personal property is not the correct path.

Danette said...

Americans are like goldfish with three second memories. You can't really expect them to appreciate the "good old days"! Why that's just so ol' skool of you! You might as well start telling those stories about how you used to walk through the snow to school, barefoot for five miles... backwards. Evidence not withstanding (nice graphs!) we put the past behind us! And since Reagan declared it was morning in America- you are just a fool not to bask in the afternoon sun.

And as far as class warfare goes-- well, we only hate the poor. That kind of hatred is sanctified by the church (like boy buggering). So go with it brother! Don't you get it? It's all good.

(I might be getting bitter)

Conchscooter said...

Dear Milton. Free choice in health car eisn't free and all the contraints in the current system work against the customers and in favor of the corporations. Thats why changes are needed. I prefer the socialist choice of single payer, a system that is supported firecely by it's beneficiaries in every other industrialized country. Only in the US do we pay more per capita for less with people being denied care all the time.
And yet many of the people being denied coverage (who presumably have never been sick and been enmeshed in the coroprate hydra's tentacles) oppose change. They sound bamboozled to me, not "free."
Your mantra of "government bad" is getting old, especially in light of the total lack of oversight of the drilling safety requirements in the Gulf of mexico. Hows that freedom to drill working for you?

Milton's Freeman said...

Until I find one example of "gov't good," I'm afraid I can't get on the "please, give me more gov't" bandwagon...

Danette said...

Better yet, give an example of a corporation that did right by it's workers or the community they're in without a union pushing back or government oversight. BP certainly is/was all over it, right? Looking out for the folk on the coast...

Milton's Freeman said...

Right off the top of my head, that evil capitalist Bill Gates along with that baby-killer Warren Buffet have given billions to needy causes.... and I don't think they had the boot of a union on their neck... nor were they "oversighted" by the glorious gov't either...

Danette said...

Hmmm-- ever worked for them? giving donations does not preclude a friendly work environment. For example...Starbucks is supposed to be a progressive organization yet they are shit to work for. Target gives lots of community donations but they are also not fun to work for. Andrew Carnegie gave tons of money to libraries and was a "major philanthropist" yet as I understand it he was NOT a good employer. You don't know what any boss would do without govt regulations in place because we are accustomed to it. We do know what happens as soon as the regulations are relaxed because the evidence is everywhere.

Conchscooter said...

While charity may make the giver feel good it is not the best nor most effective way to help people do better. I remember the Christians in Pres Bush's administration wanted to replace social services with christian charity. It didn't work.