Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011 03:32 pm
The disuniting of America
In recent years, the insidious love of mammon (in the form of greed and excess) has not merely been tolerated in our country, but celebrated and even exalted into official public policy, marring our economy with dangerous inequality and injustice. The reigning ethos of those at the apex of our nation’s wealth pyramid is that too much is not enough. They’re not merely out to make loads of the money they love, but to make a killing, everyone else be damned.
New numbers from the Congressional Budget Office confirm that as the moneyed elites have been making their killing, wealth disparity has become extreme in a country that once prided itself on trying to build a more egalitarian society.
Analyzing 30 years of income data, the nonpartisan CBO reports that the richest 1 percent of our population has enjoyed a stunning 275 percent increase in their income during that time. As a result, these privileged few have more than doubled the slice of America’s income pie that they consume, going from 8 percent to 17 percent of the whole in just three decades.
From whom did these richest 1-percenters get their extra-big slice? From us, the 99 percent. The share of national income going to middle class and poor families shrank in this period – which is why there is such broad support today for Occupy Wall Street’s “We are the 99 percent” movement.
At the extreme tip of America’s wealth pyramid are the multimillionaire CEOs and billionaire Wall Streeters. They are the richest .01-percenters (a mere 14,836 households). These few now take 6 percent of all U.S. income – the biggest piece ever consumed by America’s mega-rich.
If the widening chasm between the rich and the rest of us is not addressed, our society will devolve into a jungle – and not even billionaires will enjoy living there.
As an old country saying puts it, “Money is like manure – it does no good unless you spread it around.” Instead of recognizing such commonsense wisdom, America’s corporate and political leaders have intentionally been shoveling wealth into an ever-bigger pile for those at the top. They’ve gotten away with this by lying to the great majority, which has seen its share of America’s prosperity steadily disappearing.
Yes, they’ve told us with lying smiles, the rich are getting richer, but that’s just the natural workings of the new global economy, in which financial elites are rewarded for their exceptional talents, innovation and bold risk-taking.
Horse dooties. The massive redistribution of America’s wealth from the many to the few is happening because the rich and their political puppets have rigged the system. Years of subsidized off-shoring and downsizing, gutting labor rights, monkey-wrenching the tax code, legalizing financial recklessness and finagling, dismantling social programs, increasing the political dominance of corporate cash – these and other self-serving acts of the moneyed powers have created the conveyor belt that’s moving our wealth from the grassroots to the penthouses.
Not since 1928, in the Gilded Age that preceded and precipitated the Great Depression, have so few amassed so much of our nation’s riches. Having learned nothing from that devastating financial crash almost exactly 82 years ago, nor from their own financial failure that collapsed their banks in 2008 and crushed our economy, the wealthiest of the wealthy fully intend to keep taking more for themselves at our expense.
Now, however, the people are onto their lies. In an October poll, two-thirds of Americans support increased taxes on millionaires, and two-thirds want an end to corporate tax subsidies and are for policies to more evenly distribute the wealth that all of us help create. This rising egalitarianism is the real America, and it will change our politics – for the better.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.