Friday, January 09, 2015

The 21st Century Will Be The Most Unequal Period In Human History


Progressives think Obama could have done more-- much more-- to further the legitimate economic interests of the American working class. Others think he did as much as he could under the political constraints in Washington. His record is a mixed bag. Yesterday, the unemployment continued its downward trend, dipping to 5.6%, the best numbers since Bush tanked the economy in fact, the best numbers since Bill Clinton was president. Despite dogged, systematic obstruction by the GOP, Obama's policies have worked to drag the country back from the brink of Republican apocalypse. On the other hand, he has continued coddling Wall Street banksters instead of prosecuting them and his race-to-the-bottom, job-destroying trade agenda is straight out of Wall Street boardrooms and Republican Party think tanks. Obama's plan, also announced yesterday, to make two years of college as free and universal as high school is clearly meant to close gaps that lead straight to the unconscionable wealth disparity that threatens American democracy.

Had McCain or Romney won it would have been far worse in every way. If Jeb Bush wins, he'll prove that once again. But we don't need to speculate or peer into a crystal ball to see the toxic impact of conservative governance on working people. Just look at our pals the British. They have a Conservative government and their own income and wealth inequality is, if anything, even worse than our own! In fact, David Cameron's trickle-down policies have made the U.K. the most attractive location as a tax haven for the super-rich. Parasites from around the world are flocking to Britain-- and buying up everything. Jacques Peretti investigates why in a new 3-part BBC series, The Super-Rich and Us, Part 1 embedded above.

How about this little factoid? "Since the '08 Crash, there's been 80 billion pounds ($120 billion dollars) of Austerity cuts, the same amount bankers will have been given in bonuses." Or this one, which sounds a lot like a Bernie Sanders speech: "In 2013 the UK’s thousand richest people saw their wealth increase by a sum equivalent to the combined earnings of the country’s fulltime workforce: £70 billion." The reviews have been pretty scathing. This is from yesterday's New Statesman:
It’s not the vulgarity that makes you want to puke so much as the asininity. The super- rich, it seems, really are different from the rest of us, their stupidity extending to the purchase of such fatuous me-treats as £30,000 sessions at the spa and brassieres encrusted with diamonds. Here’s an image for you. On a private Caribbean island, a pink, bald, loaded Brummie slashes the sand again and again with a golf club, every ball flying straight out into the ocean where, being made of fish food, it soon dissolves to nothing. As several novelists have discovered to their detriment just lately, this is a world far beyond satire, the symbolism so powerful and obvious that it requires not the slightest literary gussying-up.

...“We used to call it divine right,” said Nick Hanauer, a Seattle-based entrepreneur who earns £12,000 an hour. “Now we call it trickle-down economics.” Wealth like his own, he pointed out, just doesn’t convert into jobs, or even into high-street sales (though he earns a thousand times more than other people he doesn’t buy a thousand times more stuff). A lone voice among the super-rich, Hanauer would love to pay more tax. You could say that he regards doing so as a matter of life or death, because he fears the pitchforks will be coming for his kind pretty soon. But his government, like our own, won’t allow it. For the time being, the thinking goes, the gates-- electronic, 24-hour CCTV, panic buttons-- are plenty sturdy enough to keep out the barbarians.
The rich, though, have a different vision of reality than normal people do. And they can afford to force their vision into public policy. In the light of the widely-discussed report this week from the Pew Research Center, The Politics of Financial Insecurity. As Roberto Ferdman reported for the Washington Post, "There is little empathy at the top. Most of America's richest think poor people have it easy in this country."
Why the surprising lack of compassion? It's hard to say. At the very top, the sentiment is likely tied to conservatism, which traditionally bemoans government programs that redistribute wealth, calling them safety nets. Some 40 percent of the financially secure are politically conservative, according to Pew. And conservatives are even more likely to say the "poor have it easy" than the rich-- a recent Pew survey found that more than three quarters of conservatives feel that way.

More broadly, the prevalence of the view might reflect an inability to understand the plight of those who have no choice but to seek help from the government. A quarter of the country, after all, feels that the leading reason for inequality in America is that the poor don't work hard enough.

But as my colleague Christopher Ingraham pointed out last year, to say that the poor have it easy is to ignore how serious their struggle is in comparison to the rest of the population, and especially those with money to spare. The poor are much less likely to have health insurance, much more likely to be the victim of a crime. They don't get the same level of education or have the same food options. Inequality, as my colleague Matt O'Brien wrote, "starts in the crib," and it plays out even in what babies of different socioeconomic backgrounds are fed. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

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