A Rising Tide Lifts All Yachts
September 23, 2010 § 6 Comments
I believe too little attention is being paid to the gross and growing degree of wealth and income inequality in America. There is plenty of information. Magazines, newspapers, scholarly journals and foundation-funded studies have well documented what is, and has been occurring. Liberal politicians and middle-class Americans, however, have expressed little or no interest in this phenomenon.
A conventional explanation for the working class’s indifference to this matter is that our American culture encourages the expectation that everyone, regardless of his or her present situation, can realistically hope to join the ranks of the rich and famous. Rail-splitter to Whitehouse; rags to riches, and as every mother tells her son (and now, even her daughter), “You can be anything you want to be.” Since everyone wants to be rich, that extravagant hope extinguishes any wish to interfere with the advantages of being rich.
The fact that this is roughly equivalent to buying lottery tickets does not detract from its appeal. Just observe how many lottery tickets are sold every day. [A friend of mine, years ago, the first day that sale of lottery tickets was permitted in Texas, bought one ticket, did not win, and told me that established, for him, the fact that his “higher power” did not choose him as a lottery winner and, given that evidence, he would never buy another ticket. He regarded the lottery as a “tax on the stupid”.]
Despite this cultural myth, I hope our politicians will begin talking about the immorality of this inequality. I use the word, “immorality” because I think it is immoral for rich people in this country to insist on perpetuating and accelerating the extent of this inequality, while simultaneously calling for diminished spending on measures designed to stave off poverty for a substantial segment of our citizens. How can a man making more than a million dollars a year confront himself in a mirror when he is financing efforts to deprive suffering people of health care, housing and a decent standard of living? Is it really sufficient that he tithes to the church? How can he justify his outrage at the possibility that his taxes might be increased to their levels in 1994 (when, incidentally, he and the country were doing very, very well financially), an increase that would leave him with more spendable money in a year than most of his fellow citizens earn in a lifetime? Haven’t the preachers he listens to each Sunday ever mentioned the Sermon on the Mount? Didn’t his mother install in his brain some form of shame triggered by his selfishness? And, more to my point, why aren’t these questions being asked by our President, our Congressional leaders and our Texas liberal politicians? [For Krugman’s take on this point, see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/20/opinion/20krugman.html?_r=1&th=&emc=th&pagewanted=print.]
I blame Ronald Reagan and the acolytes who accompanied and succeeded him for much of my frustration on this issue. Reagan preached the doctrine that “rising tides raise all boats”. He cleverly played into the cultural mythology mentioned earlier. He had two tunes that he played over and over and over. The first was that “freedom” was equivalent to unfettered free-market capitalism. A whole academic chorus, centered in the University of Chicago, was organized to mask this grotesque ideology with scholarly credentials. Milton Friedman was its high priest. [One unfortunate result: David Brooks went to school at Chicago and, although he seems to be a decent person, cannot free himself from the nonsense implanted in his brain there.]
The real authors of the fairy tale were Frederich Von Hayek and his stupid book, “The Road to Serfdom” and the so-called “Austrian School” of economics. The die-hard anti-Keynesians of that “school” are still around and, oblivious to contrary evidence, are still arguing that market fluctuations and the “useful destruction” that results should be left unimpeded. Alan Greenspan, a longtime worshiper of that nonsense as well as its fictional contributor, Ayn Rand, has recently acknowledged that he may have been mistaken for about the past forty or fifty years; that perhaps the market needs regulation and tax cuts do not result in increased tax revenue. I don’t know whether his conscience has finally kicked in as he glimpses the Grim Reaper over the horizon or whether he has, indeed, finally waked up and smelled the coffee. I just wish he had had this epiphany when he headed the Fed and was listened to with so much deference.
Reagan’s second tune was faux outrage at what he claimed were the undeserving, irresponsible and dishonest feeders at the welfare trough. That evil lie gave every greedy person a handy remedy for a guilty conscience. They could all say, in interior dialogues with their mothers, “You don’t understand, Mom. These people don’t need or appreciate our tax money. It just encourages them to have more babies so they don’t have to work for a living. Lots of them are living high on the hog with the money they scrounge from the government. Besides, the Democrats are just buying their votes with our tax money.” The “Welfare Cadillac” and the “Welfare Queen” became household phrases and conventional wisdom.
The word “radical” is based on the word “root”. It means that a radical proposes to destroy something at the root. The decent people in this country must find leaders who will be “radicals”; who will expose these ideas and their authors as frauds and merchants of selfishness. This will take a long time and require hundreds of thousands of repetitions from many, many sources. As George Lakoff has convinced me, to win this struggle, we must change the brains of millions of our fellow citizens.
I have been prompted to produce this rant after reading several descriptions of how our income and wealth inequality has been accomplished. Here are some links to some interesting websites.
Slate, an emag, ran a series of articles on this subject. They are well written and illustrated by a series of ten charts. If you don’t have time to read the articles, you can benefit from the charts. Go to the last page of the last article and click on the visuals. There are ten of them. There are ten radio buttons at the beginning of the series that permit you to access any one of the articles without scrolling through them.
Here is one more graph. It shows that the unequal distribution of American wealth sharply increased during the Reagan administration and continued thereafter in a steep upward trend.
Here is a link to the series. http://www.slate.com/id/2266025/entry/2266026/
I’ll give you one more link to well written information about income inequality and the resulting gradual disappearance of the American middle class. Professor Krugman wrote an article entitled “For Richer” in the October 20, 2002 issue of the New York Times Magazine. The article is full of statistics and facts. The sources listed in footnotes amount to a compendium of information about this subject. Here is the link: