600th study released showing huge wealth disparity

It seems like we see this same study every month.

The gap between the wealthiest Americans and middle- and working-class Americans has more than tripled in the past three decades, according to a June 25 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Yeah, but we’ve known that forever, right? Wages are stagnate, the majority of people have very little wealth (it’s much worse for women of color) while a smaller and smaller minority hoard all the cash.

I posted a question on Twitter: “How many studies need to come out showing the huge wealth disparity before the government acts to fix it?” and got the usual snarky, flippant response I’ve grown to expect and love from readers. The standard response goes like this: the government knows it’s a problem, but the rich, connected people are the ones in power, they benefit from this feudal system, and so they vote to preserve it.

I completely agree with that assessment, but there comes a time every few generations where that system becomes utterly unsustainable, and even the well-healed oligarchy must make some concessions to the serfs. Seriously – who in their right mind thinks this economic model can go on forever? Eventually, the whole thing will collapse and the rich won’t have a government left to protect their sweet little ponzi scheme. At this point, it behooves not only the poor to rework the system, but also the rich.

No one  (or I should say very few people) are proposing a Communist utopia in which All Are Equal, and the government tears gold bricks from the desperate, clawing arms of the rich. Quite literally, the most radical mainstream proposals involve slightly raising taxes on the wealthy. It’d also be a good idea to increase the minmum wage and get people health insurance. That’s it. That maybe be all it takes from stopping the entire system from deteriorating.

Yet, our wealthy overlords seem incapable of reversing their myopic governance. They demonize the poor and unemployed, and dangle benefits before their noses before ultimately yanking them away. They propose severe austerity measures in the midst of an economic recession, and casually discuss privatizing Social Security – one of the last meaningful government programs. And they can generally get away with abusing the underclass because the corporate state – assisted by both political parties – toppled the sole tool of the solidarity labor movement, the union.

However, Bob Herbert writes that the new president of the UAW, Bob King, appears to have a grasp on the dangerous instability of the country, and an understanding of what needs to happen in order to rectify the problem.

“My view of the labor movement today,” he said in an interview, “is that we got too focused on our contracts and our own membership and forgot that the only way, ultimately, that we protect our members and workers in general is by fighting for justice for everybody.”

The fundamental issue is that “every human being deserves dignity and a decent standard of living,” he said, “and the whole point of the labor movement is to help make that happen.”

In Mr. King’s view, the fight to organize workers and improve their wages and benefits is important, but it’s part of a much broader effort to improve the lives of individuals and families throughout the country and beyond. He is a believer in cooperative efforts and shared sacrifice, and is unabashedly idealistic as he outlines what can only be described as a new activism on labor’s part.

He promised his members last month that the U.A.W. would be marching and campaigning and organizing — for jobs, for a moratorium on home foreclosures, for civil and human rights and against the mistreatment of immigrants, and for peace.

“The Tea Party has been more vocal than we’ve been,” he said. “There is something wrong with that picture.”

This is exactly what another man named King envisioned for his last proposed political movement, a Poor People’s Party, that would transcend racial boundaries and unite the underclass in a powerful movement that could push back against the tyrannical behemoths on Wall Street.

As Hebert writes (and I recommend reading the whole article,) no one talks like this anymore. No doubt the Serious People will scoff at Bob King’s words, but then again, they’re the same  type of assholes who also laughed at Dr. King, and who have now brought us to this place of recession and huge wealth disparity, so perhaps we should ignore those condescending dismissals and forge ahead.

Solidarity seems like a strange concept in these divisive times, but if workers remember and embrace the idea, it’s literally the only tool they have at their disposal to challenge the uncaring elite.

Update: Of course, it’ll be hard for workers to negotiate with total idiots.

5 Comments

  1. Mark

    Labor shouldn’t reach so far beyond it’s core mission until it gets its own house in order. For the last 30+ years, union members have bought into the mindset of their corporate masters: that somehow, they too could get rich in a system run solely from Wall Street. It’s horseshit!

    But far too many unions bought into it and got all they could get for current members by cutting and slashing the pay and benefits for new hires. Many have given up pensions, leaving new members with 401k’s if anything at all. There are 2 and 3 tier systems in place all over the country (the UAW included) where new employees must work side by side with union brothers and sisters who make much more and have better benefits for doing the same work, and they are somehow supposed to be inspired to get more involved with the movement. Why would they?

    My own Local included in the last contract a provision allowing new hires to be trained to work in two departments, thus having twice the knowledge and responsibility, yet when they reach the job rate (in 7 years!) they will be making roughly 15% less than their coworkers who only work in one department. New hires don’t have the layoff protection of current employees, and their temporary disability plan isn’t even a shadow of the one current employees enjoy.

    The attitude of the current members is, “We fought for ours, now the new people will have to fight for theirs.” It’s pathetic! They’ve actually brought about circumstances in which new members must re-fight battles that have already been won! This has happened all over the country for years. And until there is some real solidarity within the labor movement, and within individual unions,they should limit their activities in the broader struggles of the day.

  2. Sarah K Jones

    I agree that current economic data makes clearly evident a gross misappropriation of wealth distribution in the United States.

    I also feel that these statistics are insufficient in expressing the real human cost of economic inequality.

    There is absolutely no question that far too many Americans are suffering as a result of antiquated monetary policy and morally misguided fiscal policy, which are both designed to eliminate any possible correlation between money and ethics.

    Add a perceived lack of political efficacy due to our needless, however traditional, centralized federal systems, our society seems to be teetering on the brink of nihilism at times.

    However, there is a lot of reason to be hopeful for a better future.

    Some economists view the current state of economic crisis as an unfortunate, but perhaps necessary, function of globalization. While wealth distribution appears to have little dispersion in our country, this may correlate to greater dispersion of wealth globally. Thomas Friedman discusses this in his book, The World is Flat.

    The outsourcing of labor overseas coupled with the ever increasing influx of cheaper immigrant labor, as well as many other more subtle factors, has had the global effect of leveling the economic playing field.

    While this has obvious short term consequences for the average American citizen, the aggregate effect over time will most likely be positive for every major state player.

    Furthermore, economist Steven Landsburg notes that historically (since the Industrial Revolution) income for the average American citizen has been increasing at a rate of about 2.3 percent annually. When we apply this rate and adjust it for inflation, the outcome is impressive, even for the least advantaged citizen, relatively speaking.

    Not only this, but food is cheaper than it has ever been in all of human history. People work fewer hours than they ever have in human history. Entertainment is practically ubiquitous. And most importantly, access to information and knowledge is unparalleled.

    As wealth builds upon wealth, standards of living increase and expectations of what constitutes the good life increase as well. This is the impetus behind innovation.

    As the status quo becomes less tolerable more quickly, political activists ( I am assuming such as yourself?) will demand higher standards, and this is the driving force that drives economic development.

    The economic model that describes our current situation is not immutable by any means. It will not collapse our society. Instead, it will eventually conform to higher standards.

    By all means, keep your expectations for a better life for people beyond reason. But what keeps me going is knowing that even though it may not seem like it sometimes, this is the best it has ever been and it’s only going to get better.

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