“It’s no use pretending”

The old chestnut about the rich keep getting richer is not some propped-up left-wing propaganda. In a recent piece in Vanity Fair magazine, Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz calls it straight (link here):

It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent.

As America vents anger over a possibly murderous mother who got away with it and obsesses over any number of television reality shows, we ignore how the wealth and income gaps in the U.S. have become all the more outrageous.

So many people are struggling right now, and some are downright desperate, while America’s most fortunate and powerful do everything they can to keep executive salaries high and tax rates down. And what’s at stake is more than “just” money. As Stiglitz suggests:

Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important. America has long prided itself on being a fair society, where everyone has an equal chance of getting ahead, but the statistics suggest otherwise: the chances of a poor citizen, or even a middle-class citizen, making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries of Europe.

America’s plutocrats are laughing at us. They are happy if everyday Americans get caught up in the trivialities of the day, because then we are less likely to see the giant money grab that has been taking place before our very eyes. Instead, we can sit back as the newly unemployed get to watch Donald Trump bellow “You’re fired” to his latest casualty. When are we going to get it?


Hat tip to Susan Thomas for the Vanity Fair piece.

3 responses

  1. I believe that the values of the rich and powerful ( the boss caste) changed over time for the worse and that we are now paying for it.

    During WWII everybody fought, rich and poor -very often side by side. I have a theroy that when these people came home, the ones who became the bosses felt a moral obligation to their workers and to society as a whole. Workers themselves knew the value of unions and how working together could benefit the whole. I believe the horrors of war gave these folks a powerful lesson in empathy that served the country well for 3-4 decades after WWII. I think it is no coincidnece that this was when the middle class thrived.

    Enter the Vietnam generation. If you were rich you could avoid the draft ( I remember a quote from Dick Cheny that he had other -or was it better?- things to do besides answering his draft notice). This generation lost the values of the Greatest Generation or as I call them, the Luckiest Generation. These soon-to-be bosses had little or no ability to empathize with people not not of their caste and unfortunatley they are breeding true with even higher percentage of the next generation scoring high on the narcissism scale.

    Ronald Reagan may have been right about trickle down — but at the wrong time ( he was of that luckiest generation and may have believed that if you lowered corporate taxes of course businesses would invest in workers) . Trickledown may have worked in the 60’s ( I personally don’t think so but who knows); by the 80’s those WWII era bosses were already passing or had passed the torch to a more narcissistic, greedy, and low to no empathy generation of rich and powerful which is where we find ourselves. While India is getitng rid of its caste system, I fear we are creating one. While the middle class still has the vote we better start using it.

  2. Well done! Both your blog, calling attention to the VF article, and a prior comment reminds me of how Foucault talked about the need to make people into objects for abusive power to occur. Bullies lack empathy in order to objectify their victims to exert power and control. Foucault (1982) also wrote that society appears to have the high expectation that the role of philosophers is to point out the excessive use of power. Keep pointing it out.

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