Monday, February 9, 2015

But, You Knew That

You All Somebody's Bitch

Everywhere you turn, there's yet another story on air or online about the growing gap of inequality between the top one per cent, or the top one-tenth of one per cent, and everyone else.

The central feature of these articles is based on the fact that a small number of human beings (statistically, 380,000 here in the United States) own the lion's share of everything.


From Prof. G. William Domhoff, UC Santa Cruz : "In terms of types of financial wealth, the top one percent of households have 35% of all privately held stock, 64.4% of financial securities, and 62.4% of business equity. The top ten percent have 81% to 94% of stocks, bonds, trust funds, and business equity, and almost 80% of non-home real estate. Since financial wealth is what counts as far as the control of income-producing assets, we can say that just 10% of the people own the United States of America."
But the focus of the news items isn't about dry statistics any longer; these numbers are so abstract as to mean almost nothing to the average person. 

What does it mean in real terms? Here's one example:  Your family will have to work harder to afford to send even one child to a university that delivers a high quality education.  Middle class families will struggle to afford just to put that child in (as a California example) the UC system, or a State University.  With each passing year, going to college will become more stratified -- the Elite receiving the best education money can buy, an extension of connections with the children of other Elite families which  they've had since Prep School.

Not everyone can go to an Ivy League, elite school. There has always been a percentage of admissions to Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth from the middle class and below... but that number has never been high, and it will shrink further the more expensive education becomes.

The children of working class families will be able to afford trade schools, or an AA degree at a local Junior College. Some may go on to finish a Bachelors' degree online as they work a 9-to-5 job, but even Internet degrees have become more expensive -- it's a business too, you see.  And that's just education. 

If a society is forced into economic stratification by changing the flow of wealth to a small percentile at the top, it's harder for the salaried or wage-earning masses (who don't receive raises while their managers take home splendid bonuses).  "Income and Wealth Inequality" means the kind of lives 80% or more of us can afford will not have as many options. 

And accurate or not, the American Dream has always been sold as one with no limits -- that salaries and wages would continue to rise, just because.  Life will get better and better in this, the greatest place on earth of all time. And as commercial teevee continues to tell us to buy the things which will mean we're Living The Good Life, in the real world people will have to make choices that don't reflect that illusion. 

"Living within your means" has always been a reality for most of us, for generations, but I'm not talking about that. This is a situation where the economy has flattened out, even begun to run backwards, for most of us. That is what's different.

The reality of income inequality means not being able to afford to go out to so many restaurants, or take the kind of vacations you could less than a decade ago -- because while prices went up, your income did not.  It will mean more limits on the clothing and cars we can buy, on gasoline and air travel; the kind of homes we can afford and the neighborhoods we can live in -- and from that, the K-through-12 schools we can send our children to.

Income inequality will affect the quality of food we can buy, the health care we receive, and (when the time comes) will dictate the quality of life in retirement we'll have.  If climate change turns nasty, or if any real social dislocation occurs, not having more options may affect how secure and protected we are, even how many calories a day or how much water we'll receive.   

I've noted how rigged the game is many times before. What amazes me is, why news agencies even bother reporting on this any longer, because nothing happens. Nothing changes.

Do the networks (even Little Rupert's Fox, which has to try and appear as if it isn't the mouthpiece of an Oligarch)  believe the 0.01% will be shamed by any reporting into allowing a more egalitarian society? Is Downtown Abbey, shown here in the U.S., also a teaching moment about how the rich are just people too, and about how we should become the 'good' servants below stairs -- keeping our dignity, but learning our places in good Calvinist fashion ('High and Low hath He ordered their estates')?  Is there an American version of "Land Of Hope And Glory" we should learn?

Do the reporters and chroniclers of the New Gilded Age believe that by reporting The Fix Is In, it'll create change? Do mainstream "liberal" politicians believe the sheer rhetoric in their speeches about income inequality will do the trick?

It won't. Jake -- It's Chinatown.

What I ask myself is, Why aren't more people in the streets because of this? It's happening right in front of us. We allow it to continue.

Through most of human history, the wealthy have had it their own way. This period of democratic change, human expansion and technological advancement -- the so-called Age Of The Common Man -- has been brief. As the climate changes, and as everything from space and security to actual food and potable water become more scarce... the rich have said We are first in line and you will take what we allow you. The historical wheel has begun to turn back to what they consider a more 'equitable' balance.

Move along; nothing to see here. Go get you some of that sports action on teevee, huh? And, hey -- here's a happy, furry puppy.

 Obligatory Cute Small Animal Photo At Close Of Blog Rant
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(Benjamin Schwartz; ©The New Yorker 2015)