SYNDICATED COLUMN: Some Weasels Are More Equal Than Others

Liberal BS on Income Inequality

Everyone talks about income inequality, but no one does anything about it.

Lately they’ve been talking more than ever.

“The United States is the rich country with the most skewed income distribution, ” Eduardo Porter asserts in his upcoming book “The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do.”

Porter continues: “According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the average earnings of the richest 10 percent of Americans are 16 times those for the 10 percent at the bottom of the pile. That compares with a multiple of 8 in Britain and 5 in Sweden. Not coincidentally, Americans are less economically mobile than people in other developed countries. There is a 42 percent chance that the son of an American man in the bottom fifth of the income distribution will be stuck in the same economic slot. The equivalent odds for a British man are 30 percent, and 25 percent for a Swede.”

For students of history and economics, this is shocking stuff. Europeans came to America in search of opportunity, for a better chance at a brighter future. How can it be that it’s easier to get ahead in Britain—famously ossified, rigidly class-defined Britain?

Yet it’s true. David Leonhardt of The New York Times writes: “Income inequality, by many measures, is now greater than it has been since the 1920s.”

According to Nicholas Kristof, also at the suddenly class-conscious Times, we live in a time of “polarizing inequality” during which “the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans possess a greater collective net worth than the bottom 90 percent.”

This, we are informed, is bad. Not just for us. Income inequality hurts everybody—including the rich.

Cornell economics professor Robert Frank notes the correlation between financial stress and social dislocation. “The counties with the biggest increases in inequality also reported the largest increases in divorce rates,” reports Frank. Children of divorce are more likely to become a societal burden, committing crimes against everyone, including the wealthy.

Frank argues that our quality of life is suffering across the board due to income inequality. For example, traffic jams are getting worse: “Families who are short on cash often try to make ends meet by moving to where housing is cheaper—in many cases, farther from work. The [U.S.] counties where long commute times had grown the most were again those with the largest increases in inequality.” Everyone sits in traffic, even millionaires.

The “middle-class squeeze,” Frank explains, pressures voters to vote against higher taxes that would support improvements in public infrastructure. We all pay: “Rich and poor alike endure crumbling roads, weak bridges, an unreliable rail system, and cargo containers that enter our ports without scrutiny. And many Americans live in the shadow of poorly maintained dams that could collapse at any moment.”

Is it wrong to giggle at the thought of selfish millionaires being washed away by a flood?

Citing the work of the British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, Kristof blames just about every societal ill on income inequality. Among the highlights: infant mortality, drug abuse, teen pregnancies, heart disease, even higher obesity among people who don’t eat more than others. This may be why high-unemployment Michigan has some of the nation’s fattest people. (The hormone cortisol, released when humans are stressed, increases fat retention.)

Porter notes that the income gap is increasing across the spectrum—including among high earners. One study shows that in the 1970s the top ten percent of corporate executives earned twice as much as the average exec. Now they get four times more. “This has separated the megarich from the merely very rich,” he says.

Rising income inequality means trouble. Not just for our waistlines, but for the system that has created the problem: corporate capitalism.

“If only a very lucky few can aspire to a big reward,” Porter warns, “most workers are likely to conclude that it is not worth the effort to try.” That would lead to less legitimate innovation, fewer new businesses. The best and the brightest will conclude, as they have in post-Soviet Russia, that crime is the only economic activity that pays.

So what is to be done?

Here the income-inequality-is-bad crew falls flat on its collective face.

Kristof’s prescription: “As we debate national policy in 2011—from the estate tax to unemployment insurance to early childhood education—let’s push to reduce the stunning levels of inequality in America today.”

Push? How?

Porter’s solution: “Bankers’ pay could be structured to discourage wanton risk taking.” But bankers aren’t the only culprits. How would this restructuring take place? Who would force bankers to accept it?

Frank’s answer: “We should just agree that it’s a bad thing—and try to do something about it.”

Workers of the world, try to do something about uniting!

I’m going to climb out on a limb here: The guys I’ve quoted are all smart. They know exactly what is causing this relentless increase in income inequality. Ruling elites have exploited globalization and technological advances to increase corporate profits through deregulation, union busting, and lobbying for federal subsidies and tax benefits. We’re witnessing exactly what Karl Marx predicted at the dawn of industrialization: capitalism’s natural tendency to aggregate wealth and power in the hands of fewer people and entities, culminating in monopolization so complete that the system finally collapses due to lack of consumer spending.

The pundits are also smart enough to know that there’s only one way to equalize income: revolution.

Increasing riches leads to increasing influence. No matter how nicely we ask, why would the rich and powerful give up their wealth or their power? They won’t—unless it’s at gunpoint.

Nothing short of revolution stands a chance of building a fair society. Not “pushing.” Not “restructuring.” If working within the Democratic Party and the election of Obama prove anything, it’s that reform within the system is no longer a viable strategy for progressives.

We’re way past “trying to do something about it.”

The sooner we start talking about revolution, the closer we’ll be to a non-BS solution to the social and political ills caused by inequality of income.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

5 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Some Weasels Are More Equal Than Others

  1. TED: “Ruling elites have exploited globalization and technological advances to increase corporate profits through deregulation, union busting, and lobbying for federal subsidies and tax benefits. We’re witnessing exactly what Karl Marx predicted at the dawn of industrialization: capitalism’s natural tendency to aggregate wealth and power in the hands of fewer people and entities, culminating in monopolization so complete that the system finally collapses due to lack of consumer spending.”

    LUDWIG VON MISES INSTITUTE:
    “Antimonopoly laws create a moral hazard that tempts failing business to use regulations to beat up their competition (the Microsoft case is a good example). And the history of antitrust and its destructive effects indicate that government is incapable of doing a better job of managing shape of industry than the free market. ”

    How about that.
    Everyone agrees that big business is the problem.

  2. Oh Ted. Still on the revolution kick? Wasn’t that your last book? It didn’t catch on. Time for a new schtick.

    NBA Basketball games are all sold out.
    NFL and NASCAR business has never been better.
    Holiday sales in 2010 were even better than expected.

    I walk around and look at people doing what? Shopping, shopping, shopping. They look about as ready for revolution as the average person on “lifestyles of the rich and famous”.

    Sure, there’s a few people hurting here and there. They huff and puff. They groan “those darn wall street bankers! They just don’t care ’bout the regular fella!”. And ……. that’s about it. They make their spaghetti and meatballs, turn on NASCAR and forget all about it.

    Here’s what Ted doesn’t get ….

    Americans no longer care if they have money or security. They have CREDIT. They can mortgage their entire lives now, and if your default – there’s always another creditor waiting around the corner. Americans have made this clear: They WANT to be indentured servants. Americans have made it abundantly clear they would rather be indentured servants than get mixed up in some crazy revolution business. No, no, no, no, no ….

    Give people their TV’s, their burgers and beer, their online porn, their nice cars, and on and on. That’s REAL freedom to the average American. You’re in debt up to your ears? No problem. You have stuff – and that’s what freedom’s all about.

    Time to drop the revolution meme Ted. Seriously, it will NEVER happen in the US. Never. You’d be more likely to see Wall Street bankers say they are going to donate 100% of their salaries to the public good.

  3. People would rather start a “revolution” to benefit the rich and powerful than the opposite, look at the horse fucking teabaggers for the last 2 years!

  4. We are making progress in income inequality. Sure it is often a matter of two steps forward, and one step back, but there is progress. The universal medical coverage we are now getting is an example of both the two steps forward and the one step back. Although the near-universal coverage is not an actual transfer of cash, it is a transfer of standard of living to the less well off. (The one step back is, of course, Lieberman’s insistence on implementing medical care as a boon to the insurance industry. Why conservatives love Lieberman but hate his actions is something I have trouble comprehending!)

    Absolutely the progress is painfully slow. But the revolution approach would be painfully slower. Have you noticed that the guys with money have much better guns? Recall that 10,000 of the Iraq Republican Guard, reputed to be highly trained and prepared to do every evil, were wiped out — buried alive in a day by the much better funded American forces.

  5. Ted, if I may call you Ted, please do not–ever–give up the Revolution “meme”.

    You’re a clarion call of solace and sanity to those of us alone, in family and culture, realizing, criticizing and resisting the fascist nature of amerika.

    You make a difference in our lives. You make a difference in my life.

    And, as Adbusters points out:

    There Is No Greater Responsibility for Intellectuals
    Relentless criticism can delegitimize the system and release people into struggle
    ( http://tinyurl.com/2e7g5vk )

    I hasten to add there is no greater responsibility for amerikans: period!

    Yes, it’s undoubtedly true that amerikans are, by and large, ensorcelled by bread and circuses but extend and pretend, by definition, will not work forever.

    At some time in the not-too-distant future (be it within 5, 15, 30 or even 50 years) the amerikan nightmare will implode to the point where smoke and mirrors simply won’t cut it anymore and a plurality will no no longer be able to, “make their spaghetti and meatballs, turn on NASCAR and forget all about it”, whether they want to or not.

    We are not going to grow, consume, indebt and complicate our way out of the problems of growth, consumption, debt and complexity. We can wish upon those magically infinite fictional stars all we want but reality on a finite planet does not care about or respond to the delusional dreams of corporatized primates.

    MarketWatch, of all places, has posted an intriguing piece titled, “America’s 10 worst years start right now” ( http://tinyurl.com/2b4jzst ), and minus its absurdly stupid, women will rise like a phoenix from our ashes (*), ending, the potential future events it envisions are entirely plausible if not essentially unavoidable (the events themselves, more or less, not the timing).

    Prepare, resist, be strong and stay true!

    Because collapse, like anthropogenic climate change, is happening whether you believe in it or not.

    Resistance may currently appear foolish but fighting for freedom from the inverted totalitarianism of amerikan fascism is not futile.

    And sooner than later it will be unavoidable.

    “The closure of the mechanisms within the power system that once made democratic reform possible means we stand together as the last thin line of defense between a civil society and its disintegration. If we do not engage in open acts of defiance, we will empower a radical right-wing opposition that will replicate the violence and paranoia of the state. To refuse to defy in every way possible the corporate state is to be complicit in our strangulation.”
    – Chris Hedges ( http://tinyurl.com/2cl9p82 )

    We need to add a fourth line to Orwell’s infamous three:

    War is peace
    Freedom is slavery
    Ignorance is strength

    Complicity is innocence

    (*) See, If Women Ruled the World, Nothing Would Be Different
    by Lisa Jervis
    http://tinyurl.com/29496yx
    originally published by the now defunct Lip Magazine in 2005 (if memory serves)