The founders of the United States supported equality. Well...not really. They conveniently ignored the slaves and women's rights, but at least in the case of the latter, women didn't have the right to vote, or do much of anything else, almost anywhere in the world, so they weren't that far out of step with the times. Slavery was a different issue.
In any case, with those notable exceptions, they said that people were created equal. They wanted equal opportunities, but never suggested that they wanted to control for equal results. You weren't guaranteed an income or whatever simply because you existed. That was left up to you. However, over time, things have changed, and in my opinion, it's not quite working out.
Our world is severely divided into Haves and Have Nots, and while some of that might be the result of natural selection, some of it obviously isn't, and it's reached a point where it's going to start seriously affecting society every day. Let's look at how.
Between 1969 and 2008, average incomes in the United States rose by $11,684. That sounds like a decent figure until you look at how the word Average makes that a lie. All of the total growth in income went to the top 10% of earners, and the remaining 90% actually saw a decline in income. It's like saying if you have one foot in a bucket of ice, and the other in a fire, on Average, you're comfortable. In other words, while the math is correct, it's a lie!
On top of that, this is a relatively new situation. From the Great Depression through about 1984 or so, the percentage of who got how much was pretty stable. Not any more.
The difference between the Haves and Have Nots is higher in the US than in any western country, higher than even Russia, and comparable with China and Mexico! Now that's a comparison no one should be proud to tout!
I'm not suggesting that people shouldn't be allowed to make money, or that smart people shouldn't be allowed to benefit by the work they do. Free market capitalism is still, I think, the best economic model, and I have no desire to change that. The problem here is not one of economics...it's a problem of Greed!
In short, we have evolved into two very disparate societies, and those who live at the top have no concept of life at the bottom. Let me give you some examples:
Today, presidential candidate Mitt Romney proudly stated that "he too is unemployed." Those are his words, spoken proudly to his audience. Okay, using a dictionary definition of "unemployed" he may technically be correct. However, in common usage by the rest of us, looking at him sitting on a net worth somewhere around $200 million, he not unemployed, he's full of BS! To those who are unemployed, his words are a slap in the face. The man knows NOTHING about being unemployed, and likely never will. He's never felt the pinch of wondering how to buy something to eat, or find a couple bucks to put some gas in the car to go to yet another job interview. He couldn't begin to relate to the life of someone who is Unemployed!
Back in 2009, when I was researching information for Ten Simple Things to Restore the American Dream, I watched an interview on MSNBC. The man speaking was a Wall Street analyst, and his words still haunt me.
We're seeing a moderate economic recovery, but a very good earnings recovery, and that's what really matters.
Does this man live in your world? He certainly has never visited mine. In fact, I suspect he may not have ever left New York. Earnings mean something to rich folks, but mean nothing to the unemployed, the under-employed, or the small business owners on Main Street who are trying hard to keep the doors open and maybe provide a few jobs to other people. This guy has no clue, and never will have until he is forced to go down to the unemployment office and file. Of course, he'll have a new worth similar to Romney, so he still won't have a clue.
If you read the book, you'll discover a chapter about tax breaks. Guess who gets them: the rich. If you doubt for a moment that the rich aren't getting richer, and doing so upon the backs of the rest of us, just look at those figures I quoted earlier. In fact, there are a bunch more of those...22 charts in all...at http://digg.com/news/business/22_charts_on_the_economy_wealth_and_spending. I don't want to quote them all, but you'll find a wealth (no pun intended) of information about how out of balance things truly are, supported by Facts and not just politician's statements.
I don't have a solution for this. Well, actually I do. If you look at the chart on that page relating to tax rates on the wealthy, you'll discover that since 1962 or so, the top rate has fallen more than 50%. You'll also discover that in 2007 the top 400 taxpayers only paid a net rate of 16.6% while the average rate was 13.6% It's not hard to see what's happening, and there are other charts that explain it in more detail.
Money, or income, isn't the only place where our society is fragmenting, and in my next post I'm going to address another area where Haves and Have Nots are ultimately going to create a schism in society that cannot be ignored.
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