Sunday, July 8, 2012

America the unequal: The uncivilized society

A Congressional Budget Office report finds that between 1979 and 2009 the income for the top 1% of the US population increased 275%.  During the same period the bottom 20% saw its income increase 18%.   Joseph Stiglitz points out that at $90 billion, the combined wealth of the WalMart heirs equals that of the bottom 30% of the US population, about 90 million people. This a staggering accumulation of wealth.  It is not civilization.

Business Week points out in its latest issue that using the Gini coefficient the US has the highest level of income disparity of all the 34 member countries of the OECD with the exception of Mexico and Chile.  While the US economy from the view of the capitalist class is fairing somewhat better than the Eurozone hobbling along at about 2% GDP growth at an annual rate, poverty, and homelessness are on the rise and the chance of escaping the poverty trap is becoming impossible. The opportunity for upward mobility is also becoming ever more difficult.

Life for most Americans has become a constant struggle just to keep what they have.  And in a country which lacks any significant social safety net having a roof over one's head is no guarantee of security.  A sudden illness or job loss soon ends that fantasy as so many have found in the recent capitalist crisis, it is the bank, the coupon clippers after all, who have possession and rights over one's shelter.  "The United Sates is among the most unequal of the rich countries and it is also among the least mobile", says Miles Corak of the University of Ottawa who has completed a decade of research on the subject. 

What Corak says what is pretty obvious to most of us that people tend to end up where they do due in large part to the family background as opposed to their actual talents.  In a recent speech on mobility in US society, Alan Kreuger, chair of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers admits that "children of wealthy parents already have much more access to opportunities to succeed than children of poor families." adding that, "This is likely to be increasingly the case in the future unless we take steps to ensure that all children have access to quality education, health care, a safe environment, and other opportunities that are necessary to have a fair shot at economic success."

These  proclamations don't amount to much having their source in a politician, administration and political party that represents the interests of Wall Street and that is orchestrating savage cuts in educations, wages, and public services that serve working class people and the poor not to mention waging predatory and expensive wars abroad for US corporations.

Touching on such a sensitive subject that social conditions, race, poverty, gender, in short, wider society has a major affect on a person's ability to survive or advance in society irritates the apologists for the market and threatens the general propaganda pushed by big business through its control of the media that it's all out there if you work hard and just have initiative. After all, that's how you can become rich.  Coupon clippers like Warren Buffet, or John Paulson made their billions through hard work. We are even expected to believe that a buffoon and draft dodger like George W Bush made his millions through smarts and hard work.

One market worshiper, Scott Winship of the Brookings Institution is vary wary when it comes to the issue of inequality in US society: "My basic argument is not that inequality is necessarily good,"  he tells Business Week, "'s just that for people who say that it's bad, the burden is on them to show that and we don't have much good evidence either way."Winship adds in defense of the 1% that, "So you end up with folks who just point to how much inequality we have---which by all measure is a lot---and they just assume away this central question of whether the gains of people at the top have come at the expense of people at the bottom."

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.  I wish I'd have went to college. I could never have figured out whether inequality, a family having $90 billion and another family earning $20,000 a year with no accumulated wealth, access to education, working two jobs and no health care was a bad thing.  And surely, there is no proof that a social system in which such a situation exists is one where a family of 6 possessing $90 billion, more than the GDP of many nations has anything at all to do with those living in abject poverty or even those of us working but living paycheck to paycheck. It has nothing to do with sweat shops in Vietnam either I assume.

This reminds me of the aftermath of our strike in 1985 when our employer paid a rumored $50,000 hiring a consultant to find out why we struck.  The guy interviewed the leadership of the Union to uncover this mystery, why almost the entire membership would walk off the job for a month, be threatened with firings, receive letters telling them their medical benefits would expire and have a dark cloud above them in the form of the mortgage banker waiting for their blood money.

I can say proudly that I was the only leader of the strike and local that refused to talk to him.
Americans get less bang for the health buck: the market at work

This is the big danger of even implying that a person or family's poverty might have something to do with the system, with social conditions rather than their own fault, their personal failings, lack of initiative, laziness etc. Corak's finding are very dangerous, "political dynamite" says Justin Wolfers, a Princeton economist because the right wing bourgeois consider any delving in to inequality as automatically leading to "the politics of envy and envy is very un-American. "We like to hold up those that succeed" he adds.

There is truth to this. But when Wolfers says "we" the strength of this ideology has its origins in the post war upswing and the material conditions that laid the basis for the American Dream as well as the propaganda of the 1%.  The onset of the market failure that entered the scene of history with the collapse of the Subprime housing market has very definitely put the final nail in the American Dream coffin.  For black and other minorities of course, this ideology was not and is not as strong, but the present crisis affecting so many, has transformed consciousness.  It is often said today that if you want the American Dream go to Norway.

According to the research firm Pew, "roughly 40% of children whose parents are in the poorest quintile will remain there until they die, as will 40% born to parents in the top quintile" says BW. For black children nearly half born to middle income parents will drop in to the poorest quintile compared to 16% of white children. This doesn't mean that there will be more blacks than whites as whites are a larger percentage of the population but it is significant as a percentage. I suppose we would have to prove this is a bad thing, such disparity between groups in society.  It is the legacy of  racism of course, and not primarily the personalized type, there's no doubt that attitudes have changed for the better among many Americans, particularly as more and more suffer under the hammer blow of the market.  But it is the institutionalized racism that is behind these disparities.  Racism, poverty and war are built in to the capitalist system, endemic to it.

As US capitalism struggles to maintain its economic power in the face of global competition and changed relations between the world powers, the cost of doing so eats further in to the living standards of US workers as trillions of dollars are wasted on military expenditures and maintaining a crumbling empire.  These costs are behind the war at home, the war against American workers. As we say, US capitalism has to put US workers and the middle class on rations.

This will not go unanswered.

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