Public says rich are drawing away from middle class. 76 percent of people surveyed say the gap between the standards of living of the middle class and the rich grew over the last decade, compared to just 16 percent who think it narrowed.
10% of people in the US own almost 75% of the wealth in the US.
” … [W]e’ve become a bipolar nation, 1% manic and 99% depressive. Our affliction is caused by a 30-year experiment in the dismal economics of delusion. Deregulation for corporations and tax cuts for the wealthy have defined conservative policy since the 1970s, when University of Chicago economist Arthur Laffer convinced Dick Cheney and other Republican officials that lowering taxes on the rich would generate more revenue.”
One of the central characteristics of highly unequal societies is that two sets of laws develop: One set for the rich and powerful and one set for everyone else. The more unequal societies become, the more easily they accept the unacceptable, and with each unrebuked violation, the powerful actors at the top of the society gain an ever greater sense of entitlement and an ever greater sense that the laws that govern everyone else don’t apply to them. As a result, their behavior becomes increasingly egregious.
I would suggest that the robo-mortgage scandal is a strong indicator that this type of unequal justice is now becoming ever more commonplace in America. Past bank abuses are typically discussed without a sense of outrage. They have, in effect, become a recognized practice of deception with no consequences. Here are three prominent examples from the past few years:
First, the robo-mortgage scandal was discovered. As powerful members of society, the banks effectively decided what laws they wanted to follow and disregarded others. The banks claimed that their violations were technical and harmed no one. Nonetheless, the activities of the banks constituted massive fraud, perjury, and conspiracy. Bank officials have testified in court that they filed as many as 10,000 false affidavits a month. These are effectively undeniable admissions of law-breaking on a massive scale.
It’s a federal crime, punishable by up of five years of imprisonment, to knowingly file a false affidavit with the court. From the perspective of the law, you are guilty of the same perjury when you falsely testify in court or when you submit a false affidavit. In most states, filing false affidavits with the court similarly constitutes a felony offense of perjury.
If an individual citizen perpetrated this kind of massive perjury, he or she would be prosecuted. For illegal activities to take place on this type of massive scale, other serious crimes, such as conspiracy, are undoubtedly committed as well.
The banks committed very clear, easily provable crimes by transferring property titles that they didn’t own- stealing from homeowners, and lying to the court about it. The only consequence they face for these crimes is the “settlement” that affords for less than a $2,000 per loan file fine- not bad for a felony offense that can normally result in five years in prison.
That’s assuming that the banks even comply with that much. Gretchen Morgenson at the New York Times details how Banks often simply forgo their end of settlements:
[T]wo years of statistics, through last September, show 5,771 cases where mediators found that banks had failed to participate in good faith or were not complying with other aspects of the mediation law. That is equivalent to 42 percent of all the mediations completed in the [Foreclosure Mediation Program in Nevada].
This is in addition to other bank fraud settlements in Nevada that Bank of America violated with what appears to be complete impunity. We have two sets of rules now; one of the wealthy and one for the rest of us.
In recent years, the fortunes of the Romneys and others in their cohort have continued to grow, notably diverging from the majority of Americans still struggling to deal with a slow economic recovery. The Occupy Wall Street protestors stole the media spotlight this past fall by creatively highlighting these discrepancies. President Obama has taken notice and, as reflected in his State of the Union address, is teeing up inequality as a major a campaign theme for the fall. But it is not enough to highlight the gap between incomes of the top 1 percent and the bottom 99. What’s more alarming—and consequential over the long haul—is the growing concentration of wealth.
Recent estimates indicate that the while the top 1 percent earn 21 percent of the nation’s income, they possess 36 percent of total wealth. This is especially troubling because while income dictates how well you’re doing today, it is access to wealth (the stock of resources) that creates opportunities down the line. Wealth is the bundle of assets, investments, and savings that can be tapped at will and strategically deployed. Or it can be used to generate passive income, as it does for the likes of Warren Buffett and Mitt Romney. There certainly is an issue of fairness to consider. As long as we tax capital gains and dividends well below the tax rate on earnings gained through work, the rich will have much lower marginal tax rates than the rest of us.
There’s an additional problem. When wealth is concentrated at the top, there are fewer resources available for everybody else to deploy. And in the aftermath of the Great Recession, we should recognize that the dynamics of inequality have fundamentally shifted.
Richard Trumka stands at the podium like a man with his foot in the doorway of history, relaxed and confident and grinning at the audience. Wisconsin? The attempted murder of public unions? That was actually a win, he says.
A big beefy guy with a bristling mustache and Blagojevich hair, Trumka started life as a coal miner. His grandfather was a union man. His father was a union man. He became a union man and put himself through college on the midnight shift, leading many bitter strikes in the coal patch where rock-throwing miners confronted guards with machine guns, scenes from an epic American history few people remember. Two years ago he rose to the top of the American labor movement, president of the AFL-CIO, where he represents twelve million firefighters, teachers, nurses, miners, electricians, and entertainers. He came in with a lifetime’s worth of dreams for reviving labor and saving America. So when Governor Scott Walker this year took away the right of collective bargaining for government workers in Wisconsin, the law of the land for seventy-five years, Walker didn’t just aim a dagger straight at the heart of American labor, he aimed it at Rich Trumka’s heart.
But Trumka is grinning. “We’ve been trying for three decades to get a national debate on collective bargaining. Scott Walker gave us the national debate we were looking for.”
That’s what America really looks like. That’s how it looks to elected officials who scramble for campaign cash. Oh, they know you’re down there. Every few years they get out a microscope and reach down to pet your tiny, tiny head. But mostly everything you say just fades into a faint whine, drowned out by the basso profundo rumble of the 1%. Horton may have cared about the Whos, but Horton is not the kind of elephant you find in politics.
That’s how America looks to corporations and organizations who are piloted by these Godzillas of the 1%. Why should they be bothered if their massive strides should squash a few ants in passing? What difference does it make if their corporate colony gets its ants from China, or Cambodia, or wherever is cheap this week, rather than American ants? The 1% measure value by wealth, and the ants don’t have any. You put all the ants together, and they still can’t match even the beetles that live at the 90% mark. Actually, ants are bit of an exaggeration. You know those tiny black ants that try to invade your kitchen in the spring? Compared to the fiscal titans of the 1%, you’re not that big. Think more along the lines of dust mite.
The top one percent have 38% of stock. They control 62% of the interest in private business. Expand that to the top 10% — those hamsters at the big guy’s feet — and you have more than 80% of stock, more than 80% of bonds, trusts, and every other fiscal instrument. Over 75% of the non-residential real estate. You know what’s really scary? Even within the one percent things are heavily weighted toward a very few in the top 1% of the 1%. I’d draw them, but the image wouldn’t fit on the screen.
The “ownership society” exists. You’re just not part of it.
There’s only one place where the ants are supposed to be as tall as the giants — in the ballot box. That’s where the average person should be able to generate pressure that keeps this from being a nation of, by, and for Godzilla. Of course, it’s not quite that simple.
When Onepercentus rex and friends control the message that the ants hear on their radios and see on their TVs, it’s easy to get confused. When the beetles of the legislature determine that the only way to get fresh food for the giants is by taking it from the ants, it’s easy to feel as if being stepped on might be a relief.
It won’t be long now until the CEO’s take helicopters to work like in Rio to avoid the massive slums below. The 1% is tightening their grip, and they would like you to think that there is *nothing* you can do about it. What do you say to that?
“Whenever growing income disparities threaten to come into focus, a reliable set of defenders tries to bring back the blur. Think tanks put out reports claiming that inequality isn’t really rising, or that it doesn’t matter. Pundits try to put a more benign face on the phenomenon, claiming that it’s not really the wealthy few versus the rest, it’s the educated versus the less educated. […]
The budget office laid out some of that stark reality in a recent report, which documented a sharp decline in the share of total income going to lower- and middle-income Americans. […]
In response, the usual suspects have rolled out some familiar arguments: the data are flawed (they aren’t); the rich are an ever-changing group (not so); and so on. The most popular argument right now seems, however, to be the claim that we may not be a middle-class society, but we’re still an upper-middle-class society, in which a broad class of highly educated workers, who have the skills to compete in the modern world, is doing very well.
It’s a nice story, and a lot less disturbing than the picture of a nation in which a much smaller group of rich people is becoming increasingly dominant. But it’s not true. […]
So who is getting the big gains? A very small, wealthy minority.
The budget office report tells us that essentially all of the upward redistribution of income away from the bottom 80 percent has gone to the highest-income 1 percent of Americans. That is, the protesters who portray themselves as representing the interests of the 99 percent have it basically right, and the pundits solemnly assuring them that it’s really about education, not the gains of a small elite, have it completely wrong.”
This is a great read.
Wow. Awesome and interesting.
“[Y]ou can imagine my amazement this summer when I watched the Republicans in Congress push the United States to the brink of default - and the world to the brink of ruin - over whether to repeal a portion of the Bush tax cuts and raise my taxes by 3.5%. I know a lot of people with high incomes and even the conservatives among them were confused by that sequence of events. Here is a secret about rich people: we wouldn’t have noticed a 3.5% tax increase.”