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The One Percent Nation
April 6, 2011 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Joseph Stiglitz in May's Vanity Fair ; Inequality: Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%
Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret. (via)
posted by adamvasco (85 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wish I could find it, but there was a poll where 20 percent of respondents (who were a random sample of Americans) all thought they were in the top one percent, and another 19 percent thought they'd be there within the next five years.
posted by klangklangston at 1:33 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


klang - that sounds like it was David Brooks' "Social Animal"
posted by milkrate at 1:41 PM on April 6, 2011


Read this today.

Texas Instruments merged with National Semiconductor yesterday. The two largest US chip manufacturers. Profits won't go up much, but their bottom line will be boosted by the elimination of redundant employees. And that's how lots of companies are driving up their stock prices right now...not by innovating, but by "trimming waste."

The problem with the basic economic model is that it flows in one direction: Producers compete to sell to consumers. But there are no "producers" and "consumers" in nature. Consumers are just the Saturday-morning version of the Friday-afternoon producer who got a paycheck. So if we keep firing all the producers to drive costs down for consumers, soon their won't be any consumers at all.

Except in other countries. And the profits will redouble the portfolios of the top 1%.

I worry we will end up a failed state--the rich in walled-off cities, with the rest of us fighting for scraps.
posted by jefficator at 1:50 PM on April 6, 2011 [16 favorites]


He understates the problem. For the serious fiddle the economy to wrong headed purposes, it's not the top 1% of income 'n' holdings.

It's the top 0.1%.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:57 PM on April 6, 2011


That's the plan, jefficator. That's the ideal state for the oligarchs. That maximizes their power.
posted by vibrotronica at 1:57 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here's a David Brooks article from 2002 that uses that statistic: "During the most recent presidential election a Time magazine-CNN poll asked voters whether they were in the top one percent of income earners. Nineteen percent reported that they were, and another 20 percent said that they expected to be there one day."
posted by milkrate at 1:57 PM on April 6, 2011 [12 favorites]


It does make one wonder just how this era will play-out, doesn't it? Just how low can you push western populations until they finally revolt? Or, will they ever revolt? One could look at the protests in Wisconsin and see a possibility, but, really, that's more like people fighting over scraps, and not going after a change in the food chain.

Americans often seem to be quite well-trained to defend the status-quo, even if that status-quo is pushing them ever-lower down the ladder. Hell, the only people even coming close to open revolt right now are the tea-partiers, and they're actually doing more to help the top 1% than anything.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:05 PM on April 6, 2011 [13 favorites]


"During the most recent presidential election a Time magazine-CNN poll asked voters whether they were in the top one percent of income earners. Nineteen percent reported that they were, and another 20 percent said that they expected to be there one day."

What? Just... what?
posted by crackingdes at 2:06 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was hoping that the concentration of wealth and the rising popularity of flashmobs would dovetail to create some redistribution of wealth/public executions. Instead I just have groups of white kids doing Thriller.

This is not the mob justice we require.
posted by munchingzombie at 2:20 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


The guy, a lefty, ignores the importance of trickle down and how that will create wealth and all sorts of jobs and things for those of us not way up there. The Tea Party tells us to Take Back Our Govt...but they need to address this gang of 1% because they took the govt.
posted by Postroad at 2:26 PM on April 6, 2011


Only in America can 20% of all earners be in the top 1% of all earners.

Truly the land of opportunity!
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:26 PM on April 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


I have a friend who is dirt poor but would shoot himself if asked to by one of the top 1%, he reveres them so much. What I find interesting about this is he also truly believes there is something special about "royals" and other blue-bloods.

This is not a dumb guy, overall. And while he is common as muck (as are most of us) if asked in a poll whether he was "upper class" or "common" by birth he would answer "upper class" and if pressed would trace his lineage back to a dubious claim by a great-great grandfather or similar.

I guess my point is that I don't hold out a ton of hope that the top 1% will get their just desserts as long as a significant portion of the bottom 99% think that there is something magical and just about the top 1% being where they are.
posted by maxwelton at 2:26 PM on April 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


crackingdes: most of them probably never saw Fight Club and never truly grasped the monologue where Tyler Durden says, "We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."

Strangely, I think that line just might be the thing that history writes about the last 20th century, from the 80's through the next few decades. More people might start learning this lesson the hard way, through actual failure and true decline of standard of living. When the percentages increase to the point where there are more living without any chance of retirement, with miniscule wage improvement year after year, and constant fear of being laid off, the society will start to reach critical mass and the violence will start. It won't be big at first. Isolated incidents that the media will condemn and most people will frown on. But slowly it will grow and spread, unless the government reacts to pacify the population, which it won't be able to for much longer, as Republicans take more and more out of the public budget and shove it more and more to the private interests.

But I read a lot of dystopian literature, and I actual get a visceral thrill from the idea of people I don't like (the ignorant) falling prey to their own stupidity. Sadly, I also know that society will stumble along, and slowly, every so slowly collapse, like a flan in a cupboard.
posted by daq at 2:26 PM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


I cannot believe anyone still believes "trickle down" is anything other than a complete pile of shit. It's like a theory that "water is gasoline." Every time it is tried it fails to work, there is no evidence it works, and yet the problem is always the carb or the fuel line and never that water just fucking isn't gasoline.
posted by maxwelton at 2:28 PM on April 6, 2011 [38 favorites]


trickle down and how that will create wealth and all sorts of jobs and things ...

Ah, another chance to trot out an old favorite.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:30 PM on April 6, 2011 [16 favorites]


Repetitive rhetoric works, though. Say something enough times and even if it's absolutely, provably false, it still sets up framing potentials in the subconscious and the hearer is primed to cleave to that concept. It's why they send you to church every week and not, say, once a year.

The Republicans (and Canadian Conservatives) know this trick because they... go to church every week. Godless Democrats and Heathen Liberals haven't lived with the brainwashing techniques all their lives, and just don't know how to use them.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:34 PM on April 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


...the importance of trickle down and how that will create wealth and all sorts of jobs and things for those of us not way up there.

You didn't actually live during the Reagan administration, did you? Or, is my sarcasm meter broken?
posted by Thorzdad at 2:36 PM on April 6, 2011


Am I the only one to notice the incongruity of this article appearing in a publication whose sole mission appears to be slobbering the knobs of the 1%?
posted by whuppy at 2:36 PM on April 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


The paragraph where Stiglitz talked about how inequality distorts our foreign policy because the people at the top of the pile were immune to the costs (financial and other) of war was so dead-on it was painful.
posted by immlass at 2:37 PM on April 6, 2011 [9 favorites]


Trickle down is quite literally true. While the 1% swim in a pool of wealth, tiny leaks might trickle down to the rest of the population.
posted by telstar at 2:38 PM on April 6, 2011


"Trickle down" isn't a theory, any more than evolution is a "theory". It's a description of how things work. Wealth either trickles down from those who've earned it by producing goods and services that people want, or it trickles down from the government, which prints money or takes it away from those who earn it. But one way or the other, trickle down is the only game in town.
posted by Faze at 2:39 PM on April 6, 2011


tiny leaks might trickle down to the rest of the population.

So... if I'm reading you correctly, and I like to think that I am, what you are saying is that we need to get out our dynamite and make bigger holes so that more flows through?

Because I'm on board with that.
posted by quin at 2:41 PM on April 6, 2011 [8 favorites]


I mean, I understand the 20 percent who expect to be among the top 1 percent eventually. I can kind of get that. Unrealistic expectations and irrational exuberance seem to be an essential aspect of the American psyche. (I've read a convincing argument that these traits self-selected as the nation was peopled by immigrants and pioneers.)

But the 19 percent who thought they already were? It doesn't even make sense. Like, look around you. Are you in a private jet or on the deck of a yacht? Do you have a degree from Harvard hanging on the wall? Do you by any chance own multiple vacation homes or a charming summer get away in the south of France? Are you a major shareholder of Google or Apple? If the answer to all of the above is "No" than what are you even thinking and how is that math working out in your head.
posted by crackingdes at 2:41 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one to notice the incongruity of this article appearing in a publication whose sole mission appears to be slobbering the knobs of the 1%?

that's the problem with actual massive wealth... it's hard to conceptualize, like the distance to the sun. Vanity Fair is firmly targeted at the top 25%. What's the point of reading about celebrities if you can buy them for your children's birthday parties or to cheer up your corporate team/brand managers?
posted by ennui.bz at 2:43 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Faze must be slipping these days. The past few posts from that screen name have been quite short and not nearly as performance arty as they used to be. Maybe someone should make a phone call and make sure s/he's still okay?
posted by hippybear at 2:44 PM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Trickle down" isn't a theory, any more than evolution is a "theory". It's a description of how things work. Wealth either trickles down from those who've earned it by producing goods

an oddly marxist view: labor theory of value as scientific truth.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:44 PM on April 6, 2011


"Trickle down" isn't a theory, any more than evolution is a "theory". It's a description of how things work. Wealth either trickles down from those who've earned it by producing goods and services that people want, or it trickles down from the government, which prints money or takes it away from those who earn it. But one way or the other, trickle down is the only game in town.

Phlogiston is a theory. Just like evolution. And gravity.
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:48 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


""Trickle down" isn't a theory, any more than evolution is a "theory". It's a description of how things work. Wealth either trickles down from those who've earned it by producing goods and services that people want, or it trickles down from the government, which prints money or takes it away from those who earn it. But one way or the other, trickle down is the only game in town."

Oh, Faze, you so crazy!

How did wealth begin if it has to trickle down?

Voodoo?
posted by klangklangston at 2:50 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


jefficator is dead on:

Profits aren't rising solely because companies are making and selling more widgets to keep up with customer demand, which would be the case in a healthy, booming economy. Instead, they're companies are more profitable because it now costs less to make the same widget, often because far fewer workers are needed to make it.

posted by ofthestrait at 2:54 PM on April 6, 2011


> Sadly, I also know that society will stumble along, and slowly, every so slowly collapse, like a flan in a cupboard.

I'd guess it's probably going to be more like the way Ernest Hemingway said people go bankrupt: "Slowly, then all at once."
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:57 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. - John Steinbeck
posted by jim in austin at 3:09 PM on April 6, 2011 [49 favorites]


The guy, a lefty, ignores the importance of trickle down and how that will create wealth and all sorts of jobs and things for those of us not way up there. The Tea Party tells us to Take Back Our Govt...but they need to address this gang of 1% because they took the govt.
posted by Postroad at 2:26 PM on April 6 [+] [!]


This comment made my head hurt a little for the following reasons:

1. Calling Stiglitz "a lefty" as a derisive term is a super lame way to disagree with him. I instantly think your opinion is suspect when you start out with this.

2. Stiglitz, a pre-eminent economist, has weighed in on trickle down theory thusly:
JERE VAN DYK: There are those who feel that by lowering the taxes for those in the upper income strata, we are helping to generate income throughout the entire economy because they are the entrepreneurs; they are the ones who make the economy work.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: That’s an old theory, called trickle-down economics, which has been discredited. In the last four or five years, the U.S. GDP increased every year 2 percent, 3 percent, 4 percent—not up to our potential; we could have done better. But the people in the middle have become worse off. The median family income has fallen by about $1,500. The people at the bottom have suffered even more; poverty rates are up. This is a clear example of trickle-down economics not working. Yes, the people at the top are doing fantastically, but the people even in the middle are losing out.
Source: http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/resources/transcripts/5375.html

3. Seriously, who do you think pays the bills for the Tea Party? You read MeFi, so you must have, by now, heard of the Koch Brothers.

Was this comment a troll? Did I take the bait?
posted by ben242 at 3:15 PM on April 6, 2011 [14 favorites]


"Trickle down" isn't a theory, any more than evolution is a "theory". It's a description of how things work. Wealth either trickles down from those who've earned it by producing goods and services that people want, or it trickles down from the government, which prints money or takes it away from those who earn it. But one way or the other, trickle down is the only game in town.

Something D O O economics.

Anyone?

VOODOO economics...
posted by vibrotronica at 3:22 PM on April 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


I mean, I understand the 20 percent who expect to be among the top 1 percent eventually. I can kind of get that. Unrealistic expectations and irrational exuberance seem to be an essential aspect of the American psyche. (I've read a convincing argument that these traits self-selected as the nation was peopled by immigrants and pioneers.)

But the 19 percent who thought they already were? It doesn't even make sense. Like, look around you. Are you in a private jet or on the deck of a yacht? Do you have a degree from Harvard hanging on the wall? Do you by any chance own multiple vacation homes or a charming summer get away in the south of France? Are you a major shareholder of Google or Apple? If the answer to all of the above is "No" than what are you even thinking and how is that math working out in your head.


It's the practical application of the Horatio Alger myth; rags to riches as an invisible, unbreakable cultural meme, the insane embodiment of hope for a better tomorrow at any cost.
posted by ZeusHumms at 3:24 PM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.

Can I assume the timeframe will be in line with the meek collecting their inheritance?
posted by biffa at 3:24 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Part of the problem is the way the wealthy become wealthy (and generally stay wealthy) is outside the purview of most people.

http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html this link has number of good spreads, graphs, etc, concerning wealth distribution. The truth is wages are a suckers game, rich people get rich through stocks, equity, bonds, and other "financial instruments".

It is true that those who have retirement accounts are also part of the stock, equity, bond markets but a Russian day trader told me something interesting once -- that company ownership for large multinationals or "blue chips" are so wide spread and diluted that it looks almost more like communism than capitalism in that since there are so many small stock holders there is virtually no oversight on company decisions. It is of little surprise then when you have a board meeting and a dozen or so people convene they then proceed to stroke each others egos and pay each other millions upon millions.

Another way to consider the situation: Culturally, the West spent centuries in countless wars to remove the providence and power of kings, recognizing that when too much wealth, too much power, and too many decisions were made by one man or a few men the result was less than ideal.

Yet today we have hedge fund managers, wall street, etc, who control fast sums -- billions of dollars -- and again we have one person or a few people making decisions on how to "allocate" these funds for the betterment of mankind ("profit"). People simply are not very good at making decisions which affects hundreds of thousands of other people. Wealth, capital allocation, is power and we need to decentralize that power if we want a better society, we learned this lessons under kings, and we need to learn this lesson again.
posted by Shit Parade at 3:29 PM on April 6, 2011 [22 favorites]


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- What recession? The millionaire population jumped in the U.S. by 8% last year, fueled by the stock market recovery, according to an industry report on Wednesday. The number of U.S. households worth at least $1 million rose to 8.4 million in 2010, compared to 7.8 million the prior year, according to a report by Spectrem Group. "The size of the affluent market increased in 2010 but did not reach the highs obtained in 2007," the year that the recession began, according to the report. Last year marked the second consecutive year of increases, the group said, following a 16% surge in the millionaire population in 2009.1
-----------------------
Where the World's Millionaires Live: The Top 10 Countries:
#7 USA: Percentage of Millionaire Households: 4.1%1
posted by stbalbach at 3:30 PM on April 6, 2011


an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.

I'll believe it when I see the torches.
posted by cereselle at 3:35 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


What's the point of reading about celebrities if you can buy them for your children's birthday parties or to cheer up your corporate team/brand managers?

How else do you know whom to buy?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:36 PM on April 6, 2011


trickle down is the only game in town.

Actually there are other "games" in "town".
posted by rough ashlar at 3:42 PM on April 6, 2011


Since when does anybody who isn't at least in the top 20% who think they're the top 1% read Vanity Fair?
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:58 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I dunno, it's really cheering me up that it's not just me who's seeing this stuff, and feeling the pain, and increasingly outraged.

The message is finally getting out there, we're being taken (again).

And it is really funny that a lot of the really angry ones - ie the Tea Party or whatever - are such useful dupes for the Koches and their ilk.

But I do think we need a good name for them. The rich? The oligarchs? Something.
posted by emmet at 3:59 PM on April 6, 2011


Calling Stiglitz "a lefty" as a derisive term is a super lame way to disagree with him. Stiglitz, a pre-eminent economist,

Wait - you say calling someone a lefty is derisive and lame, yet you then call Stiglitz a "pre-eminent economist". Being labeled "economist" is rather nasty - but then "pre-eminent"?

"Economists" keep putting forth justifications for the 1% nation.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:05 PM on April 6, 2011


Am I the only one to notice the incongruity of this article appearing in a publication whose sole mission appears to be slobbering the knobs of the 1%?

Not even close. Possibly top quintile.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:05 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Economists" keep putting forth justifications for the 1% nation.

Well I don't know about "economists", but economists seem to be generally a pretty level-headed bunch, unless they've bought into Uncle Milt's Chicago school too deeply.

I think you're projecting your own misconceptions about economists and then turning them into "economists" in your mind, and then applying that to this particular description of Stiglitz.

And really, there isn't any other way to describe men like Stiglitz or Krugman. Both of whom have received global recognition for their work; neither of which have ever justified the 1%.
posted by hippybear at 4:14 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


You keep talking about this system as if it's a bug. Read your Friedman; it's a feature. It's the goal.
posted by Legomancer at 4:27 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hear a lot of talk about how the top 1% need to be taken down a peg, then nobody really does anything after talking. A few protests pop up when the average person's quality of life is threatened with serious damage all at once, a few people petition and lobby for things like progressive taxation and corporate oversight, but their voices are drowned out by others who will shout down anything for a pittance.

I think part of this is because no matter how unfair and out of balance the economic realities are, we have it unbelievably good in the United States as it is. The average life expectancy is so high that postponing death is usually a matter of expensive care to slow down terminal illness. The "working class", the "lower middle class" and those just above poverty still often have things like mobile phones, automobiles, cable TV, Internet access, and even single family housing units. These are considered either basic necessities or relatively simple luxuries.

No small amount of relatively poor Americans wake up, shower in potable water, prepare a meal in less than fifteen minutes, work at a job which if service/clerical is many times easier than it once was, and if it is physical is usually (but not always) far safer than it would have been just a few generations ago. They come home and watch television with choices anywhere from a dozen to two hundred channels, turn on outdated but working computers which have "slow" access (in a matter of minutes rather than seconds) to a wealth of information which dwarfs any known repository of knowledge in human history, have reliable communication to friends and family across the nation whether online or over the phone, and they do all of this without even considering how much of a luxury many of these things are even compared to the daily lives of their parents.

This isn't to say in the least that it's fair or right for wealth to be concentrated in the hands of so few. I only suggest that while no small portion of Americans struggle with money and worry about it regularly, they have enough going for them and enough stability that there's quite a bit of motivation to ignore the petitions in favor of more TV, stay home from the protests and keep heads low to avoid a weekend in county jail, and not bother fighting over the relatively abstract concept of corporate taxes and top range tax brackets out of the vague fear of losing their jobs and stability from the angry rich who suddenly "go Galt" and upend the system which benefits them so much just to get revenge on some workers.

The working class and the middle class may not have it as good as they could or potentially should (international economics notwithstanding) but they don't feel the desperation they need to be devoted to changing the system even at cost to themselves. That may change in the future, but the status quo can remain for quite a long time.

It's tough to take even the most decadent and greedy kings down a notch when the peasants aren't starving and the lesser nobility are content. So long as the top 1% ensure most people have food in their stomach, a roof over their head, and a TV to watch, what motivation do they have to rock the boat?

After all, the minimum wage worker in the US is in the top 20% worldwide. The median income of $25,000 or so (including the unemployed and part time workers in there) puts them right about the top 10%. Top 1% worldwide? $50,000 per year. That's not too unrealistic to strive for after all. Median income worldwide? Somewhere around $850. Take down the rich and put us all at the average? $7,000.

It's not a fair system, but it's not too hard to see why a lot of Americans are satisfied with it.
posted by Saydur at 4:36 PM on April 6, 2011 [25 favorites]


Can Trickle down economics now be called Tinkle down economics? Because that's about the best we get these days, if we're lucky...
posted by Chekhovian at 4:55 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Top one percent starts at around a quarter of a million a year. That's not even close to private jets or hiring celebrities at your kids' birthday parties. It's certainly plenty of money, but let's not confuse the top 1% with the top .1%.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:59 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


The average life expectancy is so high that postponing death is usually a matter of expensive care to slow down terminal illness.

36th in the world, tied with Cuba and 18 spots behind Greece.
posted by gonna get a dog at 5:03 PM on April 6, 2011 [10 favorites]




That 39% pretty much explains the Tea Party, lotteries, the fear of terrorism, bully worship and the reason unions are so widely hated. This inability to low probability/high impact events was very much a driving force of white supremacy, militias and the Y2K freakout in the 1990s. Back then, it was fringe. Now it's mainstream.

The difference used to be the Democrats used unions as a way to disguise they were working for the same 1%ers. Now it's no longer an option.

I don't think it's reversible. Republic to empire to political collapse in slightly over 200 years. Most republics did a little better than this, but historically, they all die. And pretty much in the same way.
posted by warbaby at 5:07 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Saydur: are those figures at purchasing power parity, or in US dollar terms? Or something else?
posted by alasdair at 5:08 PM on April 6, 2011


So according to Wikipedia, my girlfriend and I are right around the median household income. I have an underpaying job and she's a grad student. What's wrong with this picture?
posted by HumuloneRanger at 5:09 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like, look around you. Are you in a private jet or on the deck of a yacht? Do you have a degree from Harvard hanging on the wall?

I also wouldn't put having a degree from Harvard in the same category with owning a private jet or even a yacht. You can attend Harvard for free if you are smart enough and come from a low-income family. You can have a degree from Harvard and have a mass of student loan debt. Granted, if you attend Harvard, some of your classmates' families may have yachts; a few (the Prince of Whatsitsistan) may even have private jets. But most probably don't.
posted by bad grammar at 5:10 PM on April 6, 2011


I know it's probably wrong, but given that I believe that one factor in the (in my view) unhealthily skewed distribution of wealth in the context of political power is consolidation by way of giganto multinational corporations, I'd like to offer something I've written on the topic. I gestured toward an alternative two years ago in a newspaper guest column.
posted by Wash Jones at 5:17 PM on April 6, 2011


Unfortunately, I think the castles are no longer stormable. The crown and ermine cloaks aren't on, and the palace guard is fully to heel and more powerful than ever. I can make a very attractive and efficient guillotine, but I just don't think even a huge crowd can get the right necks in the yoke. I fear they've learned better from history than the masses. Things are so bad, I don't even know what to hope for. Self-sufficiency? Bareassed survival? A quick death when I can work no more? I envy the People of the French revolution. However it worked out in the end, at least they saw some of their oppressors' heads roll
posted by Redhush at 5:24 PM on April 6, 2011 [5 favorites]




I think part of this is because no matter how unfair and out of balance the economic realities are, we have it unbelievably good in the United States as it is.

You have a point there, but an additional factor is that the ones for whom things are not 'unbelievably good' are precisely those people who are least likely to be (or to be able to be) politically active. They're often uneducated, overworked (the Nickel and Dimed folk), in prison/just out of prison, scraping by on debt payments.

They often don't have the time or the energy to get out into the streets in the way that more affluent middle-class people do over specific issues, but they also lack the knowledge of how badly the system is stacked against them, and how to fight to change that system without being smashed by it. A considerable portion of them doing even know their rights, much less about how to organize protests or put pressure on politicians.

They have no money, many don't vote (many aren't even registered). And in the absence of information and autonomy, many fall back on the sort of support that people in that position have always fallen back on: wishful thinking (someday me too), reflexive self-hatred (there's something wrong with me, not with the system) or religion, which for all the good that churches do in poverty stricken areas often discourage any action with a wider scope than distributing charity and working the soup kitchens.

Saydur is right that for many of us, the system, however skewed, is one in which we can live with a fair degree of comfort and security, especially in a global perspective. But it is also a system in which the people who are completely screwed are made invisible by the mechanisms of our political and economic system. And that population is growing.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:32 PM on April 6, 2011 [11 favorites]


The Trickle Down Effect: being pissed on from a great height.
posted by Kerasia at 6:10 PM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Some people look at income inequality and shrug their shoulders. They go, what's he trying to say? But you.... you speak-a my language!
posted by Philipschall at 6:18 PM on April 6, 2011


Wellbeing isn't entirely absolute. Happiness doesn't automatically flow when the rain doesn't soak into your bed at night. Humans need an environment of relative fairness and equanimity, to feel they are part of a community/society, not just cattle upon which the vampires prey as they stomp around ankle deep in shit with blinders painted of images promising greener pastures tomorrow. The US gets it this so, so wrong -- as pointed out by the original article.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:20 PM on April 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


Dan Tague's folded money art seems relevant.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:57 PM on April 6, 2011


The thing that gets me is how utterly impoverished the imaginations of the wealthy must be. With this sort of money you could do amazing things that would be remembered forever, like eliminate deficiency diseases or clone dinosaurs or clone yourself. But no: with a very few exceptions like Branson and Gates, it's all estates and private jets and lavish parties.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:40 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's reframe this discussion away from the narrative that began with Reagan.

The top 98 individuals in the US in terms of wealth (not income) controlled roughly USD 790b in FY10.

Walmart - one US corporation - earned USD 23,538b in pre-tax income in FY10.

That is your problem. Yes, the 0.01% control these companies, but the companies themselves control literally exponentially more wealth than any one set of individuals. That is where the money is really disappearing and from whence the commonweal should come.
posted by digitalprimate at 7:42 PM on April 6, 2011


You didn't actually live during the Reagan administration, did you? Or, is my sarcasm meter broken?

Postroad ? Our only Spanish-American War veteran ? Try Coolidge.
posted by y2karl at 7:52 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Which is to say that he is in the top 1% here, in terms of total number of days lived.
posted by y2karl at 7:55 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Walmart - one US corporation - earned USD 23,538b in pre-tax income in FY10.

Check your numbers... 400+ billion. Not 23 trillion. Still a lot, but yeah.
posted by gonna get a dog at 7:59 PM on April 6, 2011


(23 billion is their net income)
posted by gonna get a dog at 8:01 PM on April 6, 2011


Fwiw, I read recently that "the three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined GDP of the 48 'least developed' countries"
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 8:06 PM on April 6, 2011


Median income worldwide? Somewhere around $850. Take down the rich and put us all at the average? $7,000.

I'm not positive that this is a valid method of calculation, but global PPP-adjusted GNI per worker is $23,950.

Global per capita income is misleading because poverty increases birth rates. In a more equal world, the pie would be divided among fewer mouths.
posted by AlsoMike at 8:17 PM on April 6, 2011


This is quite a pickle we find ourselves in. It would appear there's only thing left for the 1% to do. Stiglitz?

(Sorry, gotta laugh to keep from crying, because I really don't see the situation changing anytime soon and without massive loss of life when it does finally change)
posted by lord_wolf at 9:15 PM on April 6, 2011


36th in the world, tied with Cuba and 18 spots behind Greece.
True. We're only above average in that respect, not ridiculously far above.

are those figures at purchasing power parity, or in US dollar terms? Or something else?
Unadjusted US dollars. I'm sure adjusting for PPP and birth rates would change things, but the fact I wanted to point out is that most Americans are already in a fairly elite bracket worldwide as it is, even with declining comparative incomes.

T.D.Strange - All very true, yet even this doesn't seem to be inciting people to rally against a broken system. Perhaps instead of asking "What motivation do people have?", I should ask "What motivation would it take?"

I fear it would be a lot more than this. After all, America in general just might be afraid of inciting equality because if we manage to find a way to force equality against the wishes of the elite, we sure wouldn't want most of the world to find out how to do that on a larger scale.
posted by Saydur at 12:26 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Text me when the revolution comes.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:06 AM on April 7, 2011


While some here have pointed out that Vanity Fair at least is marketed at the upper percentiles, so is The Wall Street Journal's Market Watch, and this was an eye opener. To see two stories of this nature, in press that caters to the top of the wealth curve, is interesting. It is almost as if members of the club are warning the others to wake up before it is too late.
posted by kmartino at 4:01 AM on April 7, 2011


wow! that is definitely an eye opener kmartino. I guess the Time is getting nearer.
posted by adamvasco at 6:04 AM on April 7, 2011


The whole myth of trickle down economics hinged on the assumption that a shortage of investable capital was stifling the economy. That was not the case. Trickle down economics has just put more money into the hands of the wealthy allowing them to move up one or more notches on the conspicuous consumption ladder, e.g. a Bentley instead of a Mercedes or a palace instead of a mansion. I also believe the increase of money in the hands of the wealthy has created some of the asset bubbles seen in the last 20 years from too much money supply chasing too few investable opportunities.
posted by Daddy-O at 8:21 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]




Daddy-O: some time ago, I read a quote from one of Reagan's staff people who said something like, "There was never any economics behind trickle down -- it was always just a dodge to get the top rate down."
posted by Trochanter at 8:47 AM on April 7, 2011


Stiglitz in homunculus link at 18:50 "We've lowered the tax rates on speculators so that speculators pay a much lower tax than people who work for a living." Obviously this is a wrong situation. How did it come about? People like the Koch brothers use their money to control the debate , pay people to write laws to favor them, and own the politicians who vote the tailor made legislation into law.
posted by Daddy-O at 9:32 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately, I think the castles are no longer stormable...

We live in a country with dirt-cheap guns and freely-available black powder. If it ever came down to it, I'm pretty sure the one-percenters would have better luck leaving the country than trying to take on even a fraction of the American Populace.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:10 PM on April 7, 2011


f it ever came down to it, I'm pretty sure the one-percenters would have better luck leaving the country than trying to take on even a fraction of the American Populace.

The one percenters own the police, military, and private security firms. And, I'm pretty sure a good size of the rest of the population would hire-on to protect the wealthy just to get a regular paycheck for once. And healthcare!
posted by Thorzdad at 2:25 PM on April 7, 2011


I read a quote from one of Reagan's staff people who said something like, "There was never any economics behind trickle down -- it was always just a dodge to get the top rate down."

you can add this disclaimer to pretty much every Republican idea of the last 30 years.
posted by any major dude at 7:52 PM on April 7, 2011


Unfortunately, I think the castles are no longer stormable. The crown and ermine cloaks aren't on, and the palace guard is fully to heel and more powerful than ever. I can make a very attractive and efficient guillotine, but I just don't think even a huge crowd can get the right necks in the yoke. I fear they've learned better from history than the masses.

I suspect they've learned from history as well. For starters, how many 1 percenters are truly conspicuous? It's hard to fight the power when it strives to be hidden behind layers of people and organizations to mask its size and full intent. Can't storm the castle if it can't be found.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:01 PM on April 7, 2011


Well, Forbes does publish it's top 400 ever year....

And as Michael Moore pointed out, those 400 people control more wealth in the US than 50% of the country COMBINED.

That'd be a good place to start, I think.
posted by hippybear at 10:07 PM on April 7, 2011


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