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Roger Ebert writes what many of us are thinking.
May 10, 2011 6:30 AM   Subscribe

One percent of Americans now "earn" 25% of the income. Many of them have grown their wealth through criminal exploitation. Roger Ebert asks the burning question: why aren't more people outraged?
posted by rhombus (404 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

 
People are outraged. I, for one. But being outraged about this, when the deck is stacked so far in the other direction, is about the most impotent feeling I can imagine, so I don't spend so much time thinking about it. I suspect I am not alone in feeling this way.

Also, we're not (yet) experiencing the kind of major contractions that keep people from getting their bread and circuses. That has some mitigating effect.
posted by gauche at 6:41 AM on May 10, 2011 [20 favorites]


I, too, am uncertain about the lack of outrage from the working classes & wonder whether we will need to devolve into a third-world before there is an uprising resulting in any significant changes.
posted by PepperMax at 6:41 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have a considerable amount of outrage, but I'm not really sure what to do with it. What am I supposed to do?
posted by pwally at 6:43 AM on May 10, 2011 [17 favorites]


Speaking only for myself, I'm too busy trying to make ends meet in my own house. How would outrage help me do that?
posted by Gator at 6:43 AM on May 10, 2011 [23 favorites]


Because I don't SEE that wealth in action. I see my friends and coworkers, who all live at more-or-less the same basic income level. It's hard to be outraged in a immediate way when that 1% is a group of people that I know about through articles like this, nothing more. They are an idea more than a reality. I live in a world where people get wistful or driven over an income increase/raise of $5,000 or $10,000 a year. That 1%? Ghosts I will never encounter.
posted by Windigo at 6:48 AM on May 10, 2011 [38 favorites]


All of the traditional organization/protest/resistance methods have been deliberately pooh-poohed in the mass media for so long they are off everyone's radar. Organize/Join a union? LOL! Vote 3rd party? LOL!

Besides, fair taxation is theft and would ruin business, according to the all-knowing pundits on TV.
posted by DU at 6:48 AM on May 10, 2011 [33 favorites]


A basic problem is that even if you are outraged, what can you do about it? Powerful people use power for their own benefit, and this seems to happen regardless of whether you have a free market economy, a command economy, or any capitalist-socialist mixture or compromise that you may devise. In any social system, someone is going to have power, and that power will benefit the powerful. So when we demand revolution, we still remember, as Ambrose Bierce pointed out, that a revolution is the process by which a corrupt government is replaced by an even more corrupt government.
But that said, yes, I think that the US government needs to do more about the recent financial abuses, and the corporate executives who, after driving their corporation into bankruptcy to the detriment of both shareholders and taxpayers, are then able to pay themselves grotesquely enormous, multi-million dollar bonuses. That really is ridiculous.
posted by grizzled at 6:49 AM on May 10, 2011 [8 favorites]


So we snark on, boats in the current, because what are you going to do?
posted by No-sword at 6:51 AM on May 10, 2011 [15 favorites]


Now I'm starting to understand why so little real attention was given to the history of the labor movement in high school history class and why the republicans practically burst into flames whenever Howard Zinn walked into a room. When people don't know how much power they have in solidarity, they'll put up with anything, and turn their anger inward and onto each other.

And what DU said. Both the nominal left and right in the US love few things more than self-satisfactorily mocking and subverting traditional populist methods of organization and direct action.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:52 AM on May 10, 2011 [32 favorites]


Thank god this kind of question about America's economic future isn't being asked by someone other than Roger Ebert.
posted by OmieWise at 6:52 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


There was a really interesting survey, the results of which are somewhere out there on the internet, that showed what people thought the income distribution in the USA is, what people think it should be, and what it actually is. The difference was pretty astounding, but my google skills fail me right now.

Why aren't more people outraged? Misinformation from the rich.
posted by entropone at 6:53 AM on May 10, 2011


This seems kind of hypocritical coming from a guy with a net worth of almost ten million dollars. Oh, but it's OK because he earned all that money.
posted by Sternmeyer at 6:55 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Seconding gauche and grizzled.

I'm mad as hell. But what form does "not-gonna-take-it-anymore" take? The problem isn't that people aren't mad - the problem is that the mad people have no idea what to do next. And impotent fury is the most depressing kind of fury.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 6:56 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


There is no venue for our outrage. I almost find Ebert's tone to be a bit patronizing. He is somehow doing us a favor by chastising us about not being outraged enough. He should absolutely use his soapbox to steer the outrage, and I assure that there is outrage, into a movement.
posted by pwally at 6:56 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here you go, Entropone.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:57 AM on May 10, 2011 [15 favorites]


I think there's a good deal of worship in there. We worship the politically powerful and the beautiful without hesitation, why would the wealthy be any different? If we are very, very nice to them, they might look at us, smile, and drop a few crumbs. So the rest of you, shut up, you're ruining my chances!
posted by adipocere at 6:58 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


The most impressive thing the Republicans did was to make poor white people want the same policies as rich white people, with no benefit to the former.
posted by Blake at 6:58 AM on May 10, 2011 [196 favorites]


Does anyone have any nonbiased research on what a change in the US tax rates on high-income earners would do to the unemployment rate? It is clearly possible that, in a hypothetical scenario with an already high tax rate, increased taxation of high-earners would hurt job creation because some people and businesses might actually leave the country for another base of operations.

There is another possibility, of course, that there is "room" for increased taxation of the wealthy without hurting job growth because the tax rate is not that high to begin with and the other advantages of operating in the US outweigh increased taxation.

I as a liberal am inclined to believe that we're in the second scenario, and clearly many conservatives think the US is in the first. My question is whether anyone out there is doing or has done empirical research to try to answer this question. Anyone?

Bueller?
posted by Aizkolari at 6:59 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Spot on, Blake, spot on.
posted by madred at 6:59 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


US Public Supports a More Equitable Distribution of Income. Study (pdf).

Results demonstrate that Americans appear to drastically underestimate
the current level of wealth inequality.... More broadly,
Americans exhibit a general disconnect between their attitudes towards economic
inequality and their self-interest and public policy preferences (Bartels, 2005; Fong,
2001), suggesting that even given increased awareness of the gap between ideal and
actual wealth distributions, Americans may remain unlikely to advocate for policies that
would narrow this gap.
.
posted by entropone at 7:00 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's almost as if the history of all hitherto existing society has something or other to do with class struggle.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 7:00 AM on May 10, 2011 [17 favorites]


Why aren't they outraged?

- Too busy: see: sick systems
- Too poor and/or impotent to actually challenge the status quo: see smashing of the unions etc
- Misinformed: see perceptions of wealth

In short, one of the things the US excels at is marketing and the American Dream is, increasingly, a political marketing tool or a lottery ticket rather than a reality.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:00 AM on May 10, 2011 [38 favorites]


Right on, Blake. More people are not outraged because the rich use that wealth to convince those who do not have it that it is in their best interest not to have it.
posted by hellslinger at 7:02 AM on May 10, 2011


I thought it was those darn transit workers and public school teachers who made the big money.
posted by octothorpe at 7:03 AM on May 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


Outrage ain't enough. But we aren't even at outrage yet.
posted by rmmcclay at 7:04 AM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I thought it was those darn transit workers and public school teachers who made the big money.

I know, it's very confusing. If I'm to believe the news, making $80,000/year makes you a fatcat, but being taxed on income above $250,000 makes you ordinary working class.
posted by entropone at 7:05 AM on May 10, 2011 [67 favorites]


This seems kind of hypocritical coming from a guy with a net worth of almost ten million dollars. Oh, but it's OK because he earned all that money

And if he was poor someone else somewhere would criticise him for just being jealous, no doubt.
posted by dng at 7:08 AM on May 10, 2011 [11 favorites]


If our ruling class wanted us to be outraged, we'd be outraged.

I'd recommend The Century of the Self on the subject of "how those in power have used Freud's theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy."
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:08 AM on May 10, 2011 [19 favorites]


Does anyone have any nonbiased research on what a change in the US tax rates on high-income earners would do to the unemployment rate? It is clearly possible that, in a hypothetical scenario with an already high tax rate, increased taxation of high-earners would hurt job creation because some people and businesses might actually leave the country for another base of operations.


The US is not a high tax nation. This is a complicated question to answer concisely, but take a look at this spreadsheet off this page for the US vs other rich countries.
posted by shothotbot at 7:08 AM on May 10, 2011 [13 favorites]


The "poor" (the bottom supermajority) have been convinced that what they're doing is the right thing. That their current state is good. That there is no problem. And that if things were to change, bad things will happen.

It is unsurprising that most people think they're better off than they are. The powerful have been teaching that to them for a very long time now. They have demonized the things that would make it better:
Unions
Teachers
Community organization
Civic projects
The educated

All of these things and the people that have/do them are "the elite" and represent a threat to "your way of life." People are not mad. People are terrified. And the ones that see through all this are unable to do anything about it, because in doing so, we are branded as the problem.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:10 AM on May 10, 2011 [41 favorites]


LALALALALATRICKLEDOWNLALALALALALALALALALALA
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:11 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I believe the traditional answer is that Americans are not outraged because, unlike Europeans, they believe that they or their children may by hard work and good fortune join the ranks of the wealthy; so they don't want anything done to make things more difficult for wealthy people.
posted by Segundus at 7:12 AM on May 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


Did you just pee on my head?
posted by From Bklyn at 7:12 AM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


Sternmeyer, ten million dollars is NOTHING in the arena we are discussing. Nice straw man, though.
posted by Aquaman at 7:13 AM on May 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'll tell you why...because when I talk to those who don't self-identify as liberal, their response to this is that it's "lying with statistics" and what is actually going on here is that MORE PEOPLE are moving into the highest percentile. Meaning, somehow, they see this as evidence that more people are getting richer and moving up the social ladder. I don't really get it but that's the standard response. It's a GOOD thing. I don't even....there's no point in continuing an argument like that.
posted by spicynuts at 7:14 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Monetize the outrage.

1. Get mad.
2. Collect mad people.
3. ???
4. Redistribute your profit! equally among all.
posted by chavenet at 7:14 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, the top corporate tax rate of 35% is high, at least compared to the data in this chart.
posted by Aizkolari at 7:15 AM on May 10, 2011


Thank heaven for Ebert. Otherwise, we wouldn't have known about this issue.
posted by crunchland at 7:16 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Because I don't SEE that wealth in action. I see my friends and coworkers, who all live at more-or-less the same basic income level. It's hard to be outraged in a immediate way when that 1% is a group of people that I know about through articles like this, nothing more. They are an idea more than a reality. I live in a world where people get wistful or driven over an income increase/raise of $5,000 or $10,000 a year. That 1%? Ghosts I will never encounter.
Cant find the link in finite time, but there was a New Yorker article during the Obama campaign that talked about just this: that the campaign found it difficult to sell the expiration of the Bush tax cuts in Ohio because people simply couldn't visualize _what_ it meant to be so rich; being a one-percenter was so far removed from their own life experiences that they simply couldn't muster enough outrage against the super-rich.

That and, this is the age where everyone is an expert, or plays one on television; the moment you ask a question to anyone, they immediately "know" the answer. The time for talking points to be regurgitated has fallen down to days now. Used to be weeks.

Now, these aren't entirely my views, just stuff from that piece I alluded to; not being from the US, I have no way of telling whether it's true or not. The bit about micro-analyses ring true though; it's quite bizarre how everyone has these 'deep' opinions in a matter of hours in these hyper-media-saturated times.
posted by the cydonian at 7:17 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually, the top corporate tax rate of 35% is high, but still less than basically all of Europe, at least compared to the data in this chart.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:17 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


And it does make sense that corporations could leave, given that if you're not in the defense business, a 35% tax rate somewhere in Europe buys you health insurance for all your employees and you don't have to worry about doing that yourself.
posted by Aizkolari at 7:18 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


These facts confirm my impression that greed is now seen as a virtue in America.

Now?!
posted by chavenet at 7:19 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why isn't there more outrage? Because "most people" believe that they too could be a one percenter someday. All it takes is hard work and sacrifice. Besides, they earned it legitimately, so what right do we have to take it away.

That's what they say, anyway..
posted by wierdo at 7:19 AM on May 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


The internet (for Americans) is kind of like TV, it keeps us in our places while providing a simulacrum of entertainment and information. Plus it's easier to monitor then a bunch of guys in church basements.
posted by edgeways at 7:20 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the real problem here can be found a LOT closer to home. Take a look at MetaFilter: ALL of the income goes to a small group comprising no more than 0.01% of the site's 50,000 users. "President-for-Life" Matthew C. Howie is merrily reaping the rich rewards of our endless slavery - and all the while laughing his rich, eager laugh and stroking a hairless cat in his undersea fortress surrounded by his bikini-clad female ninja bodyguards. We should all rise up in pitchfork-weilding anger against the tyranny of the Pro-Howie Junta, but you people are too busy giggling at Cortex's deletion reasons and competing to see who can suck up to Jessamyn the hardest. THROW OFF YOUR CHAINS, METAFILTER! Elect me, "the quidnunc kid," as your NEW supreme leader and I promise to share the wealth MUCH MORE LESS UNEQUALLY. We could all be rolling in sweet internet cashola and I will NEVER delete that thing you posted - I also promise to replace all current "mods" with "post-mods" who will jackel refridgerator cumberbund. VOTE #1 QUIDNUNC.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:22 AM on May 10, 2011 [62 favorites]


Q: Why are people more outraged?
A: Because Americans highly value freedom.
posted by MarshallPoe at 7:23 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I believe the traditional answer is that Americans are not outraged because, unlike Europeans, they believe that they or their children may by hard work and good fortune join the ranks of the wealthy; so they don't want anything done to make things more difficult for wealthy people.

The elite has certainly done a better job of brainwashing the masses in America than anywhere else. (Not meaning to imply that Americans are more gullible or ignorant, your history is just very different.) This, I assume, is why it's marginally more acceptable to say cunt in polite society than socialism.
posted by londonmark at 7:24 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oops, meant to write:

Q: Why aren't people more outraged?
A: Because American highly value freedom.
posted by MarshallPoe at 7:24 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


We're losing the policy war because, long ago, we lost the War on Words. Any conversation about tax policy can be halted with a single phrase: "wealth redistribution". Think about that ideological judo for a moment, because it's brilliant and frightening. It doesn't matter if our ideas are right and just and what people want. As long as they control the language, the fight is futile.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:25 AM on May 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


> I think the real problem here can be found a LOT closer to home. Take a look at MetaFilter:

That might be funny if the underlying problem were even a little bit funny. The fact is that people I know have died young because they didn't get proper medical treatment while the ultra-rich live at a level of opulence unequalled in history, so pardon me if I don't have the heart to laugh.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:26 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Aquaman: "Sternmeyer, ten million dollars is NOTHING in the arena we are discussing. Nice straw man, though"

More like income and net worth aren't at all the same thing. Sometimes income leads to net worth. Sometimes it doesn't.

$10,000,000 in AGI is more than enough to make someone a one percenter. ($380,354 was the cutoff in 2008) The sad thing is that $67,280 is enough to make someone a 25 percenter.
posted by wierdo at 7:27 AM on May 10, 2011


Q: Why aren't people more outraged?
A: They are outraged. Can you believe that ref made that lousy call? And that guy on American Idol shouldn't have won!
posted by SeanOfTheHillPeople at 7:27 AM on May 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


> A: Because American highly value freedom.

Is this the United States of America? The ones who shut off half of their Constitution about a decade ago and haven't turned it on again yet? The ones who don't believe that the laws apply to their government?

Sorry, I don't buy it.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:28 AM on May 10, 2011 [8 favorites]


Actually, the top corporate tax rate of 35% is high

And, as far as I can tell, no corporation actually pays 35%. Indeed, many of the biggest don't pay a dime.
posted by eriko at 7:28 AM on May 10, 2011 [17 favorites]


The 400 Richest Americans are now richer than the bottom 50% of Americans combined.

(And in case you doubt the math, here's a PolitiFact fact check on the claim.)

For one specific example, one energy company CEO earns approximately $27,034.74 per hour. After one eight hour day, this CEO could afford to buy my $100,000 house outright, while most people like me would be stuck trying to pay that debt off for the next 30 years, all the while losing out due to interest and property value deflation.

Is it even remotely possible that the most highly compensated members of our society are actually in the neighborhood of 4,000 times as economically productive as the minimum wage worker? Of course not. That means these highly compensated individuals are bleeding off economic value from some other part of the system (and given the clear pattern of unequal income growth and now finally de facto wage stagnation since the late 70s, it seems pretty obvious it's labor and consumers that are being systematically shortchanged).

And it's not like this is America just carrying on business as usual: long established tax and social policies meant to counteract the potential for unchecked wealth to be used to grow more wealth in economically disruptive ways have been dismantled since the "Reagan revolution" of the eighties and the effects of those changes couldn't be clearer.

Highly Uneven Income Growth Threatens America
posted by saulgoodman at 7:29 AM on May 10, 2011 [43 favorites]


It doesn't bother me that the rich are rich. It bothers me that they want to rob me. When the tax cuts for the wealthy unbalanced the budget, part of the money to pay for these came from the (then) Social Security surplus income. It was replaced by IOUs. Even that doesn't bother me - until the IOUs become, oh, Social Security is in crisis, those tax dollars you sent in have magically disappeared.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:32 AM on May 10, 2011 [23 favorites]


Right, I get it now! More poor people moving into the top 1% percentile, so really, there is more wealth overall. That makes complete sense.
posted by rhombus at 7:32 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


“Go back to bed, America, your government has figured out how it all transpired. Go back to bed America, your government is in control. Here, here's American Gladiators. Watch this, shut up, go back to bed America, here is American Gladiators, here is 56 channels of it! Watch these pituitary retards bang their fucking skulls together and congratulate you on the living in the land of freedom. Here you go America - you are free to do what well tell you! You are free to do what we tell you!”
-Bill Hicks
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:32 AM on May 10, 2011 [19 favorites]


Oh yes, also people do not believe that the bottom half of income earners earn a mere trillion dollars collectively, while the top half earn over 7 trillion. This is why it's difficult to get concrete agreement with the idea of progressive taxation.

The people who are one percenters just don't grasp how little money there is at the bottom. To be fair, the one percenters look at the tenth percenters and feel poor by comparison. They need to be smacked upside the head and made to look at the other 99%, though.
posted by wierdo at 7:33 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


This seems kind of hypocritical coming from a guy with a net worth of almost ten million dollars. Oh, but it's OK because he earned all that money.

Yeah, well, first off, $10 million is rich compared to me. The problem is that we're talking about people to whom $10 million is peanuts. And I'm OK with people like Ebert getting rich. Did he get rich by undue influence on lawmakers? By privatizing profit and socializing losses? By union-busting? By victimizing his fellow citizens? Is he constantly whining that his taxes are too high?

Why isn't there more outrage? Because "most people" believe that they too could be a one percenter someday. All it takes is hard work and sacrifice. Besides, they earned it legitimately, so what right do we have to take it away.

This, this, a thousand times this. Because the slave is identifying with the master, deluding himself that he too could have Koch-type money if he gets just that one lucky break.
posted by tyllwin at 7:33 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


There is no doubt that the American upper class should face a far more significant tax burden, but the a priori assumption that an uneven distribution of wealth is bad is outrageous.It's not inequalities in income that matter. It's: We need to focus on raising the floor, not lowering the ceiling.
posted by christonabike at 7:34 AM on May 10, 2011 [17 favorites]


Come to think of it, the 2nd most impressive thing republicans dide was make poor white people think they have a shot at being rich white people.
posted by Blake at 7:35 AM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


why aren't more people outraged?

The media don't care because a lot of the people on TV and those in charge are in that 1% bracket. So are a lot of their friends, and so are politicians. They're surrounded by wealth and they have no real connection to the way the average American actually lives.

And for politicians, they need campaign funds directed by that 1% either personally or from corporations they run.

Because "most people" believe that they too could be a one percenter someday.

First of all, I think that's kind of B.S at this point. Lots of people think they might be rich but in the 1%? The thing is there's no real clear path for them to get there. Back when being "rich" was being a millionaire, it really was semi-atainable for a lot of people. Nowadays, being "rich" means being a billionaire and that's just not attainable for anyone who didn't go to Harvard and get a job with Goldman Sachs after graduation.

Second of all, I think people who do think they might be rich don't necessarily have a problem with higher taxes on the rich today to pay for things like schools and roads.
posted by delmoi at 7:37 AM on May 10, 2011


Looks like I borked my links. Oops!
posted by rhombus at 7:39 AM on May 10, 2011


Maybe if it were described this way more people would get it.

10 people have been promised a piece of pie. Before they can divide it up, two of the people slice away 2/3 of it and walk away.

I think framing it in terms of the top 1% leads people to ignore it thinking there will always be some super-rich. Looking at he top 20% makes a more dramatic picture.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:39 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've been outraged for the last ten years, pretty much my entire adult life. Now I'm just tired and sad.

I don't know what I can do to fix this situation. This morning on NPR there was a piece about how Republicans are trying to water down the financial reform bill before it's even gone into effect. How am I supposed to do shit about that? My Senators won't vote for it, but my Rep is a douchecanoe who probably would even if he wasn't the recipient of all that lobbyist largesse.
posted by sugarfish at 7:40 AM on May 10, 2011 [8 favorites]


Actually, the top corporate tax rate of 35% is high, but still less than basically all of Europe, at least compared to the data in this chart.
FYI: the U.S. has far more tax loop holes then most European countries, and therefore the effective corporate tax is far less. GE for example paid no taxes last year and actually got $3 billion in cash from the government.
posted by delmoi at 7:41 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


We need to focus on raising the floor, not lowering the ceiling.

The problem is that so much government revenue goes to the upper class (effectively, through tax cuts) that there's nothing left for the lower and middle classes. Right now, in state capitals across America, white men in suits are debating exactly which programs to slash and which government employees to fire in order to stem the tide of red ink. There is no longer any way to raise the floor without lowing the ceiling. The two are synonymous.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:42 AM on May 10, 2011 [11 favorites]


Nowadays, being "rich" means being a billionaire and that's just not attainable for anyone who didn't go to Harvard and get a job with Goldman Sachs after graduation.

But, but, those Google kids! That Facebook guy! It's in all the movies that it just takes luck and hard work. And on all the shows!!

Less sarcastically, I think most people in the bottom 75% don't quite realize the enormity of the difference between even Ebert himself and the super-rich.
posted by tyllwin at 7:43 AM on May 10, 2011


Don't forget the scary terrorists. Bearded goatherders with box cutters are the biggest threat to America, not the billionare oligarchs stealing your paycheck.

Be afraid! Don't ask questions, why do you hate America?
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:43 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


but the a priori assumption that an uneven distribution of wealth is bad is outrageous

You're totally misunderstanding the issue. The issue isn't uneven distribution of wealth, it's the incredibly distorted and uneven distribution curve. And this distorted curve of distribution is a relatively recent thing in American history, and there are specific recent policy reforms that can clearly be seen to have aggravated the distortions.

It's not about equally distributing wealth, it's about having a reasonable, sustainable and healthy distribution curve that doesn't end up funneling more and more of the wealth up over time to the detriment of those lower down on the curve.

The important thing to understand here is that where we are now is not in the slightest consistent with where we've been throughout much of our history since the economic and social reforms of the 20th century were enacted.

Your grasp of the problem is too simplistic and just plain wrong.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:45 AM on May 10, 2011 [17 favorites]


Jebus, this thread is depressing.
posted by darkstar at 7:47 AM on May 10, 2011 [26 favorites]


I'm tired of hearing the question "Why isn't there more outrage?". TV, aspiration, fear, whatever; all these answers are useless unless they're followed by "What are we going to do about it?"
posted by cdward at 7:48 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


delmoi: "First of all, I think that's kind of B.S at this point. Lots of people think they might be rich but in the 1%? The thing is there's no real clear path for them to get there. Back when being "rich" was being a millionaire, it really was semi-atainable for a lot of people. Nowadays, being "rich" means being a billionaire and that's just not attainable for anyone who didn't go to Harvard and get a job with Goldman Sachs after graduation."

I was talking about income, not wealth. And yes, reaching the top 1% of income earners is an attainable goal for most suburbanite's children who had the opportunity of a college education along with quite a bit of luck. It's not likely, but it's possible. It's not at all a "this never happens" thing. It's sort of like winning the lottery, only with slightly better odds.

There is a kernel of truth to the "hard work and sacrifice" trope. Those two are usually prerequisites for the rags to riches story. Many people believe that's all that is required. They forgot about lots of luck. Most poor people grasp that last part, while most upper middle class and above people don't get that bit.
posted by wierdo at 7:49 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


What the right now calls "socialism" is tilted more towards the wealthy than was the wealth distribution and tax rates of America under Richard Nixon.
posted by tyllwin at 7:49 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Speaking only for myself, I'm too busy trying to make ends meet in my own house. How would outrage help me do that?

Repeating myself because the conversation in this thread is awfully broad and "sheeple think they can get rich" and "LOL celeb worship amirite?" How is outrage going to help me, personally, make ends meet? What can I do? Not "what should we, the people, rise up and do," but what can I, personally, do to change this wealth disparity thing without jeopardizing my own barely-making-it income, health (no, I don't have insurance), and the roof over my head (I rent)? Bearing in mind that I was un- or underemployed for a LONG time, the job I have now is the ONLY place that would hire me, I live in an at-will state where they can fire me for any reason or no reason, and my community has an approximate 11% unemployment rate (and that's just the people actually collecting unemployment and doesn't account for the large number of people who just can't find a job and can't get unemployment for one reason or another). What, specifically, can I, personally, do about this situation and how, exactly, will outrage help?
posted by Gator at 7:50 AM on May 10, 2011 [23 favorites]


darkstar, exactly. Sitting around talking about everything that's wrong with the world is easy. but depressing. Taking concrete steps to fix it is hard, but empowering.
posted by cdward at 7:51 AM on May 10, 2011


> We need to focus on raising the floor, not lowering the ceiling.

So much money goes to pushing the ceiling to stratospheric heights that the floor gets covered in shit.

As long as the ultra-rich consider it morally offensive to leave value on the table for anyone else to use, our one hope is to level the playing field between us and them.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:51 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


People have argued that inequality itself is bad.
posted by jb at 7:54 AM on May 10, 2011


delmoi: "Second of all, I think people who do think they might be rich don't necessarily have a problem with higher taxes on the rich today to pay for things like schools and roads."

Somehow I missed this bit the first time around.

That statement does not comport with my experience in talking to the not-rich. You have to remember that I live in Oklahoma, though. People tell me that it is unfair that rich people should have to pay more in tax than poor people. They say I'm being greedy when I say that the income tax rate needs to rise, even when I point out that I, being among the upper half of the upper half, also ought to be required to pay more income tax.

The ironic part is that the people I know who truly are wealthy (as in they could quit working and live a life of luxury on their investment income any time they liked) are the ones who say they'd be happy to pay more income tax.
posted by wierdo at 7:55 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


What percentage of all the wealth in America do you think the top 1% should have? Without an answer to that question, this statistic is utterly meaningless.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:55 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is no populist outrage for several reasons (pretty obvious reasons imo)
* Most people make enough for a decent living. The % of people below the poverty line in the US is ~12%. This puts in the mainstream of most western nations. Japan, Germany, UK, and Spain all have more below the poverty line (15.7%, 15.5%, 14%, 19.8% respectively).
* The poverty rate goes down as age increases. Which would seem to indicate that financial stability increases as one gains experience. This would also give the impression (real or not) of positive influence over ones life.
* There is little overt exploitation. Or to state it another way, exploitation is created by reducing the options of the exploited, not direct force.
* The American (US) culture. This is probably the most important of all the factors. In fact it was touched upon in the Angry Asian thread earlier, facts don't matter, results do. If you have poor results, it's your fault. In other words, the prevalent cultural attitude is that if you aren't making it, you're not trying hard enough.
* There is no cabal. There is no organized powerful group whose purpose is to destroy the middle class. This would be self-defeating for the vast majority of the rich. However, there are plenty of individuals and groups that seek to maximize their profit at the expense of others. Each in their own very vertical interest. It's only the affect in aggregate that causes the problem in income distribution. Thus there's not a single "them" that you can be used to focus outrage.
* The problem is serious, but it has not (yet) reached crisis levels. Popular movements seldom (ever?) rise up over issues that aren't in crisis.
* When everything is an outrage, nothing is. (ala Nancy Grace)
* It has not entered the public consciousness as a priority issue. It has to compete with issues such as terrorism, wars, climate change, earthquakes/tsunamis/radiation, etc.

These issues don't preclude a populist movement to address the issue, just that doing so by leveraging the emotion of outrage would be a tough hill to climb.

Also, a very key question that gets obfuscated in these types of conversations is to ask where that wealth is? If it's locked up in some vault, then that's a huge problem, but if that wealth is funding loans or otherwise being put to work in the economy, then that's an entirely different issue (it's still a problem, but in a different way).
posted by forforf at 7:58 AM on May 10, 2011 [21 favorites]


Know what the problem is? Hate me for saying it, but we have a collection of the brightest minds on Metafilter with a thorough knowledge of how to use the internet.

And here we sit, because we have no way to weaponize metafilter. I suppose I can't complain really. So much of my education the last number of years has been through this site. But I still get frustrated that we can't develop some way to move as a team, instead of routinely filling up post after post like this. It's like watching a bunch of football players walking around in a locker room talking about how they need to beat the undefeated team they face, strategizing what it would take to win. For years on end, and they never actually hit the field.

But forgetting about that, by far the most fun part of this for me is the realization that 200 years from now people will be looking back on the events of the last few decades and thinking "god, that must have been shitty", like we do when we read historical accounts from the past.
posted by cashman at 7:58 AM on May 10, 2011 [17 favorites]


"In rich countries, a smaller gap between rich and poor means a happier, healthier, and more successful population. Just look at the US, the UK, Portugal, and New Zealand in the top right of this graph, doing much worse than Japan, Sweden or Norway in the bottom left."

Evidence in detail.
posted by jb at 7:58 AM on May 10, 2011 [11 favorites]


dixiecupdrinking: "What percentage of all the wealth in America do you think the top 1% should have? Without an answer to that question, this statistic is utterly meaningless"

Surveys have shown that people would like the top 20% to own about 32% of the wealth. (as opposed to the 80something percent they actually control)
posted by wierdo at 7:59 AM on May 10, 2011


My outrage is, and has been, so great over this that it's difficult to express much without lapsing into inarticulate cries of anger and frustration.

Within my own family, one individual made a great deal of money running a business which exploited a young workforce with brutal hours and lousy pay--turnover at the place was epic--and who, at the end of his life, swore up and down that his wealth came through his own hard work, and that he was entitled to every cent of it. He decried the use of government money to aid the poor while cheerfully allowing it to subsidize his costly cancer treatments.

Has anyone touched the Republican/Democrat divide? Because at this point the parties are very much polarized with the Republicans trying to frighten everyone with phrases like "redistribution of wealth."

I have a nephew who lameheadedly parrots his father's Republican attitudes, swearing that "socialism is evil" and other nonsense, yet he feels no sense of hypocrisy when he collects unemployment while living in his folks' basement.

The Republican party has used its considerable coffers to vilify anyone seeking social justice and to convince everyone that any kind of government aid, including creating a more equitable health-care system, is nothing more than evil meddling. The worst part is, in many places--too many--this message has taken root.

I'd love to relocate to another country, but can barely make ends meet here. And around and around we go.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:00 AM on May 10, 2011 [18 favorites]


TV, aspiration, fear, whatever; all these answers are useless unless they're followed by "What are we going to do about it?"

Completely scrubbing out the history of the labor movement and the hard-fought gains they made has something to do with it too.

If I'm in a really bad mood, I'd say public institutions are being deliberately gutted in order to concentrate the social capital of the already rich and move all services to their corporate or faith-based institutions. And if this bad mood continues I'll say certain parts of the American mind-set seem completely designed to keep people poor and uninterested in change: "Self-Sufficiency" quickly turns into "Accepting help is weak" and "If you fail it's your own damn fault so shut up."
posted by The Whelk at 8:00 AM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


Part of the problem as I see it is the constant conflation of outrage toward corruption with moral proselytizing on the part of the left. I love Roger Ebert, and I join him in being outraged by the corruption, illegal activity, and unfair taxation that has created such an unequal distribution of wealth in this country, but I can't get onboard with all this crap about virtues and greed and blah blah. I feel that I'm probably not alone in that.
posted by nzero at 8:01 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Storm the Bastille, I say.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:01 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


> "What are we going to do about it?"

Michael Moore gave an excellent talk at the FAIR 25th anniversary show, which unfortunately does not seem to be online, where he had a lot of actionable suggestions (he apologized and said that they're more aimed at people who don't live in NYC or other major cities).

Very first thing he suggests is simply get your friends together every couple of weeks and call yourself a political party, (he suggested the New Democrats), then find something to get busy on - for example, show up to your local Democratic party meetings en masse, if it's like most towns if you bring a dozen friends you'll be a majority. Try and take them over, get a delegate locally or try to operate yourself.

One thing that needs doing is getting people out to vote, so steal a page from the Republicans and get something on the ballot that will actually attract Democrats to vote - and then he had a series of very strong suggestions, one being a provision to keep the state's National Guard within that state, another one being to lower the voting age to 16(! - but he made excellent points for it). There was a lot more, this is just my memory...

I was very impressed. I wish that talk were online.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:01 AM on May 10, 2011 [15 favorites]


And like, twisting the Social Contract into a weapon. Now that was a dick move.
posted by The Whelk at 8:01 AM on May 10, 2011


Forforf is spot on. I suspect that, to the extent there 'is' a cabal, it's the centralized messaging and talking points machine of the Republican party / media / think-tank / industry group complex, which is currently much more representative of the interests and dependent upon funding from the top 1%.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:03 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


“Revolution is not the uprising against preexisting order, but the setting up of a new order contradictory to the traditional one.”
Jose Ortega y Gasset


I found that on my Fugazi REPEATER cassette when I was a teen.
posted by gcbv at 8:03 AM on May 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


Oh and, I just want to say, the left in this country needs serious attention Can't stay on message, terribly organized, fractious and still fighting 60 year old battles. Actually just that first one, staying ON MESSAGE, would go far. Give me a clear, easy to understand breakdown of your platform and why I should care and how does it make my life better.

Granted this is the same left that is only slightly to the right of Nixon these days so arrrrgh.
posted by The Whelk at 8:05 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think the main points have been pretty well covered, but as to a more radical violent, direct approach, at this point I think the main reason we haven't seen the top 1% guillotined in the streets is that it wouldn't actually make any of the people revolting any richer. That wealth would just shift over to someone else, and when the angry mob went and hunted that person down, the same thing would happen again and again.

I can very nearly guarantee that if killing the evil dragon meant that the village below the mountain got the treasure, there'd be people trying to slay it constantly, but as it is, there is no real incentive for anyone to do anything directly, and any efforts to do things within the bounds of the law, like increased taxation, are instantly lobbied away.
posted by quin at 8:05 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


What percentage of all the wealth in America do you think the top 1% should have?

1%.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:06 AM on May 10, 2011 [26 favorites]


People have argued that inequality itself is bad.

Sure, there are arguments to be made there, but we don't even have to go so far as to argue for zero wealth inequality as ideal to make the case that something is wrong here. Even by good old fashioned, American capitalist standards, there's a systemic problem that's only getting worse. And in effect, if the distribution curve of wealth is smoother and more rational, then wealth inequality in absolute terms wouldn't be nearly as pronounced. In America, we will likely always believe that people should be able to earn more if they work harder or come up with better ideas. I think that's a fine and defensible idea. It's just when we tear a hole in our economic system and let wealth start pooling up in certain pockets that we run into serious problems.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:07 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Civil_Disobedient, are you serious?
posted by Aizkolari at 8:07 AM on May 10, 2011


> The % of people below the poverty line in the US is ~12%. This puts in the mainstream of most western nations. Japan, Germany, UK, and Spain all have more below the poverty line (15.7%, 15.5%, 14%, 19.8% respectively).

Except of course that the experience with being "poor" in Germany, Japan, etc. is very little like being poor in the US because you'll get free medical care, you won't lose your house, you'll get free retraining if you've lost your job and niceties like that.

The thing about not having a social safety net in the US is if you fall off the bottom, it's very hard to get back even to the lowest ranks again. Everyone knows this in their heart, which is why they have to pretend that those people who have fallen are morally deficient - otherwise, it could perhaps happen to morally-shiny You.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:08 AM on May 10, 2011 [37 favorites]


Another thing that would help is to list people by name. "Top 1%" or "Richest 400" won't elicit much. What are their names? Is there a place that lists their names, perhaps what state they have the most houses in?
posted by cashman at 8:10 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Civil_disobedient, that's an awesome idea. We should hang out.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:12 AM on May 10, 2011


A basic problem is that even if you are outraged, what can you do about it?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_action#Nonviolent_direct_action
posted by mattbucher at 8:13 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


> Actually just that first one, staying ON MESSAGE, would go far. Give me a clear, easy to understand breakdown of your platform and why I should care and how does it make my life better.

Unfortunately, after the 70s the "right" made a concerted and successful play to acquire as much of the media as possible, so in 2011 the "left" has no voice at all in the United States of America.

What you perceive as schism on the "left" is simply a complete lack of agreement between the actual left and the pro-big-business, pro-war, pro-Wall St, pro-tax-cut, anti-social-services Democratic Party. As someone who has been forced to perceive himself as being on the "left", it's not like I feel that there are minor areas of disagreement between me and the Democratic Party - it's that I feel that we are on diametrically opposite sides on all the important issues of our day.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:15 AM on May 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


A basic problem is that even if you are outraged, what can you do about it?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_action
posted by dunkadunc at 8:21 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


the only authentic populist movement in the US is on the right. President Huckabee will have some interesting policy ideas for you all....

you're either on the side of the christian Peronists or the hedge fund managers? which side are you on?
posted by ennui.bz at 8:22 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm just going to leave this here. Despotism 1946.

Strange how they made films about this kind of thing as far back as the mid 1940's and somehow instead of learning what not to do, it seems we've taken the bad examples and decided to model our country on them. Dystopia, how I love thee.
posted by daq at 8:23 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think there's plenty of outrage. Liberals are outraged, but the Democrats keep moving rightward. The Tea Party is outraged, too, but they are wrong on the facts and will self-destruct if the Republicans don't neuter them first. The bottom 99% are sharply divided as to the source of the problem, even when we do agree there's a problem.

What we need is a strong movement aimed in the right direction, a progressive Tea Party that works within the Democratic Party to yank it back towards the left without splitting the vote. We can't afford helping the Republicans win as part of a long strategy, because every four years of Republican rule are so costly.

What we need are strong, charismatic opinion leaders who are experts in rhetoric and the media. We need Democrats who are willing to fight the rhetorical battles as well as the political and legislative ones. Majorities of Americans already support most of what needs to be done. Compromises can still be made in the legislature, but the rhetoric at least must be strong and courageous. Democrats must stop acting like they're ashamed of their beliefs and start being proud of them.
posted by callmejay at 8:23 AM on May 10, 2011


Another thing that would help is to list people by name. "Top 1%" or "Richest 400" won't elicit much. What are their names? Is there a place that lists their names, perhaps what state they have the most houses in?


Top 1% is three million people.
posted by JPD at 8:24 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Actually the so called "rich" are scared of the masses, any masses, at any time.

Aren't many average american scared by the mere idea a bunch of "mexicans" will start complaining about their working conditions, or worse, unite and riot? I say mexican, but I could have said another immigrant who isn't any longer buying into the "american eldorado dream" (unsurprisingly, even if mexicans are scared by the ongoing drug violence, may a few more then a dozen have tought that, after all, bringing in a kilogram of coca in U.S. could change their life forever).

Similarly, the "very rich" american, are scared by the mere idea the average americans would start rioting in complaint of wall street highly disguised thefts.

Or are they? More probably, they fear the masses physical violence, but even more their fear irrational ideas mixed with determination. And they should, as one can see what the power of ideas can lead to by just looking at fanatics, religious or political ones.

And they should be trembling at the irrational idea that one should remain forever happy of risking health because of a late payment in health insurance policy, or happy of not being able to forecast and plan for the future, because in pratice you don't know wheter you will be employed or able to earn something tomorrow or not.

Yet they don't, why? Is it possible that they are not hearing enough complaint?
posted by elpapacito at 8:29 AM on May 10, 2011


the only authentic populist movement in the US is on the right. President Huckabee will have some interesting policy ideas for you all....

Oh god don't remind me, "We'd love to give you health care but it looks like your church attendance rates are low this week!"

posted by The Whelk at 8:31 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Top 0.001% is 400 people. These are the ones who control more wealth than the bottom 50% of us combined.

Forbes offers a handy-dandy list of them here.

But I should point out, IMO, these aren't all evil people by any means--some of them, no doubt, are just the accidental beneficiaries of a broken system. From where I sit, the status quo is as much a problem for them over the long term as it is for those of us toiling at the bottom of the heap (though I suspect many of them don't really grasp or are willfully incapable of recognizing how dangerous the current economic trends are to their own interests).
posted by saulgoodman at 8:32 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


2nd most impressive thing republicans dide was make poor white people think they have a shot at being rich white people. --- I can think of another rags-to-riches fable... Imagine you're a movie critic and schlocky movie writer. Late in your career, you get struck with a rare, disfiguring ailment. You're only one step away from being an internet guru, able to pontificate on any and all subjects that will be gobbled up greedily by the adoring masses. Who says life can't be a fairytale?
posted by crunchland at 8:33 AM on May 10, 2011


I am in the top 1% worldwide. So... what have I done wrong?
posted by Xezlec at 8:33 AM on May 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


Top 1% is three million people.

And? If equally distributed among states, that's 20,000 names per state. You can go on online petition sites and see more names than that. It can be called the 3 million homepage.
posted by cashman at 8:34 AM on May 10, 2011


Hmm, a lot of this can be boiled down to the mentality of "being poor is a punishment, money is a reward."
posted by The Whelk at 8:34 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


"I'm mad as hell & I'm not gonna take it anymore" has become "I'm tired of being mad as hell & I'm not gonna give a fuck anymore"
posted by Mick at 8:35 AM on May 10, 2011 [17 favorites]


What percentage of all the wealth in America do you think the top 1% should have?

1%.


The idea of everyone having identical incomes makes me kind of angry. Not because there are people I think I should make more than, but because there are people I shouldn't be making as much as. I know not just one but many people who work harder than I can even imagine working, and I would never feel right about accepting a salary on par with theirs.
posted by Xezlec at 8:36 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


It doesn't help that the majority of Americans are motivationally crippled by the three-pronged curse of: the lack of a solid education which includes developing critical thinking skills and a basic grounding in history; an addiction to high-fat prepared foods and the resulting general physical torpor; and an addition to television or the entertainment aspects of the web, which consumes all their leisure time, removing their ability to educate themselves by reading or to contemplate how they might significantly change the system.
posted by aught at 8:36 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because I don't think wealth is the be all and end all and many of those rich people are living stunted lives. E.g. Would you want to switch lives with George W. Bush?
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:37 AM on May 10, 2011


A basic problem is that even if you are outraged, what can you do about it?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_action#Nonviolent_direct_action


It seems like a small but persistent part of the population has been using these tactics in the exact same time period that the income distribution has changed. If these kinds of tactics work, then why haven't they worked already? Is there any evidence that grassroots efforts can make an impact on established powerful special interests without widespread public support?
posted by burnmp3s at 8:38 AM on May 10, 2011


I am in the top 1% worldwide. So... what have I done wrong?

It makes no sense to compare your income to worldwide income, because local pricing and currency valuation effects make such comparisons apple-to-oranges. For example, in some places, a wage of $5 dollars a day is enough to secure you a home, food to eat, and possibly even extra help around the house. The high variability in local costs of living make this kind of analysis essentially an act of accounting masturbation.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:38 AM on May 10, 2011 [11 favorites]


So we snark on, boats in the current, because what are you going to do?
posted by No-sword at 2:51 PM on May 10


Well, there's always bloody revolution. Bloody revolution, anyone? You... over there, with the iPad 2? Bloody revolution?

Nah. Thought not.
posted by Decani at 8:38 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hmm, a lot of this can be boiled down to the mentality of "being poor is a punishment, money is a reward."

Fines have been a punishment and material gifts a reward for all of human existence. It turns out people really like material things.
posted by Xezlec at 8:38 AM on May 10, 2011


How many people are willing to think critically about materialism in general?
posted by No Robots at 8:39 AM on May 10, 2011


There's a bunch of them (top 1%) here, for sure - theyrule.net (uses Fortune 1000 info for sources, among others.)
posted by cashman at 8:39 AM on May 10, 2011


But of course the educated, and those who read and are left of center, knew about this sort of thing. Oddly, a country born in a revolution is now no longer concerned about such things. Just to note:
1. our universities all have a college of business administration and, if you are lucky , within that college--usually very conservative--you might find ONE course on the history of labor.
2. when references are made to money and/or wealth, it is never noted--the British paper Guardian however did a study--how much of this is tucked away in offshore accounts.
3. you won't see this one percent unless you hang out at their clubs, homes, 2nd homes, yacht clubs etc...they seldom show up at Pizza Hut.

But fret not: one day our fellow citizens will learn that the wetness of the trickle down they detect now and then is really piss.
posted by Postroad at 8:39 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


The idea of everyone having identical incomes makes me kind of angry. Not because there are people I think I should make more than, but because there are people I shouldn't be making as much as. I know not just one but many people who work harder than I can even imagine working, and I would never feel right about accepting a salary on par with theirs.

What if the reward for innovation was the pleasure of doing good work and helping others (while earning the living wage others also earn), rather than being allotted a grossly distorted share of social power through money, material pleasures, health services, and influence on national politics?
posted by aught at 8:40 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's the mentality that if you're in a bad spot, it's your own damn fault and no on elses, cause no one has a responsibility to anyone else and if you have money, that means you must have been following the right and true path and it absolves you of anything you might have done to get that money.

I don't have my copy infront of me but it seems a bit like what Tocqueville was worried might happen in a democracy without a visible class system to blame for inequality, people would end up blaming themselves rather then the situation that causes misfortune and nothing would change.
posted by The Whelk at 8:42 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


As a potential lottery winner, I totally support tax cuts for the wealthy.
posted by SpiffyRob at 8:42 AM on May 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


The IRS itself publishes numbers (most recently from 2008) that show that the top 1% earns 20% of the income, and pays 38% of the taxes. (cite warning: PDF)

I do not disagree with Ebert's premise at all, but these numbers are quoted back to me by the reactionaries that want to maintain Bush's tax cuts.

How can I counter these arguments? I'm sure that there is something subtle that I am missing (like in the fact that the IRS reports AGI, not just gross income).
posted by dforemsky at 8:43 AM on May 10, 2011


If these kinds of tactics work, then why haven't they worked already?

They have worked. Well, at least real direct action has worked. Just do a survey of the late 19th century/early 20th century labor movement that gave us a minimum wage, the (now largely subverted) eight hour work day, an end to the company store system, and child labor protections. But such movements need critical mass--everyone jumping on the boat at the same time to keep it from tipping over, to use one traditional metaphor. Also, the kinds of direct actions taken need to be more direct--like the Freedom Rides or the Montgomery Bus Boycotts or the coal mine strikes. The action itself needs to have tangible, immediate political or economic consequences to have any effect. Just getting together to stage a permitted protest in a parking lot somewhere with picket signs won't cut it.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:44 AM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


Also:

Isn't a system that rewards the already successful just and I apologize for the subjective, emotional framing here, really icky feeling?
posted by The Whelk at 8:45 AM on May 10, 2011


dforemsky: "I do not disagree with Ebert's premise at all, but these numbers are quoted back to me by the reactionaries that want to maintain Bush's tax cuts."

I point out that the bottom 50% makes less than a seventh of what the top 50% does and note that a 100% tax rate on that bottom 50% wouldn't pay for a third of the government's spending. The bottom half is completely irrelevant when it comes to paying the bills; they just don't have enough money to matter (in that respect).
posted by wierdo at 8:49 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


What if the reward for innovation was the pleasure of doing good work and helping others (while earning the living wage others also earn), rather than being allotted a grossly distorted share of social power through money, material pleasures, health services, and influence on national politics?

"The pleasure of doing good work and helping others" is a very subtle feeling. The pain of working 80-hour weeks to hit a deadline is pretty sharp. (I wasn't talking about innovation, I was talking about plain hard work.) And I don't know where you get "grossly distorted" from. We are talking about any distortion at all. I was responding to a comment that said that everyone should make exactly the same income.
posted by Xezlec at 8:50 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


We ARE outraged - what the fuck are we supposed to DO about it?
posted by agregoli at 8:50 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let me put it this way: if I told you to clean the bathrooms at my workplace, would you do it just for the pleasure of doing good work and helping others?
posted by Xezlec at 8:57 AM on May 10, 2011


The idea of everyone having identical incomes makes me kind of angry. Not because there are people I think I should make more than, but because there are people I shouldn't be making as much as. I know not just one but many people who work harder than I can even imagine working, and I would never feel right about accepting a salary on par with theirs.

What if the reward for innovation was the pleasure of doing good work and helping others (while earning the living wage others also earn), rather than being allotted a grossly distorted share of social power through money, material pleasures, health services, and influence on national politics?


Good luck convincing someone to clean your bathrooms with the promise of the pleasure of doing good work.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:01 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


We ARE outraged - what the fuck are we supposed to DO about it?

Well historically speaking what has worked?
posted by The Whelk at 9:03 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Good luck convincing someone to clean your bathrooms with the promise of the pleasure of doing good work.

Yeah, if people who clean bathrooms stop getting paid the exorbitant salaries that they currently do, they'll have no motivation to...

Wait a minute.
posted by the jam at 9:08 AM on May 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


I haven't read any of the comments above, because I fear everyone, including Ebert, is making the same simple logic mistake that's present in the first sentence, a quote, in the article.

"The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation's income every year."

"Taking in" infers that money is being gobbled up from a fixed source, never to be seen again.

It's simply not true, as any economist will tell you. The economy is not a pizza. If I get two slices, you don't have to go hungry. It's not a zero sum game.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:09 AM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I have an idea! Next time there's an election, vote for the opponent of which ever team is in control. If Red's in, vote Blue. If Blue's in, vote Red. It works every time!

I mean, they have the same owner and, in some cases, the same players, but I tell you, it has to work! Right?
posted by klanawa at 9:11 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not exactly going to lead a group to overthrow my government, The Whelk...so I don't know what else I can do to push for change besides writing and calling my representatives...
posted by agregoli at 9:12 AM on May 10, 2011


Let me put it this way: if I told you to clean the bathrooms at my workplace, would you do it just for the pleasure of doing good work and helping others?

Your ignoring the equal wage everyone gets in the United States of Disobedientia. Would you do it if that wage was 50k a year, 60k? 100K. What about a 3 day week? If Mr CEO took a few billion pay cut and shared it out amongst the bathroom cleaners, would this be cool?

Or would this idea fill you with some sort of visceral horror which you know is right, but you can't quite explain.

Weird that.
posted by fullerine at 9:12 AM on May 10, 2011



The idea of everyone having identical incomes makes me kind of angry. Not because there are people I think I should make more than, but because there are people I shouldn't be making as much as. I know not just one but many people who work harder than I can even imagine working, and I would never feel right about accepting a salary on par with theirs.
posted by Xezlec at 11:36 AM on May 10 [+] [!]


Whereas the hardest working person I know has a below-average income. She isn't an artist or anything - she's a highly skilled bookkeeper (aka keeps the money flowing into her bosses' very successful firm).

So I have no problem with people making identical incomes. Because from my perspective, the current status quo, the hard workers don't get the money.
posted by jb at 9:14 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well historically speaking what has worked?

Even looking at what has worked in the past is not an answer, because systems like the US political/economic network evolve "immunities" to older strategies. There is too much at stake to allow the system to be permeated by interlopers of any kind. As a result, all potential threats from labor organization, political mobilization, boycotts and even terrorism have been neatly quarantined.

Go on strike? Fine, you'll be fired and one of the millions of desperate unemployed people will fill your job.

Organize to elect a non-corrupt political leader? He/she will get eaten for breakfast by the corrupt one who took money.

Overthrow the government via violent uprising? Just wait until the new leaders start to negotiate with the same industrial leaders who ran the old system. Or watch charismatic religious fundamentalists take power while the idealist cadres were too busy arguing among themselves.

The system now has nothing to fear from anyone.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:14 AM on May 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


After the April 27th tornados, I had to repair some damage to a rental property. It's a steel-frame building, little more than a big aluminum shed, really, and the twister ripped off one side of it and left a mess of twisted metal dangling some 20 feet in the air over the shop floor. My tenants, a trucking company, use the shop to do maintenance on their fleet and it wasn't safe to have the mechanics working directly beneath a jagged mass of girders that flapped in the breeze and might fall on their heads at any moment. So I needed to cut it down. I have a Sawzall (aren't they great? You can fuck shit up with a Sawzall), but I didn't have a ladder tall enough to reach and I needed another pair of hands. So I called Frank.

I've mentioned Frank here before. I thought Frank might have a 40-foot ladder, as his pressure-washing business includes gutter-cleaning, but he didn't. But he knew who did, and he was happy to help. With a few phone calls he had a crew on-site. The plan was to cut away as much of the siding as we could, cart it off to the scrapyard, and then cut the bolts holding the girder to the truss and drop the whole mess to the shop floor, after tying it off so it wouldn't fall on the ladder. I went into the office to talk to my tenant, and Frank and the crew started putting up ladders. When I came back out, they'd dropped several pieces of siding. I started stacking it on the trailer so we could haul it off.

"Hey!" Frank says from atop the ladder. "What're you doing?"

"We're taking this to the dump, right? I figured I'd put the light stuff on bottom so the girders will hold it down," I replied.

Frank laughed and said, "You ain't gotta work! You writing the checks!"

And there you have it. The American working poor have internalized a set of values antithetical to their own interests. Hard work for low pay is the accepted norm, and the monied classes are not expected to contribute their labor, just their capital.

The irony is that Frank probably earns more in a year than I do.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:15 AM on May 10, 2011 [20 favorites]


but what can I, personally, do to change this wealth disparity thing without jeopardizing my own barely-making-it income, health (no, I don't have insurance), and the roof over my head (I rent)?

The charge will basically have to be led by people who are so moved by the cause that concerns about income, health etc. become purely secondary. People who are literally willing to risk life, limb, and 401K. That's not going to happen until actual crisis is reached and more people feel they have literally nothing to lose, or until the cause itself is made specific enough and alluring enough to seduce people who might not have otherwise become involved.
posted by hermitosis at 9:15 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I may be missing something but, what are you getting at fullerine?
posted by The Whelk at 9:16 AM on May 10, 2011


> "Taking in" infers that money is being gobbled up from a fixed source, never to be seen again.

Um, no, no one else thought that but you.

Now, money that goes to the rich does have a much greater chance of never being spent than money going to the poor, and a lot of what the rich spend money on never gets to you or I... but I don't think one person believed that the rich literally consumed the money, never to be seen again.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:16 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your ignoring the equal wage everyone gets in the United States of Disobedientia. Would you do it if that wage was 50k a year, 60k? 100K. What about a 3 day week? If Mr CEO took a few billion pay cut and shared it out amongst the bathroom cleaners, would this be cool?

If everybody has an equal salary, then people will find some other way to compete. Why should I have to clean bathrooms for my 50K a year while you get to write advertising copy? Why do I get the crappy job and you get the fun job? After all, we're being paid the same.

Etc.
posted by mightygodking at 9:18 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I was working at Google, I would mop the bathroom every now and then, generally on weekends. My coworkers gave me all sorts of weird looks when they saw me doing it. Sometimes they'd ask me why I was mopping the bathroom, or make some lame joke. I figure I was either the only Google engineer who hated nasty bathrooms, or I was the only one who knew how to use a mop.
posted by ryanrs at 9:20 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Why should I have to clean bathrooms for my 50K a year while you get to write advertising copy?

Why should I clean bathrooms for minimum wage while you get 50K for writing advertising copy? Because that's what happens now.
posted by the jam at 9:20 AM on May 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


Why should I have to clean bathrooms for my 50K a year while you get to write advertising copy?

Trust me, there are days I'd rather be cleaning bathrooms.
posted by Shepherd at 9:21 AM on May 10, 2011


Frank laughed and said, "You ain't gotta work! You writing the checks!" ... The American working poor have internalized a set of values antithetical to their own interests.

Or, you could say that Frank is cannily marketing his skills and customer service, ensuring that you never consider an interaction with Frank to be anything other than Frank swooping in and solving all of your problems, for which you'll pay him. Handsomely.

but I don't think one person believed that the rich literally consumed the money, never to be seen again.

Thanks, I'll keep that in mind. HAMBURGER.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:22 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Responding to a couple requests for facts:

dforemsky: How can I counter these arguments?

First, the basic argument for progressive taxation goes back to Roman times. Dionysius Halicarnassus, 12 B.C.: "It is very just, I think, and very much to the public good, that such as have large fortunes should pay largely, and such as have less in proportion."

Second, the US tax system isn't actually very progressive. A detailed analysis by Piketty and Saez (PDF) shows that it's modestly progressive: for the top 1%, their share of pre-tax income was 20%, and their share of post-tax income was 17%.

In 2007, the average effective income tax rate for the top 400 taxpayers (average income: $345 million) was only 17%. Why? Because the tax rate on capital gains is only 15%. (Source: Associated Press.)

The "large fortunes" at the top have increased dramatically over the last 20-30 years. The US needs to balance its budget and start paying down its past debts. It's impossible to do this through spending cuts alone; this means increasing taxes, probably on nearly everyone; but it makes sense to increase taxes the most on those who are most able to pay.

Aizkolari: Does anyone have any nonbiased research on what a change in the US tax rates on high-income earners would do to the unemployment rate?

The issue of corporate tax rates came up in the recent Canadian election (the Liberals and NDP had proposed reversing recent corporate tax cuts). Corporate tax rates don't affect employment--they affect investment, productivity, and wages, but not employment. Source: Stephen Gordon.

This seems counter-intuitive (why wouldn't higher tax rates cause companies to leave?), but the unemployment rate is normally determined by the central bank. If unemployment is too low and inflation starts to increase, the central bank raises interest rates. If unemployment is too high, the central bank lowers interest rates. (I say "normally" because the central bank can't lower the interest rate below zero; in this situation, you need to use fiscal policy instead of monetary policy.)
posted by russilwvong at 9:24 AM on May 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


Why should I have to clean bathrooms for my 50K a year while you get to write advertising copy? Why do I get the crappy job and you get the fun job?

I have written advertising copy and I have cleaned bathrooms. Cleaning bathrooms is, to me, more fun, more satisfying in that instant-gratification way, and way less stressful. YMMV.
posted by rtha at 9:25 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


> If I get two slices, you don't have to go hungry. It's not a zero sum game.

You know, people just shouldn't get to use the phrase "zero sum game" unless they are really talking about mathematics.

The economy isn't strictly a zero-sum game, but a very large component of it is. If my boss cuts my pay, I lose and he wins. If there are only two slices of pizza and you take both of them, then I get none. The money supply, the supply of anything of value in the world, is somewhat elastic but mostly fixed.

The fact is that over the last 20 years, the ultra-rich have taken an increasingly large share of the pie, and everyone else an increasingly small one.

Your argument worked better between Roosevelt and Reagan, where the rich got richer and the poor got richer even faster. But the Regressives broke all that and it's back to an more zero sum game where your average guy is getting the zero.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:25 AM on May 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


Why should I have to clean bathrooms for my 50K a year while you get to write advertising copy? Why do I get the crappy job and you get the fun job? After all, we're being paid the same.

As someone who has basically held both these positions, I'd say that the prestige factor in the latter is mainly based on the lifestyle that it presumably affords. Take that away, and frankly there's not a lot recommending one of the jobs over the other.

Or... what Shepherd said.
posted by hermitosis at 9:25 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


The system now has nothing to fear from anyone.
Mh, no. Systems fail, any system, because people fail.
posted by elpapacito at 9:28 AM on May 10, 2011


> > but I don't think one person believed that the rich literally consumed the money, never to be seen again.

> Thanks, I'll keep that in mind. HAMBURGER.
> posted by Cool Papa Bell

I'm sorry, I fail to understand you. You write something apparently seriously claiming that you're worried that we believe that the "money is being gobbled up from a fixed source, never to be seen again" (your words) and when I attempt to refute it you write this...?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:29 AM on May 10, 2011


An interesting analysis of social classes I came across recently (from Canadian blogger hosertohoosier) suggests that we should be looking at the material/post-material values axis when we think about class, not just income.
I tend to think of social class as comprised of two elements - income and post-material values (eg. "quality of life", equality, environment trump economy), so there are four possible combinations. I don't think class is the dominant identity - obviously most people have both class and regional identities - but it is increasing.

Rich-post material: these are the educated professionals (doctors, lawyers, etc.) that tend towards the Liberal party (but sometimes also vote Conservative out of economic interests). These are the folks a policy like the green shift courts.

Rich-non post material: the wealthy soul-less suburbanites to some, the entrepreneurial heart of Canada to others. This is obviously a strong constituency for the Conservatives.

Poor-post material: these are folks that are often educated but slipped through the cracks - a growing group with the rising access and declining payoff for post-secondary education. The guy with a phd in philosophy that works in Chapter's makes up this group. They offer fertile ground for the NDP.

Poor-non post material: these are the salt-of-the-earth lunch-bucket (or increasingly "do you want fries with that") workers of the world. They are poor, have always been poor, and yet the Conservatives have made inroads here on values issues, but also by focusing tax cuts on the working class. Of course a lot of these voters vote NDP as well.
posted by russilwvong at 9:30 AM on May 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


Obviously a disproportionate number of MeFites will be in the first and third groups.
posted by russilwvong at 9:31 AM on May 10, 2011


The system now has nothing to fear from anyone.

Oh good cause defeatism works so well and has good results for everyone.

Since an issue as big and complex as it can get and there are many points to consider, it feels overwhelming, but lets take a look at what the link is saying:

A small percentage of people make a large percentage of money. We, the people, feel this isn't right, or at least is unfair. Unequal. As posted above me, many USians don't realize how out of whack the taxation system is and how unbalanced the income distribution is. They have reported they'd like a system that looks more like say, Sweden. So how do we fix this?

Changing the tax system seems the obvious step, and the step I think actually has a chance of passing. People are gobsmacked when you show them the numbers, and all the news on banks and firms paying nothing into tax doesn't help. That's what makes us so angry about hearing these stories, the rich do not live in the same country as you do and don't have to abide by its rules or pay into its larder and we're struggling because of it. They're mooching, and if it's one thing Usians hate, it's a free ride.

If Americans hate taxes it's cause they don't see anything good come out of them. Either it's cause they never thought about it (roads, police, etc) or because their interactions with public services has been dreadful (Bad schools means bad civics lessons which means no one knows where roads come from).

Reforming the tax code and ensuring the money is better spent. Glib, yes, but easy to understand, to the point, and hard to argue with.

There are other things that could support this, closing tax loopholes, more aggressive enforcement of white-collar crime and regulatory bodies (I have no idea why you can be on the SEC if you've just quit the same place you're going to be regulating), stripping corporations of their personage status, etc. But these are all things that can be achieved, have historical and contemporary precedent, and hardly require violence to achieve.
posted by The Whelk at 9:33 AM on May 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


Why should I clean bathrooms for minimum wage while you get 50K for writing advertising copy? Because that's what happens now.

Maybe because one of you went to school and studied hard, while the other just hung out and smoked pot/played video games/watched TV/etc. all day when you both were young.
posted by eas98 at 9:36 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


So I'm going to be contrarian and say that the line of argumentation that goes "people will fight for positive social change when they become sufficiently desperate" isn't necessarily true. I suspect that desperate people are in fact the people in the world easiest to cow and control — if your food and your childrens' food depends upon you doing what the boss says, you will do what the boss says until the day you die, provided your boss isn't stupid enough to cut off your food anyway. Market-based capitalism is stupid, but it's not that stupid.

Instead, I suspect ongoing positive social change is most likely when peopleThe more people we have who grew up with enough food, shelter, and love to be healthy and confident, and enough compassion to understand that other people don't have their advantages, are our best bets for the future.

I suspect that our schools and economic arrangements are carefully set up to keep people like that from happening...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:37 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


A Zillionaire, a Tea Partier and a Union Member are sitting in front of a plate with 12 cookies.

The Zillionaire takes 11 cookies and turns to the Tea Partier and says "You better watch that Union guy, I think he's trying to take a piece of your cookie".
posted by Lord_Pall at 9:38 AM on May 10, 2011 [25 favorites]


when I attempt to refute it you write this...?

Please. You were being deliberately obtuse, as usual.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:38 AM on May 10, 2011


A Zillionaire, a Tea Partier and a Union Member are sitting in front of a plate with 12 cookies.

And there's a perfect example of the fallacy right there.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:38 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Hate me for saying it ... And here we sit, because we have no way to weaponize metafilter.

I've been thinking about this kind of thing a lot ... When I was a kid in the 1960s and '70s, the news was full of protests, riots, and organized actions. It seemed like people who had grievances (e.g., black people demanding civil rights, students protesting the Vietnam War draft) knew how to do something effective - or at least newsworthy - with their energy.

You'd think that now, with Facebook and Twitter and all that social-networking stuff, it would be even easier to get people organized for productive action, yet here we sit, as cashman said. Obviously there are a lot of differences between now and then, but I wonder if one factor is actually the internet.

Hate me for saying it, but I wonder if the internet often serves as a pressure release valve that encourages people to blow off steam without getting off the couch. I thought it was quite telling that in Egypt, the revolution reached critical mass when the government turned off the internet and people went outside to see what was going on.

I think people only have so much energy - emotional and physical - and we simply exhaust it by reading about a dozen terrible things every day and writing comments about how angry/sad/helpless we feel. We get wrung out and overwhelmed by the pain of the whole world (the parts that are covered online), and that leaves us no energy to work with.

I don't claim to have the answer, but I wonder if maybe not trying to drink from the firehose would let us be more effective in our local/personal worlds.
posted by Quietgal at 9:39 AM on May 10, 2011 [21 favorites]


One thing that would help is for politicians on the left to stop putting it out there as "raising taxes on the wealthiest." Instead support "Return to Reagan tax rates," or "close tax loopholes."
posted by tyllwin at 9:39 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Whelk, what has happened to your usual blend of comedy and light snark today? Is the rent due on the 15th or something?
posted by Aizkolari at 9:39 AM on May 10, 2011


This will be a good tread to flush out the conservative sock puppets lurking behind the scenes on the blue.
posted by mygoditsbob at 9:40 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


or thread...
posted by mygoditsbob at 9:40 AM on May 10, 2011


I think you could weaponize Metafilter pretty easily. Just break it up into an aerosol and spray it all over the populace.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:41 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


eas: You're arguing for a sort of meritocracy. The people with the skills and the sticktoitiveness to get the good jobs get the good jobs, and everyone else gets the crappy (pun intended) jobs. I think this might fall apart, though, because I think the supply of merit is bigger than the demand. More people could be great at creative jobs than there is space for creative jobs, like, really fantastic at them, than there is space for creative work in the economy.

I suspect the way this plays out in practice is that the rich and middle class aim to bequeath the creative jobs on their children (who are, like most people, undoubtedly qualified for them) through their social networks, through getting them spots at relatively elite schools, through supporting them while they work unpaid internships, and so forth.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:42 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Taking in" infers that money is being gobbled up from a fixed source, never to be seen again.

Um, no, no one else thought that but you.

On the chance (probably high) of sounding ignorant I'll just say that, yeah, I thought that. How is stuffing all income into offshore accounts not gobbling up the money and it never being seen again (not HAMBURGER)?
posted by nzero at 9:42 AM on May 10, 2011


Now, money that goes to the rich does have a much greater chance of never being spent than money going to the poor, and a lot of what the rich spend money on never gets to you or I...

Neither of these things are problems:

If they don't spend their money, then they have basically worked for free.

If they spend they spend their money in a closed loop that doesn't include you, then it's as if the closed loop is one very rich person who never spends his money and has basically worked for free.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:44 AM on May 10, 2011


If they don't spend their money, then they have basically worked for free.

That seems specious...what about investing??
posted by nzero at 9:45 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


On the chance (probably high) of sounding ignorant I'll just say that, yeah, I thought that. How is stuffing all income into offshore accounts not gobbling up the money and it never being seen again?

Money in offshore accounts is reinvested in the economy by those offshore banks, so it is being "seen again."
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:46 AM on May 10, 2011


Also, they may have "basically worked for free" (seriously, this is just a counting game for the ultra rich, right?) but that doesn't stop their hording of wealth hurting everyone else...
posted by nzero at 9:47 AM on May 10, 2011


Maybe because one of you went to school and studied hard, while the other just hung out and smoked pot/played video games/watched TV/etc. all day when you both were young.

Wait, which one is which? Nobody told me there would be a quiz.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:47 AM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


That seems specious...what about investing??

If, for example, they buy stocks with their money, then the seller of the stock has the money and they can spend it.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:48 AM on May 10, 2011


Money in offshore accounts is reinvested in the economy by those offshore banks, so it is being "seen again."

Doesn't that assume that it's not being put right back into the sort of investments Ebert mentions (i.e. the fake ones where the worthless pieces of paper are bundled together to create "value")?
posted by nzero at 9:48 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, I would argue that most investments aren't bundled securities.
posted by josher71 at 9:49 AM on May 10, 2011


Also, they may have "basically worked for free" (seriously, this is just a counting game for the ultra rich, right?) but that doesn't stop their hording of wealth hurting everyone else...

I agree that there's terrible pay equity in the world. But, "hoarding" money doesn't hurt anyone. Why should you have to spend your money as soon as you earn it?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:50 AM on May 10, 2011


Back in like 2005 or something, when I listened to a LOT of Mike Malloy - this image I made summed up how I felt then. I'm not sure now how I feel with regards to it, and can't quite relate to it now But...

Rage - When ennui just won't do
posted by symbioid at 9:51 AM on May 10, 2011


I used to clean toilets when I worked at my incredibly illegal 4 12-hour shifts per week unpaid "internship." I don't think any task at the "good" job I have now has been nearly as satisfying. I would absolutely trade everything I'm doing now to clean toilets all day if I could keep the compensation.
posted by SpiffyRob at 9:52 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why should I have to clean bathrooms for my 50K a year while you get to write advertising copy? Why do I get the crappy job and you get the fun job? After all, we're being paid the same.

As someone who has basically held both these positions, I'd say that the prestige factor in the latter is mainly based on the lifestyle that it presumably affords.


The better question is who gets the job for 50K per year that gets to make decisions worth significantly more than 50K per year? Nobody cares about bribing the person who cleans the bathrooms because at the end of the day a bathroom getting cleaned is not worth much. But the person who decides how many bathrooms get built is wielding power worth more than 50K per year to a lot of other people. A lot of the problems in Communist countries having to do with corruption center around the fact that certain roles inherently have power, and if you limit the amount of resources that can be officially paid to those people, you have to do a lot of work to regulate any possible alternative way for those people to trade their power for resources (and the people in the best position to oversee such regulation are also those best able to exploit the lack of regulation).
posted by burnmp3s at 9:53 AM on May 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


But, "hoarding" money doesn't hurt anyone.

I don't know enough about economics to argue the point, but it certainly seems to me, in a common sense kind of way (i.e. no real data to back the thought) that it would...

Why should you have to spend your money as soon as you earn it?

Because hiding it under your mattress hurts everyone, including yourself...not that I was really making that argument, just trying to get to the bottom of whether or not this money really is essentially going into a black hole.
posted by nzero at 9:54 AM on May 10, 2011


Why should you have to spend your money as soon as you earn it?

And to clarify, I was just offering a counterpoint, I don't think anyone should be required to spend money as soon as they earn it...
posted by nzero at 9:59 AM on May 10, 2011


CheeseDigestsAll: "10 people have been promised a piece of pie. Before they can divide it up, two of the people slice away 2/3 of it and walk away. "

aught: "What if the reward for innovation was the pleasure of doing good work and helping others (while earning the living wage others also earn), rather than being allotted a grossly distorted share of social power through money, material pleasures, health services, and influence on national politics?"

cashman: "Another thing that would help is to list people by name. "Top 1%" or "Richest 400" won't elicit much. What are their names?"

Oh Metafilter, you clearly forgot to take your meds today.
posted by falameufilho at 10:05 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Another problem that I see with the disparity of the top 1% vs Everybody else is that it is EXTREMELY difficult to get an accurate picture, with real numbers, of how that 1% are getting richer still at the expense of the other 99%.

Let me explain where I'm coming from. If you asked the average person what percentage of income tax the very rich should actually pay, they'll probably tell you something like 33%. This is because, to someone working very hard to make ends meet and pay their taxes, the government taking 1/3 of their money back in taxes feels like extortion. Even when it comes to the very rich, something about taking more than that doesn't seem fair. People want to be fair, so they try to keep things 'even'.

So then, if you are one of these people and you look at the tax bracket charts, you feel like the rich are paying more than enough (35%). Oh well, nothing to do about it, right?

But those charts are meaningless, because there are so many loopholes, tax dodges, subsidies, etc. that the taxes actually paid are much lower than that percentage.

I had to look far and wide to try to figure out what the tax burden actually was for the very rich (which I did, mostly out of curiosity, when we were doing our own taxes in April).

And even then I ran into trouble. The Congressional Budget Office says that between 1979-2006, the effective tax rate for the highest income brackets is about 31%. That sounds 'fair', given the perimeters I cited above. And this is an official report that is supposedly taking deductions into account, right?

But once you figure capital gains into the mix, you can see that between 1992 and 2007 the vast majority of the top 400 incomes in the country actually only paid somewhere between 10% and 20% in taxes.
posted by misha at 10:08 AM on May 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


Most of the people who are in the top 1% make under 750k. They are generating most of their income from regular taxable income. If they live in a high tax jurisdiction (which most of them do, as surprise surprise they tend to correlate w/income) they are paying an average tax rate of ~40%. At least in NYC for example. Its only when you have enough in the bank where the bulk of your income comes from passive investments that you can dramatically reduce your tax rate.

Being in the top 1% of the income distribution does not mean you are a plutocrat.
posted by JPD at 10:14 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


What percentage of all the wealth in America do you think the top 1% should have? Without an answer to that question, this statistic is utterly meaningless.

Easy. 1%.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:20 AM on May 10, 2011


Oh, and deforemsky, that post of mine was for you, to counteract the, "But the rich are already paying their fair share" arguments.
posted by misha at 10:21 AM on May 10, 2011


as with most things, nobody has explained it better than George Carlin.
posted by namewithoutwords at 10:23 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Been browsing that Forbes 400...interesting stuff. (4 of top 10 are Walton family; 2 more are the Koch brothers. Lucas's money's source is listed as "Star Wars." The six billionaires in my state are pretty much exactly who you'd imagine...plus the guy who founded Oakley sunglasses.)
posted by epersonae at 10:23 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]



A Zillionaire, a Tea Partier and a Union Member are sitting in front of a plate with 12 cookies.

And there's a perfect example of the fallacy right there.

I don't think so, CPB. The fallacy would be to assume there won't be another plate coming along with 13 cookies in then minutes. The problem is that when that second plate comes along, the zillionaire will still grab all but one. And moan that it's too little.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
posted by tyllwin at 10:24 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Why should I have to clean bathrooms for my 50K a year while you get to write advertising copy?

Trust me, there are days I'd rather be cleaning bathrooms.


I would definitely prefer cleaning bathrooms, if it paid the same as my job and offered the same benefits. No joke. (Or what SpiffyRob said.)

at the end of the day a bathroom getting cleaned is not worth much

You have not seen my company's bathrooms.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:26 AM on May 10, 2011


er, that last Carlin link is missing the conclusion, so watch this instead.
posted by namewithoutwords at 10:27 AM on May 10, 2011


A reward system based on material possessions is vulgar.
posted by Zenabi at 10:27 AM on May 10, 2011


But, "hoarding" money doesn't hurt anyone.

I don't know enough about economics to argue the point, but it certainly seems to me, in a common sense kind of way (i.e. no real data to back the thought) that it would...

Why should you have to spend your money as soon as you earn it?

Because hiding it under your mattress hurts everyone, including yourself...not that I was really making that argument, just trying to get to the bottom of whether or not this money really is essentially going into a black hole.


Here's a little thought experiment to make it clear why hiding money under your mattress doesn't hurt anyone. Imagine that the state pays you to build a road. The state prints the $Y that it prints every year and out of that pays you $X. You take your $X and hide it under your mattress and then your house burns down and you never spend it. Now, the state prints $X again. The state is in the exact same position that it was in, except it has a new road. You've worked for free.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:27 AM on May 10, 2011


I gotta go with Cool Papa Bell. The very notion of income inequality seems to being out all kinds of misunderstanding.

I normally love Ebert, but he does a disservice by conflating and oversimplifying so many points. This thread is a perfect example of the result.

I don't think so, CPB. The fallacy would be to assume there won't be another plate coming along with 13 cookies in then minutes. The problem is that when that second plate comes along, the zillionaire will still grab all but one. And moan that it's too little.

whoosh... I think you've missed something. Or everything. Completely.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:28 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]



Here's a little thought experiment to make it clear why hiding money under your mattress doesn't hurt anyone. Imagine that the state pays you to build a road. The state prints the $Y that it prints every year and out of that pays you $X. You take your $X and hide it under your mattress and then your house burns down and you never spend it. Now, the state prints $X again. The state is in the exact same position that it was in, except it has a new road. You've worked for free.


What
posted by 2N2222 at 10:30 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


We're losing the policy war because, long ago, we lost the War on Words. Any conversation about tax policy can be halted with a single phrase: "wealth redistribution". Think about that ideological judo for a moment, because it's brilliant and frightening. It doesn't matter if our ideas are right and just and what people want. As long as they control the language, the fight is futile.

I usually counter this by saying something like, "You're goddamn right I'm talking about wealth redistribution."

Just because they tell you it's a dirty word, doesn't mean it's a dirty word.
posted by bstreep at 10:37 AM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I think you've missed something. Or everything. Completely.

Did I? CPB says it's not a zero sum game. That we don't have a single pizza to divide where player A's loss is always player's B's gain. To take it out of the analogy, that it is not zero sum because we are not forever limited to producing a fixed amount of wealth. My answer is that it doesn't matter if total wealth expands if the privileged are always taking an ever-increasing share of it.
posted by tyllwin at 10:37 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Maybe because one of you went to school and studied hard, while the other just hung out and smoked pot/played video games/watched TV/etc. all day when you both were young.

Ha! Have you actually ever been to college? I mean, the kind of college you'd need for a career in writing advertising copy? There's far more pot smoking, video game playing and TV watching done in college (among those who can afford it) than in your average trailer park, believe me.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:39 AM on May 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


saul, don't feed the trolls. Or if you do, at least feed them something more realistic, like "work hard, study, pass the test, and still get the crap job because your cocaine snorting, drunk roommate is the son of the CEO and gets hired as a VP right out of barely graduating college with a C- average."

You know, like what actually happens in the real world.
posted by daq at 10:43 AM on May 10, 2011 [19 favorites]


As long as people angry at the "rich" focus their aim on raising taxes on earned incomes under $1 million, they'll fail. Income is not wealth, and most people making between $250k and $1 million have little capital gains and live in extremely high cost, high state-and-local tax communities. They don't feel rich and with a total tax bill in the six figures already don't feel even slightly undertaxed. Their political power sufficed to block a tax increase on them even when Obama had majorities in both houses of Congress, and will suffice to keep on doing so.
posted by MattD at 10:44 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


OK, a lot of people have pointed out, in response to my absurd claim that it might not be fair for everyone to make exactly the same income even if their jobs are vastly different in difficulty, that the current system pays people less in some cases for doing difficult jobs. Maybe I misunderstood, does the Republic of Disobedientia withhold salary to people who can't hold a job? I thought the idea was that everyone gets paid regardless.

But fine. If you can still get fired for not working, then I guess that would work. Then if you get stuck with, say, my boss's job, that's just tough for you, and if you don't perform at that very high level you're fired. So having those kinds of jobs is a punishment for not having whatever qualities get you an easier job, (like my job or manual labor or something). But wait, my boss's job takes all these qualifications, so who would ever want to learn all those things? If all it does is make your work harder, why make the extra effort to get there? The jobs requiring the least qualifications, like manual labor, would be the most desirable and the jobs requiring the most, like business, would be least desirable. What would be the mechanism for forcing people to do the preparation necessary to get the hard jobs then? I'm trying to be open-minded but I guess I'm just having trouble visualizing it.
posted by Xezlec at 10:45 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


How about Some Guy researches the top percent, find ones which have most clearly made fortunes using criminal methods, and publishes details about their grifted assets. That would at least help society find some of their plundered wealth, even if almost all of it is locked into systems that it won't be possible to confiscate without massive law changes that can't happen under a corrupt congress.

I dunno, I'd kind of like it if it was public knowledge that "all property at the following addresses, is the proceeds of grift, stolen from you and people like you."
posted by -harlequin- at 10:48 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


What would be the mechanism for forcing people to do the preparation necessary to get the hard jobs then?

A higher standard of living?
posted by gagglezoomer at 10:49 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


So when do I finally get to earn my keep on the trench line?
posted by Slackermagee at 10:57 AM on May 10, 2011


What would be the mechanism for forcing people to do the preparation necessary to get the hard jobs then?

Not really interested in the discussion, just thought I'd point out from experience that the jobs you're describing as easy and desirable are much harder for people like me than high-pressure high-qualification jobs. I go insane doing "easy" work, and am very miserable. Skilfully making something to a defined spec, vs skilfully figuring out and creating the spec, are rewarding in totally different ways, and people don't all fall on one side of that. One man's poison, etc.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:58 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's face the reality: this is what America focuses on. Not community. Not education. Not progression as a group of unified people. Not social rights. Not the pursuit of happiness, nor liberty.

America focuses on money. The 99% of us who earn the other 75% of our nation's income use some of it for our cable bill. We go home at night and watch all these reality shows about the rich and famous. We idealize them. They are our gods. (Conversely, sometimes when we're in a bad mood, we ridicule them to make ourselves feel better.) We worship money. Even the poorest of the poor may strive for nothing more than money, without giving a scrap of attention to moral fibre or banding together with his fellow poor men to build a community.

No, we don't really care about others here in America. We care about ourselves. Our success is measured by how much money we make. Every aspect of our lives is determined by how much money we make. But it can never stop. It is a ladder without an end. Even for those 1%, they are not at the top! They are still striving to go higher, higher, higher, higher. Somewhere along the line, money blurs with power. They become one and the same.

Obviously, this does make some people enraged. I'm enraged. But like some many have already asked, what am I supposed to do?

They only answer I can come up with is get the hell of out America and go immerse myself in a different kind of culture.
posted by fignewton at 10:59 AM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh Metafilter, you clearly forgot to take your meds today.

Ad hominem is so much easier than arguing the real point.
posted by aught at 11:00 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


I know how to solve all the problems of income inequality.
posted by I Foody at 11:04 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Skilfully making something to a defined spec, vs skilfully figuring out and creating the spec, are rewarding in totally different ways, and people don't all fall on one side of that.

For the second time: "innovation versus manual labor" is not what I am talking about. I am talking about hard work. When I spoke of "easy jobs", I said I meant jobs like mine. I am an engineer. What I spoke of "hard jobs", I meant jobs like my boss's. He is an engineer. Clearly, I am not trying to say that engineering is innately harder than other kinds of jobs.

The differences between my boss and I are:
1. he works very, very long hours under frustrating conditions, and
2. he knows about a lot more stuff than I do.

This isn't an argument about different personality types. Everyone dislikes long, frustrating work.
posted by Xezlec at 11:09 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


"That and, this is the age where everyone is an expert, or plays one on television; the moment you ask a question to anyone, they immediately "know" the answer. The time for talking points to be regurgitated has fallen down to days now. Used to be weeks."

This is an interesting point. When a culture places value on knowledge, and quick knowledge at that—one must be off-the-cuff, thought suffers. We test for facts and figures, not critical reasoning. Which, sure, has been said before (and better), but I think this is a really important point. We need to encourage a culture of don't know.
posted by Eideteker at 11:15 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here. Does this help?

A Zillionaire, a Tea Partier and a Union Member are sitting in front of a plate with 100 percent of the total cookies from any given fiscal year.

The Zillionaire takes 90 percent of the cookies every year and turns to the Tea Partier and says "You better watch that Union guy, I think he's trying to take a piece of your portion of the cookies".
posted by scrowdid at 11:16 AM on May 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


They only answer I can come up with is get the hell of out America and go immerse myself in a different kind of culture.

You really should do this. When you find your Shangri-La, where material things are not important to life, people's happiness comes only from the happiness of others, and the human hierarchical social instinct does not exist, let the rest of us know, OK?
posted by Xezlec at 11:16 AM on May 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


Unfortunately, after the 70s the "right" made a concerted and successful play to acquire as much of the media as possible, so in 2011 the "left" has no voice at all in the United States of America.

There is no 'left' voice because there is no left in the 2 party system. Right and Really Right.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:20 AM on May 10, 2011


"Some Guy researches the top percent, find ones which have most clearly made fortunes using criminal methods, and publishes details about their grifted assets. That would at least help society find some of their plundered wealth"

I think this is wishful thinking at best. If plundering was done, it was will full knowledge and complicity on the part of the SEC, the FCC, and so on. Getting tax loopholes plugged makes more sense than endless speculation of how evil the rich are.

While George Lucas might have made a huge mistake by changing his early films, I sincerely doubt that he broke any actual laws in so doing. I might hate all those toys, but they weren't illegal.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:22 AM on May 10, 2011


You really should do this. When you find your Shangri-La, where material things are not important to life, people's happiness comes only from the happiness of others, and the human hierarchical social instinct does not exist, let the rest of us know, OK?

Hm, think nordic...
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:23 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


'Here's a little thought experiment to make it clear why hiding money under your mattress doesn't hurt anyone. Imagine that the state pays you to build a road. The state prints the $Y that it prints every year and out of that pays you $X. You take your $X and hide it under your mattress and then your house burns down and you never spend it. Now, the state prints $X again. The state is in the exact same position that it was in, except it has a new road. You've worked for free."

Your thought experiment is inane.

First off, money creation doesn't work like that. Second off, that's money not spent improving the economy by recirculating.

Finally, you're missing the point about hoarding, which is one of proportionality and reinforcing systems, which is why it's a political question.
posted by klangklangston at 11:24 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


You really should do this. When you find your Shangri-La, where material things are not important to life, people's happiness comes only from the happiness of others, and the human hierarchical social instinct does not exist, let the rest of us know, OK?

Bhutan?
posted by aught at 11:28 AM on May 10, 2011


And yeah, there's plenty of outrage. It's aimed at those immigrants that are taking out jobs, those regulators that want to make it harder to earn money, those homosexuals and liberals that are destroying the moral fortitude needed to succeed in a hostile world… 

A lot of folks who are outraged are essentially taking a cultural view of an economic struggle, in part because Marx has been thoroughly demonized (instead of granted credit for provoking a sea-change in thought while still being critiqued for a whole lot of two-hundred-year-old assumptions).
posted by klangklangston at 11:28 AM on May 10, 2011 [8 favorites]


A Zillionaire, a Tea Partier and a Union Member are sitting in front of a plate with 12 cookies.

The Zillionaire takes 11 cookies and turns to the Tea Partier and says "You better watch that Union guy, I think he's trying to take a piece of your cookie".


Not bad, but I can beat it:

A Zillionaire, a Tea Partier and a Union Member are sitting in front of a plate with 12 cookies.

The Zillionaire turns to the other two and spews some jargon-laced nonsense about wealth redistribution and staying competitive in a global market and trickle-down economics and productivity gains. The Union Worker begins to point out a couple things in the Zillionaire's rant that make no kind of sense and aren't even logically consistent with each other, let alone some larger reality in which society adds up to more than the number of fucking cookies on the plate for godsake.

The Tea Partier picks up a cookie, shouts "Commie!" and flings it at the Union Worker. The Union Worker tries to find a shield for himself while the Tea Partier wraps himself in the American flag and dismantles the oven.

As the air fills with crumbs and broken machinery, the Zillionaire calmly slides the remaining cookies into a bag stuffed to bursting with sweets, straps what's left of the machinery to his back, and boards a plane for a tax haven in the Caribbean, stopping on the way to give the machine parts to an aspiring Mexican Zillionaire.

What, too complicated?
posted by gompa at 11:32 AM on May 10, 2011 [37 favorites]


You really should do this. When you find your Shangri-La, where material things are not important to life, people's happiness comes only from the happiness of others, and the human hierarchical social instinct does not exist, let the rest of us know, OK?

I've lived in places that meet his bill (not yours, yours is hamburger), they're definitely out there.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:35 AM on May 10, 2011


Xezec, I agree with you. People sometimes get paid higher because they work harder and if everyone was paid the same, they would have no incentive to keep doing so.

But you are not going to win this argument here.

Metafilter does this kind of thing badly. Here on Metafilter, every poor person without a job has never made a poor decision, never slacked off, never done anything to reflect badly on them whatsoever. No, they are only out of work because of the evil machinations of the people who ARE working, who obviously got their jobs not due to education, perseverance or hard work but because the System is Unfair and they have Sold Their Souls to the Devil.

Just because someone upthread dared to suggest that a person making less money might have wasted his time smoking pot and hanging out instead of getting an education and finding a good-paying job, that person was called a troll.

I don't know, it just sounds like sour grapes and schadenfreude come into play whenever we talk about this stuff on the site.

Just as some poor people are good people who have been screwed by life, others actually are where they are because they are just not willing to put any effort into bettering their lives. And even though there may be rich vermin who prey off of the exploitation of the poor, there are also philanthropists who want to make the world a better place.

When we see sexism or racism on the site, thoughtful posts are made decrying applying generalizations across populations of diverse individuals. But when we talk about the unemployed vs the employed, in fact when anyone mentions making any more money than anyone else, all the ugly stereotypes come out full force.
posted by misha at 11:36 AM on May 10, 2011 [11 favorites]


Oh, won't SOMEBODY think of the poor, oppressed upper class!
posted by entropicamericana at 11:38 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thank you for making my point.
posted by misha at 11:39 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Would not a progressive capital gains tax fix all of these problems?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:40 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dependent as Ebert is on the entertainment industry, where people "earn" vast amounts of money and spend it lavishly, I'm a bit surprised that he doesn't mention that. I mean, he could review only low-budget indie films , but I doubt that he would have had such a long career.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:40 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Look! That strawman over there just said everyone should be paid the same and hard work should not be rewarded! ATTACK!
posted by scrowdid at 11:42 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


This isn't an argument about different personality types. Everyone dislikes long, frustrating work.

In some places, instead of having someone work long hard hours for extra pay, they structure the company so that the job can be done by two people working regular hours for regular pay. One of my biggest frustrations with the USA is that so many systems are absolutely wedded to the long hours approach. It's not the only approach.

And different personality types still come into it, because there are people who prefer long hours.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:42 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Okay, misha, let's concede your point: some people are, in fact, poor because they just didn't work hard enough. Does this in any way affect the argument that the system is fundamentally flawed? Would the system only count as flawed if everyone in the bottom 99% of the system was only there directly because of the flaws in the system? Because if not, then I really, honestly just don't see why the point you're making is relevant. I admit that it is wholly possible that you are engaging in an entirely different discussion than I think you are and if so then I trust you to set me straight without viewing this as an attack or something.
posted by titus n. owl at 11:46 AM on May 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


What, too complicated?

Ridiculous. The Zillionaire would obviously be boarding a plane for a cookie haven in the Caribbean.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:47 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's simply not true, as any economist will tell you. The economy is not a pizza. If I get two slices, you don't have to go hungry. It's not a zero sum game.

You say almost this exact same thing in every thread that remotely touches this subject. Guess what? The pie might be getting bigger, but they are taking an ever larger share of it, too, so that the available pie left for everyone else is shrinking. This is a nonsensical retort that you seem to think makes these inequality problems go away. It does not.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:50 AM on May 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


That strawman over there just said everyone should be paid the same and hard work should not be rewarded! ATTACK!


A strawman needs to be invented by the person attacking it.
posted by JPD at 11:51 AM on May 10, 2011


Look! That strawman over there just said everyone should be paid the same and hard work should not be rewarded! ATTACK!

Pardon? Are you referring to the actual people on this thread who said exactly that that I directly quoted in my responses? You do understand that something is only a strawman if it isn't literally the exact argument someone made, right?

In some places, instead of having someone work long hard hours for extra pay, they structure the company so that the job can be done by two people working regular hours for regular pay.

Sometimes you can do that, sometimes you can't. In any case, the distribution of jobs needing to be done is by no means guaranteed to match the availability of personality types to fit those jobs. Besides, who decides what jobs we should do, what products we should make, in that society? And how do you keep talented people from leaving for jobs in other countries where they have the potential to receive better compensation?

Okay, misha, let's concede your point: some people are, in fact, poor because they just didn't work hard enough. Does this in any way affect the argument that the system is fundamentally flawed?

misha was responding to the debate over what I said, and what I said wasn't anything close to "the system isn't fundamentally flawed." What I said was that it is not right for everyone to receive exactly the same pay, which was the system proposed by people upthread.

And none of this addresses my feelings. The first thing I said was that I wouldn't feel right accepting the same pay for doing an easier job, and my feelings still work that way, regardless of any rational arguments proving me wrong.
posted by Xezlec at 11:53 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just because someone upthread dared to suggest that a person making less money might have wasted his time smoking pot and hanging out instead of getting an education and finding a good-paying job, that person was called a troll.

Sure, sometimes people make mistakes that affect them negatively, and it would be understandable if there was some master list of those who worked hard and did the right thing and those who fucked off. But there are many people who, including myself, made every wrong descision possible, and still do ok. Not smoking pot is no gaurentee, and smoking pot is no disqualifier, it just seems arbitrary.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:53 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


it just sounds like sour grapes and schadenfreude

And yet, whaddya know? It's not. It turns out it's in fact frustration that for twenty years rich people and their running dog lackeys have been passing off some kind of pulled-out-of-your-ass supply side mythology as economics.
posted by Trochanter at 11:56 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some people work hard and earn their money and don't work to take more from people through financial wheelie dealies and abuses of the tax system.

Other people do this and occasionally fancy themselves as Lords and Masters of society in some fashion.

Some people are born into trust funds with no real problems.

Other people are born into trust funds with presumptions of mastery and delusions of power in some fashion.

Most of us are born outside of that world and never attain it.

Some people are born outside of that world and hate its citizens for their luxury and wastefulness and crookedness with every breath.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:56 AM on May 10, 2011


'What you perceive as schism on the "left" is simply a complete lack of agreement between the actual left and the pro-big-business, pro-war, pro-Wall St, pro-tax-cut, anti-social-services Democratic Party. As someone who has been forced to perceive himself as being on the "left", it's not like I feel that there are minor areas of disagreement between me and the Democratic Party - it's that I feel that we are on diametrically opposite sides on all the important issues of our day.'

Maybe it's time to abandon simplistic thinking like "left" and "right"?

Oh, and: "stopping on the way to givesell the machine parts to an aspiring Mexican Zillionaire."
posted by Eideteker at 11:58 AM on May 10, 2011


"data" is not the plural of "anecdote," but in my experience the pot smokers I've known have on average been wealthier than the non-smokers. This isn't to say that there's a correlation between weed and success, at least not a direct one. If I had to guess, I'd say that rich people tend to smoke more because they don't need to be as afraid of the police.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:58 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sure, sometimes people make mistakes that affect them negatively, and it would be understandable if there was some master list of those who worked hard and did the right thing and those who fucked off. But there are many people who, including myself, made every wrong descision possible, and still do ok. Not smoking pot is no gaurentee, and smoking pot is no disqualifier, it just seems arbitrary.

Let's not forget the people who were born on third base and think they hit a triple.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:59 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think this is wishful thinking at best. If plundering was done, it was will full knowledge and complicity on the part of the SEC

Corruption is illegal. Bribes are illegal. Kickbacks are illegal.
That it happens every day and is not considered to be these things doesn't mean it isn't. It means things are grey. You have a lot of wiggle room when things are grey.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:01 PM on May 10, 2011


Okay, misha, let's concede your point: some people are, in fact, poor because they just didn't work hard enough. Does this in any way affect the argument that the system is fundamentally flawed?

I was responding specifically to Xezlec, and called him by name when I did so; I wasn't suggesting the system is not fundamentally flawed.

But, you know, now that you bring it up, I think you need to be more specific than just saying, "The System." Because obviously I think the disparity of wealth in this country is a problem, as I've already posted on that. I support higher taxes, including at my own level of income, and I'm not rich by any means.

But the discussion seems to have veered into paying everyone the same wage no matter what job they do, and so maybe some are defining "The System" to encompass that argument?

Sure, sometimes people make mistakes that affect them negatively, and it would be understandable if there was some master list of those who worked hard and did the right thing and those who fucked off. But there are many people who, including myself, made every wrong descision possible, and still do ok. Not smoking pot is no gaurentee, and smoking pot is no disqualifier, it just seems arbitrary

Ad hominem, I agree with you, but calling someone a troll because they suggested that sometimes people don't get better-paying jobs because they didn't do anything to qualify for those jobs is just not right.

And I think, in that particular case, the pot-smoking thing was an example. True, that example might have been arbitrary, but the point had enough validity that name-calling was NOT necessary, don't you agree?
posted by misha at 12:02 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Looking at the Fortune list, I see plenty of people who started businesses--shampoo, clothing, cheese--without the benefit of inherited wealth. It's easy to argue that at least some of those benefited from cheap foreign labor, but was that illegal? Should the US pass laws requiring that all goods sold in the US be made in the US?
posted by Ideefixe at 12:05 PM on May 10, 2011


Meanwhile, back in the reality based community....

When people are no longer going bankrupt paying for healthcare, when public education actually does what it says on the tin, and when we don't imprison more people per capita than the any other country, then will I entertain suggestions that the current US system is in anything less than grossly unfair and downright dangerous to most of its citizens.

Offering up an "reasons" why this situation might in some way be natural or even desirable is disingenuous at best and intellectually dishonest at worst.
posted by digitalprimate at 12:07 PM on May 10, 2011 [15 favorites]


Why should I clean bathrooms for minimum wage while you get 50K for writing advertising copy? Because that's what happens now.

Maybe because one of you went to school and studied hard, while the other just hung out and smoked pot/played video games/watched TV/etc. all day when you both were young.
posted by eas98 at 12:36 PM on May 10 [1 favorite +] [!]


So in your magical fairy land, people who aced undergrad and got into grad school are making the big bucks, right? When I graduated, I had the highest grade-point average of my entire major (900 graduates that year). I made about $5000 last year. My husband not only studied harder than I did, but has never even once had an alcholic drink or a puff of any drug (because he's a huge nerd). He made a whopping $19,000 working his butt off lecturing.

I wish I lived in the magical fairy land where studying and scholarship automatically leads to $$$.
posted by jb at 12:10 PM on May 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


And I think, in that particular case, the pot-smoking thing was an example. True, that example might have been arbitrary, but the point had enough validity that name-calling was NOT necessary, don't you agree?

Sure, MetaFilter likes to call anyone they disagree with a troll. And I was also using pot smoking as an example of general fucking off. Some people can fuck off all the time, get kicked out of college, and still do fine. Whether it is luck, or my winning personality, I don't know.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:11 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


One reason I haven't seen above for the lack of outrage is one of the reasons Saturn cars were a hit when they first entered the scene: people don't care what kind of shitty deal they're getting, as long as they know that some other schmuck isn't getting a better deal. This is how anti-union types convince workers with shitty pay and minimal benefits to hate unions -- look at that fucking unionized teacher/government worker/university employee making more money and getting better benefits than you! Grar! And never mind that they could also be getting better pay and benefits by unionizing -- no, the critical thing is to keep those lazy bastards from getting a better deal.
posted by Pants McCracky at 12:11 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can you link to this Saturn car phenomenon?
posted by cyberdad at 12:13 PM on May 10, 2011


Just as some poor people are good people who have been screwed by life, others actually are where they are because they are just not willing to put any effort into bettering their lives. And even though there may be rich vermin who prey off of the exploitation of the poor, there are also philanthropists who want to make the world a better place.

You're making a common mistake here in trying to personalize this issue when it's unnecessary to personalize it.

The issue boils down to simple facts.

Historical economic and social policies in the US have until recent decades led to an economic state of affairs in which where the curve of income distribution across the population generally sloped according to a relatively smooth, contiguous and rationally increasing curve. Sure, income/wealth (this applies really to both) have never been equally distributed in the US, but they used to be much more rationally distributed along the curve, so that the next group down from any other was at least within spitting distance of their betters. But now, we're basically lumped into three or four main groups, statistically speaking, with 99% of us fighting over what might as well be the table scraps left over from one meal eaten by the top 1%.

Maybe it's time to abandon simplistic thinking like "left" and "right"?

Nope. Time to divest these terms of their more recently acquired, vague and confusingly contradictory political connotations and restore them to their original, meaningful sense, in which the Left simply refers to the ordinary masses of working people (tenants, mortgage holders or employees in the modern system; slaves, peasants and serfs in the older systems), and the Right refers to the wealthy ruling elite. That way we'll have a way to accurately describe the power dynamics of the situation again.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:16 PM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Here's a link from 2006 talking about Saturn's no-haggle pricing. It was also the big selling point of the Saturn salesman when I was car shopping years ago.
posted by Pants McCracky at 12:18 PM on May 10, 2011


If one group earns more than another group, they have more to invest after they pay for their basic expenses. The more they invest, the more they earn, so the disparity grows. The larger the income gap, the faster the discrepancy in wealth accumulates.

One of the problems is there's no reset button to level the playing field. One of the first things that needs to be done is the estate tax to be increased, especially on the largest estates, and the loopholes/tax shelters abolished. The top 1% can still leave their off spring much better off (and likely still in the top 1%), but it will help bridge the gap between the top and the bottom.

I propose that estates be taxed at the following rates:
The first 1 Million, 0% tax
1-5 Million, 30% tax
5-10 Million, 50% tax
10-20 Million, 75% tax
20 Million +, 99% tax

The goal of this tax policy is not so much to generate tax revenue (although it would, and could greatly help alleviate our nation's debts), but to ensure the insane wealth gaps could not last more than a single generation.

For example, if someone passed away with a net worth of $1 Million, they could bequeath the entire estate to their heirs without government interference. Someone with $20 Million could still leave just under $9 Million to one or more heirs, but someone with $250 Million would only be able to give ~ $11 Million. A billionaire would do only slightly better, leaving just under $20 Million.

Assuming most would be leaving their fortunes to more than 1 individual, the disparity between the haves and have-nots would shrink, and more of the 1%s would realize the only way for their offspring to have the same advantages they did was to ensure a fair chance for the other 99% to increase their wealth.

Now, someone will say the rich will just die outside the country. But we could implement the same laws on taking money outside the US and/or any country not willing to cooperate when it comes to settling the estates.
posted by Crash at 12:19 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


The easy and painless solution to any funding problem is just to take the money from someone else.
posted by smackfu at 12:20 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe when Oprah dies, she can just leave her estate to the government? Or better yet, have a big give-away show with a giant money drop? She doesn't have kids, so who's she going to leave it to?
posted by Ideefixe at 12:25 PM on May 10, 2011


The easy and painless solution to any funding problem is just to take the money from someone else.

Taxation is the bedrock concept supporting the rest of civil society. I'm not sure exactly what you're trying to say here?
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:26 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Looking at the Fortune list, I see plenty of people who started businesses--shampoo, clothing, cheese--without the benefit of inherited wealth.

Right. That's the good part. There's nothing wrong, and lots right, about people getting rich. People wanting to better their lot, in a sense, IS economics.

But just as fundamentally, there is a desire to STAY rich. Monopolization. Rent seeking. Hoarding. These are not good for an economy.

A wise economy is one where treasure and energy are spent to aid people to better their lot, and one that doesn't do much at all to ensure people stay rich.
posted by Trochanter at 12:28 PM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure exactly what you're trying to say here?

That it's very easy to say "if only the super-rich gave their money, it would solve our problems."

1) It absolves you from needing to do anything personally.
2) It creates an enemy to blame for the problems, even if they weren't the cause.
3) It shifts the debate from "how do we fix the problem" to "how do we get someone else to fix the problem".

It seems like the kind of thing a master manipulator would come up with. Bravo Ebert!
posted by smackfu at 12:31 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a response to a comment from much earlier, and please pardon me if someone responded to this specific statement earlier but at over 200 comments already it's hard to know for sure:

It's not inequalities in income that matter.

Absolutely false. Inequalities of wealth and income are entirely the point.

The thing about money that makes it dangerous when most of it is combined into bloody great piles controlled by a few is that it creates a reality distortion field to make Steve Jobs envious. This is because, the way our world has evolved, money is seen by most as the fundamental value. With money, you can control access, you can spread your message through the media, you can buy influence through campaign contributions (of which the Supreme Court, need I remind you, recently opened the floodgates), you can afford representation in court, you can afford to prosecute and thus proactively force your interests on others, both through legitimate legal means and through nuisance suits your targets can't hope to afford (there is no guaranteed representation in civil court), and more.

What is more, the entire way our economy is set up is basically a series of wealth redistributions from above to below. Nearly all of us get the money we need to live from much richer people and corporations, who have lobbied for years for the right to fire whoever the hell they want for whatever reason. Do you live in an "at will" employment state? However did such a distinction come about? Guess.

To some degree this has always been true. It certainly was true back in feudal times. There was a respite, however, created by that useful fiction, the "American Dream." For a while there were at least a web of small businesses between the working American and the huge corporate taskmasters at the top. Unfortunately much of that has been eroded away now.

Small business these days is pretty much a joke. The setup line: "What happens when your dream of striking out for yourself fails in the first five years with almost 50% probability?" The punchline: "You can spend the rest of your life paying off the debt you took on trying to make that one chance to break the surface." Ha.

And this assumes you can even get that loan in the first place. Last I heard most banks were still looking to increase their wealth through silly and destructive investment games rather than through funding real development.
posted by JHarris at 12:36 PM on May 10, 2011 [13 favorites]


xezlec: Pardon? Are you referring to the actual people on this thread who said exactly that that I directly quoted in my responses?

Sorry, I was dismissing the two people who chimed in with a snarky "1%" as just doing drive-by snark and not actually advancing that position. And the only other one I saw mentioning it seemed to be making a wry and cynical observation through exaggeration rather than actually suggesting it as a viable economic policy.
posted by scrowdid at 12:38 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


smackfu:
And your solution is what? Lower the taxes on the rich so they can "create more jobs"? How's that been working for us the last, oh, 30 years? Last I checked, it didn't. Maybe you can enlighten the rest of us as how great that's working for the other 99% here? And by the other 99%, I mean the rest of humanity.
posted by daq at 12:41 PM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


absolves you from needing to do anything personally

I know my comments were way, way upthread and all, but again I ask, what can I do about any of this? Bearing in mind, as I said before, that I myself literally can't afford to do anything that will jeopardize my job and thereby my ability to feed, clothe, and house myself (so those off-the-cuff links to "direct action" upthread aren't very useful to me).

I've read every comment in this thread and with the exception of hermitosis, who essentially said "nothing," nobody seems to have addressed this, preferring instead to argue in the abstract. The original post asked where the outrage was, and obviously there's plenty of it right here, but what good is it doing and what can be done, in the real world as opposed to the United States of Everything's Fair and Everybody Gets What They Deserve?
posted by Gator at 12:42 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


And your solution is what? Lower the taxes on the rich so they can "create more jobs"?

My solution is to not be distracted by "income disparity." Do the poor not have health care because there isn't enough money? Was that really the sticking point for Obama etc?
posted by smackfu at 12:48 PM on May 10, 2011


without the benefit of inherited wealth

Look closer. A lot of these guys/gals are characterized as self-made, and did indeed create successful new businesses, etc., on their own, but even among those ostensible self-starters, most nevertheless came from wealthy backgrounds (as much as some of them might like to downplay the fact).

Bill Gates, for example, created his own personal wealth (regardless of what you might personally think of the tactics he used), but nevertheless, he also came from a wealthy family. The Kochs' inherited their way into vast wealth after their father's successes at personally running the Soviet Union's oil industry in its early days (back before things went south and the Koch family patriarch got cut out of that sweet state-monopoly action, at which point, incidentally, Koch Sr. suddenly discovered the deep, principled opposition to the impersonal forces of Communism that his progeny carry on to this day). Even Buffet's dad already has his own successful stock brokerage business himself, so it's not like Buffet clawed his way up to the top of the heap from some trailer park in Memphis (not to say he's a bad guy for that omission, but there it is). Remember self-made EBay mogul and would-be California Governor Meg Whitman? Well, her dad was President of Clark Tyler Associates, financial advisors.

Are there any actual examples (outside of the entertainment industry) of people literally starting with nothing--being born a dirt poor sharecropper's son, say--and moving up into that top 400? I can't remember having seen one yet that hasn't been debunked.

And even if there are isolated examples here and there, you'd think all else being equal, the bottom 80% would be able to break into the top a lot more often just on the basis of their sheer numbers. But then, all things are not equal.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:48 PM on May 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


That it's very easy to say "if only the super-rich gave their money, it would solve our problems."

You know what? If the fuckers in charge really wants to plug up the budget gap with an extra 4% of my 22k a year, they're welcome to try. I'd love to see how that works out.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:51 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


The most impressive thing the Republicans did was to make poor white people want the same policies as rich white people, with no benefit to the former.

Bingo. This phenomenon is called system justification, and it happens because people prefer the myth of living in a just world to the reality of getting shit on. It's a psychological defense mechanism that helps people cope with serfdom, and has the added benefit of making the aristocrats appear virtuous and good - after all, they're rich, and the world is fair, so they deserve it. The phenomenon where the just world belief is institutionally promulgated to maintain the status quo is called false consciousness, and I'm sure you'll notice we do a lot of it. Greenwashing is one of its newest incarnations. System justification is also the cause of victim blaming - after all if something bad happens to you, you must have done something to deserve it, because the world is just. (Try it sometime and watch your outrage melt away in self-satisfaction.) But my favourite example is system justification at its most explicit: the argument that global warming doesn't exist because God made the earth for man to live in, and God is good.

Unfortunately there's no reasoning with this stuff - it's very reptile brain. So how do we fight it?
posted by mek at 12:52 PM on May 10, 2011 [24 favorites]


smackfu: "Do the poor not have health care because there isn't enough money?"

The elderly won't have health care in not too much longer if Paul Ryan has his way. And yes, it's a lack of money that's giving him the cover to suggest such an idiotic thing and have it accepted by a large number of people.
posted by wierdo at 12:52 PM on May 10, 2011


Oh, and looking at my latest tax return, I think another 5% is perfectly reasonable from me and my ilk, and hopefully my betters as well.
posted by wierdo at 12:53 PM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Are there any actual examples (outside of the entertainment industry) of people literally starting with nothing--being born a dirt poor sharecropper's son, say--and moving up into that top 400?

Just, fyi, check out David Murdock, a quite interesting fellow who is vastly rich. He was a 9th grade drop out who made a billionaire's fortune for himself from true poverty.
posted by gagglezoomer at 12:55 PM on May 10, 2011


I'll pay another 5% in taxes if Dick Cheney pays another 5%.
posted by tuesdayschild at 12:56 PM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I can't keep up with this thread (hey, I'm supposed to be working) but wanted to interject that the big elephant in the room is the offshoring of jobs. The days of private-sector unions became numbered on the day when we started sending manufacturing jobs to places like Mexico and China. Now even comfortable, information-technology jobs like software development are going to India, chip-design is going to Korea or Eastern Europe. And noone is talking about it, it's all presumed to be sour grapes. There's not enough good-enough jobs being created to make up the difference. My dad worked at a manufacturing job (Fischer Price) for a long time but very nearly all of that work has gone overseas now. The executives of that company put up their hands and said "oh we have to go overseas in order to be competitive" (all while cashing in) and everyone else got a pink slip.
posted by newdaddy at 12:56 PM on May 10, 2011 [8 favorites]


Are there any actual examples (outside of the entertainment industry) of people literally starting with nothing--being born a dirt poor sharecropper's son, say--and moving up into that top 400?

There's a huge difference between "came from wealthy backgrounds" and "dirt poor", and you start on one and end on the other. A lot of the list is people who once had the same socio-economic status as the people in this thread. Middle-class college-educated white people. Larry Ellison (#3) came from a pretty bog standard middle-class family. Micheal Bloomberg (#10) too. The Google guys (#11) were just normal college kids.
posted by smackfu at 12:58 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


On David Murdock: Well, I stand corrected then. There's at least one of them. And I'm sure he pulled himself up completely by his bootstraps, right?

However, due to a chance encounter with a good samaritan, he got a $1,200 loan to buy a closing diner, flipping it for a $700 profit ten months later.

Oh no. Turns out he was either a charity case or a case of freak luck, depending on how you look at it. Also, a real estate speculator (not generally considered to be a big generator of economic value in classic economic theory).

(And WTF, you could buy a turn-key restaurant operation for $1,200 in those days?)
posted by saulgoodman at 1:03 PM on May 10, 2011


(not generally considered to be a big generator of economic value in classic economic theory).


Look Ma! No widgets!
posted by Trochanter at 1:12 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I were President, I'd lay it out for the 1%ers in the US...

There are two options. First, I can raise taxes on the upper middle class and rich to pay for benefits for the working poor and unemployed. Or you can start paying your employees more, paying them living wages and give them decent health care options. Either way, more money is coming out of your pocket. The choice is yours.
posted by SirOmega at 1:15 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


(And WTF, you could buy a turn-key restaurant operation for $1,200 in those days?)

Not only that, but you could turn $700 into billions with little to no effort.
posted by gagglezoomer at 1:23 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


The differences between my boss and I are:
1. he works very, very long hours under frustrating conditions, and
2. he knows about a lot more stuff than I do.


So, um, your boss. Does he, uh, read MetaFilter?
posted by kingbenny at 1:27 PM on May 10, 2011


If I were President, I'd lay it out for the 1%ers in the US...

There are two options. First, I can raise taxes on the upper middle class and rich to pay for benefits for the working poor and unemployed. Or you can start paying your employees more, paying them living wages and give them decent health care options. Either way, more money is coming out of your pocket. The choice is yours.


THE PRESIDENT HAS BEEN SHOT, REPEAT, THE PRESIDENT HAS BEEN SHOT, MORE DETAILS TO FOLLOW

Why in the world would they, who already collectively control the course of society, permit some man who they helped elect to take their wealth? There are always more people who want to be president and would be happy to play along.
posted by clockzero at 1:32 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why in the world would they, who already collectively control the course of society, permit some man who they helped elect to take their wealth? There are always more people who want to be president and would be happy to play along.

I'm trying to figure that out - how to get elected on a real populist platform (remember when the Tea Party was a populist platform, before it got co-opted to be corpratist/theist/fascist platform it is nowadays?). Just remember, if you figure out how, you can be the first person to do anything. ;)
posted by SirOmega at 1:36 PM on May 10, 2011


Here, google these two words - "dynastic trust".
posted by newdaddy at 1:38 PM on May 10, 2011


I don't actually remember that, but that's just ignorance on my part probably.

I don't mean to seem excessively negative. I just think that taking a technocratic approach to this issue--by which I mean, the approach that assumes there's a technical fix, that we have to amend policy, or devise an efficacious political strategy, or something like that--is naive. The problem isn't that nobody knows how to improve the state of distributive justice in our society, it's simply that the very wealthy don't want to share. Historically, this kind of attitude has not ended well for anyone, and even then, ended only when the situation became truly dire. Unfortunately, force is the only thing that always convinces the aristocrats to share.
posted by clockzero at 1:46 PM on May 10, 2011


That it's very easy to say "if only the super-rich gave their money, it would solve our problems."

1) It absolves you from needing to do anything personally.


I don't think anyone actually does this though. People who have higher than average salaries who argue for higher income taxes are willing to pay them themselves. They're for higher taxes for everyone in exchange for universal access to healthcare, education, basic shelter and food, and opportunity in general so that there's a more level playing field and people don't need to fear starvation, exposure, or death by treatable illness should the worst case scenario take place. Some of us aren't even that upset about the idea of freeloaders.

We have yet to hit the national average for after-tax income at my house. National averages in the first world can be pretty comfortable, frankly, and there's room for a little indulgence and luxury even before you get there. You need to realize what luxury and indulgence is, though. We now manage to live in a nice building, have premium cable, can eat out a couple of times a month if we want, eat shrimp and chicken and steak if we want, and we own a Mac which as we all know is significantly more expensive than a PC. I know these are luxuries. I'm still OK with the idea of higher taxes for myself if it meant creating a more fair society, and was even when I was living in a slum and working for minimum wage and returning cans for beer money.

That there are people who make 7 figures who feel they can't pay more tax because they feel the pinch at the end of the month to pay for the high-end car and gas and mortgage on a 4 bedroom detached house with 2 car garage is not really a concern for me. If I can do it, so can they. More so, even. 25% forgot what luxury and indulgence are. Maybe they need to be reminded.
posted by Hoopo at 1:52 PM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the fake new york times. Excellent satire.
posted by cyberdad at 1:54 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


the big elephant in the room is the offshoring of jobs.

Another big elephant in the room is the degree to which the truly wealthy have been able to rewrite the rule book, changing the rules to help them accumulate ever more wealth. About a third of the way through "Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class," which makes the case explicitly.
posted by kgasmart at 1:58 PM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


We haven't really focused on what can be done, and I think there's a lot of potential in new technology.

First, and more of an industrialization problem, is why don't increases in productivity lead to decreases in time worked? If we replace 1000 jobs with 10, who is actually benefiting? Should we really need to work 40-80 hours a week to sustain our lifestyle?

Second, the internet. Computer networks and the technology that has grown around them could surely be used to foster a more efficient, just society. No one wants to go there. It's worth a shot. Anarcho-syndicalism seems more feasible with effective resource allocation and social networking effects.

And finally in regard to the off-shoring of jobs, the problem isn't giving our well paying jobs to foreigners. As I see it, the problem is forcing people to compete in an unfair market. Why should a worker be forced to compete with a labor market that lacks effective regulation, oversight, or basic standards of human rights? Free markets must apply to labor as well as capital and in the typical off-shoring arrangement they clearly do not.
posted by polyhedron at 2:04 PM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


The distortionary effect of the finance industry on US income inequality cannot be unestimated. Even Bill Gates, who participated in making something valuable in his own lifetime, is basically super-rich only because of the capital markets. All the absurd CEO-to-janitor income calculations can be attributed directly to stocks and options.

But the question is: what's the alternative? If you think the answer is easy, you're probably wrong.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:05 PM on May 10, 2011


Nor can it be UNDEResimated.... :-)
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:07 PM on May 10, 2011


anotherpanacea: what's the alternative?

Don't compensate executives based on the stock price.
posted by russilwvong at 2:17 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


1. Your political system ensures that elected government will be mostly comprised of millionaires ("self-made", of course>, who will tend to favor their own interests.
2. Those millionaires will be further beholden to the billionaires who fund their campaigns.
3. The people have been doped with religion, sex, and T.V.
4. Don't you know that poor people are lazy and have no self discipline? Why should they get my hard-earned money?
posted by rocket88 at 2:30 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


If I were President, I'd lay it out for the 1%ers in the US... There are two options. First, I can raise taxes on the upper middle class and rich to pay for benefits for the working poor and unemployed.

No you won't. The President can't do any of these things; all he can do is propose. Raising taxes is Congress' job. The President can stand in their way, but even that doesn't mean anything if Congress is really determined.

There are ways out of this system though. We don't have to stew in our outrage. There is nothing one of us can do to turn things around, individually, but we can band together and work to affect change. For all the influence of money and advertising it's still us, voters, whose choices affect the government.

The start, as it always has been, is simple: stop listening to what the idiots on TV say and think for our own damn selves.
posted by JHarris at 2:34 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I were President, I'd lay it out for the 1%ers in the US...

There are two options. First, I can raise taxes on the upper middle class and rich to pay for benefits for the working poor and unemployed. Or you can start paying your employees more, paying them living wages and give them decent health care options. Either way, more money is coming out of your pocket. The choice is yours.


When you control the media you no longer need to kill Politicians you cannot control:

HOWARD DEAN SELF-DESTRUCTED TONIGHT WHEN HE YELLED DURING A POLITICAL RALLY. MORE DETAILS TO FOLLOW.
posted by any major dude at 2:50 PM on May 10, 2011 [11 favorites]


The President can do way more than just propose:
[The President] took further action against the six defiant steel companies. The government had contracts with U.S. Steel and Lukens Steel to provide $5.5 million in steel for the Polaris submarines. He immediately gave the order to Lukens, which remained among the steel companies that had not yet raised prices. It was decided to place pressure on the five other steel companies that intended to increase prices; 9 percent of steel's total business came from the U.S. government, so the government's remaining steel orders would go to the six companies that refused to raise prices.

Next, [the Attorney General] became involved, his interest piqued by a news story in the Washington Star that indicated U.S. Steel had pressured Bethlehem Steel to raise its prices. Bobby believed this provided evidence of illegal price fixing. He ordered the collection of evidence — both personal and professional — from the homes and offices of steel executives, and FBI agents arrived at steel executives' homes in the middle of the night on April 12."
Link
The President? JFK. The Attorney General? His brother, Bobby.

The above events happened in April, 1962. By November, 1963, JFK was dead.
posted by wuwei at 2:50 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


So there are a lot of smart people on MeFi. Should we start a MeFiPAC or a MeFi Think Tank™ to start brewing some of these productive ideas? Would it help? Would it work?
posted by scrowdid at 2:50 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm trying to figure that out - how to get elected on a real populist platform

Yeah, that works really well, like in latinamerica...

In reality, power corrupts, and then it's in the best interest of the populist rulers to keep the populace uneducated and make as many poor people as economically feasible, so they can continue reaping the votes.
posted by palbo at 2:55 PM on May 10, 2011


I can't wait to read these comments. But I want to throw in my two cents about the good old days, even if someone has probably made a similar comment above.

My dad, in the 60's, made @60K a year, a lot of money back then. Enough to put six kids through college and grad school (and boy, has that changed: two of us are struggling to put ONE child through college!). He paid considerably more than half his income - he may have been in the 60% tax bracket - and paid it with pride. He would no more cheat on his taxes than he would steal from a store.

Why? The government was good to him. The G.I. bill sure helped him. And he believed not only in schools, building stuff, maintaining a strong military etc., but in helping all of those less fortunate than he was. This was, after all, in the early days of the War on Poverty.

How far we have fallen.

Rise up, my friends!
posted by kozad at 3:29 PM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


Here's a theory - it's media. The entire, all-pervasive media ecosystem, including Metafilter. The very fact that we don't have "official" propaganda makes the unofficial propaganda that much more powerful. Didn't Alexis de Toqueville say something along the lines of democracy being much more conducive to social conformity than authoritarianism? I'm thinking of Adam Curtis and John Ralston Saul, too. "American Idol", LOLcats, and all the rest may be more effective in keeping things together for the benefit on those on top than the Gestapo or KGB ever were.

If that's true, then our best hope might be, paradoxically, an overreach into authoritarianism. Greed for money, greed for power, greed unrestrained. If things tip into more overt oppressiveness, opposition will form. The Tea Party's hard-on for bullying and thuggish tactics, if continued and pushed further, might be that overreach. The Tea Party themselves are nothing more than swiftly-aging overweight white men who can barely read the menu at Olive Garden - aging bullies. The elites who use them as a front will abandon them the moment they're no longer of use. It's a delicate dance, though - how far can Teabaggers go before waking up the media-addled masses?

Just some thoughts...
posted by jhandey at 3:34 PM on May 10, 2011


Someone mentioned the Internet as a method to coordinate upthread and I neglected to respond to that earlier. We can and are using the net to coordinate. But maybe that's part of the problem. So many minor causes are available to us today that it's hard to organize the larger movements. You get fractional or fractious activism—call it "fractivism"—rather than one large over-arching movement.

What we need to do is marshal around a common cause, like the Second Bill of Rights, that provides a coherent standard that we can all agree to without getting distracted by other issues. We may disagree on gun control or drug laws, but that has to be secondary to the main thing we want to accomplish.
posted by Eideteker at 3:43 PM on May 10, 2011


What a mess.

Income tax is 45% of federal revenue.

The phrasing usually is "The top 20% pays XX% of taxes, and the lowest 50% pays nothing". But that almost always only refers to income tax(45% of fed revenue, remember?). That phrasing also doesn't include the relevant info to make a coherent judgment, which is, what percentage of total income is the top 20% receiving?

If they have 40% of the income, and pay 40% of the income tax, then that would seem to be fair.

Apparently 45% of revenue is collected off the incomes under $106,000(current point at which you no longer pay any FICA taxes at all).

And the lower 80% is paying 60% of the remaining 45% of revenue that is income taxes, or 27% of total collected from income taxes.

So, 45% +27% = 72% of total fed revenue from income taxes on the lower 80% + FICA(all taxable income under $106,000).

And of course, that is 72% of the 90% from Income tax and FICA, so it really means it's more like ~80% of total fed revenue from people, not companies, comes from people in the lower 80%.

So, figure out how to explain it, but recognize what the numbers actually are before you start feeling a little parasitical, you multitudes.
posted by dglynn at 3:43 PM on May 10, 2011


Because "success is based on virtue"
posted by telstar at 3:46 PM on May 10, 2011


Damn craptacular touchpad deleting.... made a mess myself. Should be;

Income tax is 45% of federal revenue.

FICA, or payroll tax(SS, Medicare, disability) is 45% of fed revenue.

The last 10% of fed revenue is corporate tax, excise tax, and fees.
posted by dglynn at 3:46 PM on May 10, 2011


Jonathan Chait: The Triumph of Taxophobia.
In abandoning its traditional fiscal conservatism for tax-cutting, the GOP could now be offering goodies to voters rather than taking them away. ...Yet political opportunism, too, only goes so far as an explanation. ...tax cuts for the rich tend to lack public support altogether. If mere vote-chasing were all that lay behind Republican tax-cut mania, you’d expect the party to embrace more broad-based tax cuts, as opposed to the sharply regressive tax cuts that lavish a majority of the benefit upon a small fraction of the populace.

There is one idea that explains Republican behavior: moral disgust at income redistribution. Since it doesn’t poll well, this is not an idea that you often find expressed in talking points or in other means of public persuasion. But occasionally this sentiment pops up in the form of a kind of raw royalism, usually from conservatives who don’t have to run for office. Former Bush economist Greg Mankiw endorses the belief that free markets are a flawless arbiter of income distribution. Republicans, he writes, believe that “in a free society, people make money when they produce goods and services that others value, and that, as a result, what they earn is rightfully theirs.” Adds American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, “[I]t is a moral issue to confiscate more income from the minority simply because the government can.”

When Republican elected officials pay fealty to these ideas, it is usually through oblique references. They often bemoan the fact that nearly half of all taxpayers pay no income tax (which ignores the burdens of federal payroll taxes) or that the top 1 percent is paying a rising share of the tax burden (which is true, but only because the top 1 percent is earning a higher share of the income). The underlying sentiment is that the practice of levying higher tax rates upon the rich amounts to an oppressive form of discrimination—democracy as mob rule.
In short, it's the Randian idea that taxation is theft.

What's the opposing idea? That we don't want an apartheid economy.

It's not difficult to have a society where the rich live in extravagant luxury, and the poor struggle to keep from starving; see any ancient empire or modern Third World country. (For a recent fictional illustration, see The Hunger Games.) It's far more difficult to maintain a society with broadly shared prosperity.
posted by russilwvong at 3:53 PM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


aught: "Ad hominem is so much easier than arguing the real point."

I refuse to discuss with people who think that a plate of cookies is a valid analogy, as if wealth and assets are something given from divine providence, and the division thereof is nothing but a landgrab.

Here's a counter analogy, see how you like it:

"A union boss and a government bureaucrat are sitting at a table. They argue about how many cookies everybody else has to make for them."
posted by falameufilho at 4:06 PM on May 10, 2011


Michael Tomasky, The Budget Battles To Come.
By historical standards, Obama’s insistence, when he presented his deficit reduction plan at George Washington University on April 13, that he will press to reinstate the Clinton-era personal income tax rate of 39.6 percent on households earning above $250,000 (roughly the top 2 percent), is small-scale stuff. But such is the alignment of the parties today—the Democrats occupying a spot once held by moderate Republicans, as the Republicans attempt to build their Galtian-Roarkian Valhalla—that the battle will be immense.
posted by russilwvong at 4:09 PM on May 10, 2011


personally i'm an artist and focus on that.
this is all very interesting but in reality it does not concern me nor most people i feel
and in fact,outside of the new #s,it's old news and i mean really old news like centuries.
i'm not young(63)and have seen many things come and go.
at one time in my life(young and clueless)i would have been concerned with this.
but i've learned to pick my battles and in so doing find fewer worthwhile.
i'm glad there are folks who are passionate.
without passion little would be accomplished, so thanks to all you
deft and passionate folks. you get to work on this.
i consider myself quite lucky to have found a partner and a path early(20)in life.
may you all as well.
posted by rh2 at 4:20 PM on May 10, 2011


People who have higher than average salaries who argue for higher income taxes are willing to pay them themselves. They're for higher taxes for everyone in exchange for universal access to healthcare, education, basic shelter and food, and opportunity in general so that there's a more level playing field and people don't need to fear starvation, exposure, or death by treatable illness should the worst case scenario take place.

Exactly. I make above-average money and am fine with higher taxes on myself and others. I work with some 1%'ers, even, who are fine with this.

Remember: even if 100% of the 1% vote for lower taxes, it won't work.

The reason taxes are low and getting lower is a lot of the have-nots are voting for lower taxes for the haves. Not all the haves are voting themselves lower taxes.

Given the income inequality, it can _only_ be sustained because a large number of people who do not have much are convinced that the small number who do somehow should be exempt from most of the burden.

The rich are _not_ united against the idea of higher taxes, and even if they were, it's only relevant in this sense: they have a much greater than average power to shape the discussion through media.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:27 PM on May 10, 2011


jb: "So in your magical fairy land, people who aced undergrad and got into grad school are making the big bucks, right? When I graduated, I had the highest grade-point average of my entire major (900 graduates that year). I made about $5000 last year. My husband not only studied harder than I did, but has never even once had an alcholic drink or a puff of any drug (because he's a huge nerd). He made a whopping $19,000 working his butt off lecturing."

Do you mind disclosing what did you and your husband majored on? I am just wondering how marketable is the education/career choice you made.
posted by falameufilho at 4:29 PM on May 10, 2011


Do you mind disclosing what you're bringing to this conversation?
posted by Hoopo at 4:34 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Huh?
posted by falameufilho at 4:37 PM on May 10, 2011


what we majored in wasn't part of the stated criteria - it was said that successful people studied hard and didn't party, and that is exactly what made them successful. We studied our butts off, and definitely didn't party (I actually have no aquaintances from my undergrad due to lack of partying -- my husband knows one person, an ex-study buddy).

my point was that we tell ourselves - and our children - that if you just study hard, and you just work hard, you will make it. Later, we pull the carpet out from beneath ourselves and say "Oh, but we didn't mean that you should work hard at history/linguistics/bookkeeping/warehouse management/taxi-driving/teaching/etc -- you should have known better and worked hard at computer science (even if you never saw a computer before university) or engineering (even though there are few jobs for engineers or so my friend the waiter with a BEng says) or whatever might be in demand 5-15 years from now." Also, you should have an interest in screwing your fellow human being by working in finance instead of wanting to work towards the betterment of society. because the world clearly needs more credit default swaps than it does people who know how economies develop in the long term.
posted by jb at 4:45 PM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


jb: "what we majored in wasn't part of the stated criteria - it was said that successful people studied hard and didn't party, and that is exactly what made them successful."

Yeah, someone probably should have mentioned that if you develop a skill that isn't marketable, all effort and diligence in the world probably won't make much of a difference. Did you research the salaries and career paths of graduates in your respective majors before making your choice? If not, how did you expect to make a living once you were done?

"you should have an interest in screwing your fellow human being by working in finance instead of wanting to work towards the betterment of society"

Way to generalize and denigrate a whole class of people. I saw in your profile that you are "finishing a PhD in early modern social and environmental history". Clearly at some point you picked some credits in holier-than-thou.
posted by falameufilho at 5:14 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Don't be a jerk.
posted by Trochanter at 5:18 PM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


falameufilho: holier-than-thou

Nobody's immune from feelings of moral superiority (whether deserved or not).

Setting the personal acrimony aside, I think you have a point--wages depend on supply and demand. There's not many people who want to be a garbageman (compared to being a teacher, say), so all things being equal, this will tend to drive up the wages of garbagemen. Conversely, there's lots of people who want to be actors, but not many roles; so this will tend to drive down the wages of actors. (What we tell our kids: find something that you're good at, and that not many people are good at.)

The idea that we can make wages completely equal is utopian.

That said, I don't believe the inequality at the top of the distribution can't be explained as simple supply and demand. See Roger Martin's articles on stock-based CEO compensation, or the war between capital and talent (PDF).
posted by russilwvong at 5:41 PM on May 10, 2011


jb: "what we majored in wasn't part of the stated criteria - it was said that successful people studied hard and didn't party, and that is exactly what made them successful."

With all due respect, no one said that getting an education and working hard guaranteed anything. The specific argument was comparing two workers,a professional, like a copy editor, versus an unskilled laborer, like a janitor cleaning a bathroom, making very different wages, and the idea was put forth that one job had worse conditions than the other, so why wasn't that job paying as well, with the counter being that the copy editor job required an education.
TL;DR: strawman, strawman, strawman.

Also, jb, I know that you are finishing a PhD in early-modern social and environmental history. A phD in any field is tough work, and I give you credit for that. I can't imagine that you didn't know after the bachelor's and Master's that it wasn't a specially lucrative field, though.

And since you live in Toronto, I'm not sure how all this U.S.-centric tax discussion is relevant to your own experience.
posted by misha at 5:47 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


russilwvong: "I think you have a point--wages depend on supply and demand. There's not many people who want to be a garbageman (compared to being a teacher, say), so all things being equal, this will tend to drive up the wages of garbagemen. Conversely, there's lots of people who want to be actors, but not many roles; so this will tend to drive down the wages of actors."

I have no idea what you're talking about. Demand is evaluated in terms of demand for the goods/services provided by the person in that occupation, not how many people out there would like to be performing that occupation. The compensation associated with a job is mostly unrelated to how many people want that job - is related to THE VALUE IT CREATES.
posted by falameufilho at 5:48 PM on May 10, 2011


"And since you live in Toronto, I'm not sure how all this U.S.-centric tax discussion is relevant to your own experience."

Because we just elected a governing party who's stated goal is to turn Canada into the same kind of Glorious Republic we see to the south? Coming soon to a Canada near you...
posted by sneebler at 5:58 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hesitate to partake in this discussion but I would like to make a few remarks.

* At the heart of the argument that poor people have been duped by rich people to support the interests of the rich is an argument that says poor people cannot be trusted to judge their own interests. This is an expression of compassion that seems preceded by contempt.

* Support for socialist politics, understood as a broad ideological program that includes progressive taxation, collectivization of health care and public services, worker protection and social security, has been on the wane not just in the US, but also in Europe, the United Kingdom and Australia. It is not clear how circumstances particular to the US explain this wider development.

* While it is widely acknowledged that wealth inequality is a Bad Thing, taken by itself it is hard to see what it indicates. Among the countries with the most equal wealth distribution are such paragons of progressivism as Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia. And while it is true that countries with the most unequal wealth distribution include corrupt hell-holes like Haiti (and, if you are so inclined, the US of A), they also include countries that seem in many ways best prepared to uplift their citizens in the 21st century, such as China, Brazil, and to a lesser extent, India.

* Even in Sweden, wealth distribution follows a power law, with the the top 1% of people holding on to 7% of the total income share. This is not to say that there are no significant differences in wealth distribution between both countries: it seems obvious that the Swedish system is more fair then the US one. The question is, why is Sweden nudging towards the US system rather than the other way around?

* It is not clear that on the whole people in the US are worse off today then they were 50, 30 or 20 years ago when compared to other countries, even if, as seems apparent, life has gotten harder for those in the bottom 20%. In so far as they are not, this may explain the lack of outrage better than theories that presume persistent, large-scale conspiracies or widespread voter idiocy.
posted by eeeeeez at 6:23 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


falameufilho: I have no idea what you're talking about.

I'm talking about supply! Low supply, high price (in this case, wages for garbagemen). Conversely, if there's lots of people willing and able to do the job (i.e. supply is high), wages will be lower. Basic econ.
posted by russilwvong at 6:44 PM on May 10, 2011


Apropos: Wisconsin Assembly Votes to Repeal Program Requiring Testing of Drinking Water
posted by rtimmel at 6:44 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


"At the heart of the argument that poor people have been duped by rich people to support the interests of the rich is an argument that says poor people cannot be trusted to judge their own interests. This is an expression of compassion that seems preceded by contempt."

I don't follow this line of reasoning. Why is it contemptuous to say that certain people have been misinformed/lied to? It's not a judgement of you to say you've made a faulty conclusion based on incomplete information.

"The compensation associated with a job is mostly unrelated to how many people want that job - is related to THE VALUE IT CREATES."

I can get on board with at least the second half of that.

The problem with these zero-sum arguments (cookies, pie, whatever), is that that's not the whole picture. Take a look at the section here called "Winner Take All." You can see how the amount of wealth has grown; sure, it's a positive sum game. Problem is, the middle and lower class are still losing. They are getting a smaller and smaller share; in a sense, they're seeing negative growth. Not just relative to the richest few, but to the mean. The mean and the median are diverging. Another problem, as lupus_yonderboy said (and was subsequently ignored, in favor of debating how ridiculous literal gobbling was), the wealthy are more likely to take wealth out of circulation; economic stimulus comes from spending, and the poor (almost by definition) spend proportionally much more of their income. And that's even leaving aside the issue of the money/wealth/value that goes overseas. Earned on American infrastructure that we'll never see again.
posted by Eideteker at 6:50 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is no evidence that how much someone is paid is due to how much "value they create". In fact, there is no way to quantify the "value creation" of the majority of people in the world.

There is, however, a correlation between remuneration and the historic social status of different positions -- as well as the gender history of certain jobs.

As for the supply and demand argument, that does not explain why lawyers in Canada (oversupplied) are paid more than MRI technicians (undersupplied). But the relative social status does. this is basic economics history observation of the world around us.

as for my own remuneration: no, I never believed history was the road to the big bucks. I just found it hilarious that someone assumed that studying hard and not partying in university = big bucks. Of course, a hell of a lot of poor and working class people never had the choice about whether to study/not study, considering that they couldn't go to university. those of us who have are already the lucky ones.
posted by jb at 6:52 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Among the un-outraged (many exceptions here, of course), perhaps it's related to the greater use of anti-anxiety drugs? "In the present study, the subjects were either given the anti-anxiety tranquilliser Oxazepam or a sugar pill (placebo) while playing the Ultimate Game. The researchers found that those who had received the drug showed lower amygdala activity and a stronger tendency to accept an unfair distribution of the money - this despite the fact that when asked, they still considered the suggestion unfair."
posted by wallstreet1929 at 7:00 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


That is not to say that supply and demand don't have an effect on wages. Clearly high levels of supply have kept down, for example, the wages of adjunct lecturers. But weirdly, high levels of supply of qualified candidates does not seem to have had that effect on wages of tenure-track faculty at some universities.

Similarly, I don't see high demand or lack of supply affecting wages in areas like homecare or childcare. We need people, there is demand - but the money often just isn't there for higher wages. So the wages stay low and so does the supply.

Interestingly, I once heard an economist say that the person who was willing to pay the most for something was clearly the person who needed it the most. Which is, of course, laughable -- the person who is willing to pay the most is the person who wants the thing and has the means to pay for it. Need doesn't grow money when it isn't there, no matter how great that need it.
posted by jb at 7:01 PM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


There is no evidence that how much someone is paid is due to how much "value they create". In fact, there is no way to quantify the "value creation" of the majority of people in the world.

There certainly is a way to quantify the economic value created, and that is exactly what a capitalist system does.

There is, however, a correlation between remuneration and the historic social status of different positions -- as well as the gender history of certain jobs.

You think that a lawyer makes a lot of money because of historic social status or because of gender history of the job? A lawyer makes a lot of money because, for example, people don't want to go to jail and are willing to pay for the best defence they can afford. Same with a doctor, or an engineer. It's simple demand, and you may not believe in the value added by a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer (for example) but their clients/patients/employers certainly did enough to pay them.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 7:05 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


There certainly is a way to quantify the economic value created, and that is exactly what a capitalist system does.

Yes but that statement is obviously tautological. The point was economic value does not encapsulate everything meant by "value," and may have nothing to do with it at all. The economic value of a tulip bulb may be wildly different than its real value to you as a producer of a tulip, since a tulip is merely an ornamental plant. In many cases things of economic value can be net negative to society. To use a ridiculous example, professional assassinations. To use a less ridiculous example, the Athabasca Tar Sands.
posted by mek at 7:10 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, I once heard an economist say that the person who was willing to pay the most for something was clearly the person who needed it the most. Which is, of course, laughable -- the person who is willing to pay the most is the person who wants the thing and has the means to pay for it. Need doesn't grow money when it isn't there, no matter how great that need it.

When people talk about "supply and demand" that's supposed to take into account the willingness to sell in the case of supply and the willing buy in the case of demand. A random person who doesn't want to pay for something, but wants the thing doesn't count as 'demand'!
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 7:10 PM on May 10, 2011


mek: I totally agree with you and it's something that always bothered me in economics class: the conflation of economic value with "value."

However, jb's statement that — value is impossible to quantify, and so remuneration is rooted in some arbitrary history — seemed to overlook the fact of economic value being the basis for most remuneration.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 7:15 PM on May 10, 2011


It is quite counterfactual to suppose that sanitation is more universally valued than (for example) lawyering or editing and ad copywriting. There are many places in the world where sanitation is quite rudimentary while the legal profession and ad- supported media are robust.
posted by MattD at 7:15 PM on May 10, 2011


the capitalist system (as differentiated from Market exchange, which an exist without capitalism) is a system in which one person owns the capital and the means of production while another trades their skills and labour. There is nothing in this system that necessarily links remuneration to "value created".

For example, I could be a seamstress. My work creates a lot of value - I turn $10 worth cloth into a $100 shirt. I don't am not responsible for the whole of that $90 increase in value - after all, I didn't buy the sewing machine or pay for the lighting. Well, unless (like a great many seamstresses both now and in the past) I am a home-pieceworker and all the capitalist has provided is the material. But either way, it is highly unlikely that I am paid for all of the value my labour creates; the profits go to the owner of the cloth, and I may see only a tiny fraction for all the value my labour has added. How much of the value of my labour that I can demand for my work is very variable -- historically, women have been paid less for the same work (aka "value creation") than men, as have non-White workers, and non-union may be paid less for the same value creation than unionised. Indeed, the entire purpose of unions is to use collective bargaining to offset the basic social and economic inequality between employers and employees so that employees can negotiate a larger portion of the profits which their labour contributes to.

A hell of a lot of low-paid, so-called "unskilled" labour is not at all unskilled. In reality, I am not a seamstress; I couldn't sew a straight line if my life depended on it. However, I am currently being paid about three times minimum wage/hour to do a job which anyone of average intelligence who speaks English clearly could do. I am paid this much because I a) have a degree and b) that is what my employer expects to pay people to do this job. I have no idea how muh "value" my work creates, as it a position with a non-profit. I recently worked a far more challenging job (requiring not just clear English, but above-average intelligence, a good memory and very quick learning skills) and in that job created more economic "value" (if value could be measured in profits) -- but was paid less than 1/2 as much per hour. Yes, they are having retention problems, but not enough problems to raise the pay. What I see is that the business uses the desperation of new college graduates, recent immigrants and people who do not have degrees that are gateways to higher paid jobs to keep wages down. This would be one of those situations where supply seems to have an effect -- but any of those people could easily do my current job. The only reason I have it and they don't is that I had that degree (unrelated to the work, and primarily a marker of class-status) and a social-network connection to the employer. There is a high supply of qualified people to do my work, but it continues to be well-renumerated because of the social expectations of the employer and the organisation.


espirit: I did not mention someone who did not want to pay for something, I specified that sometimes the person with the greatest need cannot pay for that thing. Do you think the starving people of the world are just too stingy to pay as much as you and I do for food? Or that they just don't want the food enough?
posted by jb at 7:43 PM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Here is an interesting thought, keep the Capital gains tax, charge sales tax on stock/bond/ETF purchases, and only charge income tax to corporations. Abolish income tax altogether, and keep the sales tax for local projects. I think that would about cover it.

On the spending side, let's stop killing people with tax dollars and start educating them instead. We could put the entire world from Kindergarten through a 2 year college degree with our defense budget alone.

Legalize all drugs and put the drug dealers out of business, and let all the drug related criminals out of jail, and educate them too. Let the violent criminals stay in jail. That would probably cut down on the expense.

Stop farm and oil subsidies NOW, and reexamine all the rest of the subsidies.

I am sure there are more ideas out there.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 8:24 PM on May 10, 2011


There is nothing in this system that necessarily links remuneration to "value created". ... But either way, it is highly unlikely that I am paid for all of the value my labour creates; the profits go to the owner of the cloth, and I may see only a tiny fraction for all the value my labour has added.

No system of value distribution is perfect, in part because there's no way to actually determine the exact amount of value labor creates. That value is the product of multiple converging forces, each ineradicably necessary to the final result. Which deserves the larger share of credit - the 10,000 gallons of gasoline, or the spark that starts the fire? What if gas is abundant, and sparks exceedingly rare?

Either you have to create some kind of metric that determines what "just" compensation ought to be, or you use supply and demand, or some hybrid. So capitalism is an imperfect interpretation of how value distribution can best be managed in the real world. There is something in it that does link -- imperfectly, just like every other system -- value created to remuneration.
posted by shivohum at 8:28 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is not clear that on the whole people in the US are worse off today then they were 50, 30 or 20 years ago when compared to other countries, even if, as seems apparent, life has gotten harder for those in the bottom 20%.

Ummm...you may not be old enough to remember what used to be called "the middle class."
They had it pretty good. "Compared to other countries" is a little more complicated to address.
How well do Chinese urban factory workers live, for example?
posted by kozad at 8:28 PM on May 10, 2011


jb: With respect to the first two paragraphs, you made a lot of good points, and I agree with everything you wrote, except your point about pay equity: the "supply of qualified people" should be measured in your employer's eyes rather than yours: if they are willing to pay more for someone with a degree, then there's not a "high supply" for what they want.

The social network connection is a really good point, and it's one of the kinds of affirmative action that I firmly support: that employers should invest in discovering talent outside the usual sources (like top tier schools, etc.)

About my wording wherein I said that people who don't want to pay for things don't count as "demand", that includes people who cannot pay.

With respect to starving people, I believe that access to food is a human right — different countries implement that in different ways. India, for example, has a "right to work" policy, other countries have food banks, etc. This has nothing to do with the determination of economic value. In general, a person can only drive up the price of iPods by being willing to pay for one.

Normally, what you would actually draw is a demand curve which graphs the price of an item on one axis and the number of items that would be sold at that price. So, people who really want something, but are only willing to pay a little bit show up as a horizontal spike on the graph. As with any auction, they will only get their price if there is sufficient supply.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:31 PM on May 10, 2011


the profits go to the owner of the cloth

Who's also taking the risk that the shirt will find buyers. You'll get paid even if the shirts end up on sale or at a discounter. You haven't had to outlay any expenses, unless you're using your own electricity and space. You have no other problems other than meeting the deadline and doing the labor. The designer/jobber hiring you has to ship the finished product to the retail outlets who have a whole new set of problems to sell that shirt at the right price.

If you want to be Ralph Lauren (who's on that list of richest people) you need to have new designs, find someone to stake you or give you credit and then you need to get busy.

Is there no one on Metafilter who's started a business or is self-employed?
posted by Ideefixe at 8:34 PM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


espirit: I think I understand your point now -- you are using a very specific definition of "demand" that is not the same definition as colloquial English might give. Perhaps the economist who made the original point I cited -- about greatest need -- was also using a definition of "need" which is not the colloquial definition but a specific use in economic jargon. If so, I think it was irresponsible, given the context -- he was speaking on a general audience radio program (Planet money) and his listeners (including me) were very likely to misunderstand him. Me, I just lost respect for him due to the laughably incorrect statement I believed he had made, but I worry that other listeners may have come away with the belief that those who have the ability to pay -- after all, a choice to pay cannot be made without the ability -- are the subset of people with the greatest need. You rightly point out that in terms of affecting price levels, those without the ability to pay are outside of the relationship. But in looking more widely at issues like actual need and the fair allocation of resources, one of the very first things that must be recognised is the inequality of ability to pay for things, that is, the inequality of the distribution of resources in our society that already exists -- an inequality which is as social as it is economic.

Which kind of brings us back to the topic of the thread in the first place.
posted by jb at 8:57 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Point of information:

"...my community has an approximate 11% unemployment rate (and that's just the people actually collecting unemployment and doesn't account for the large number of people who just can't find a job and can't get unemployment for one reason or another)..."

This is a common misconception, but the truth is that the unemployment rate does not in any way refer to how many people are collecting unemployment insurance benefits!

The unemployment rate is calculated by [number of people who are actively looking for a job but can't find one] / [total number of people in the labor force].

The labor force consists of people who are working and people who want to work. Excluded are:
-people who do not work because they do not want to (e.g., homemakers, full-time students, retirees, etc.)
- people who are institutionalized (e.g. prisons, hospitals, etc.)
- people serving in the armed forces

To be counted as unemployed in the unemployment rate, you need to both
- not have a job and
- be actively job-hunting

In addition to the unemployed, there are two other important groups to keep in mind if you want to understand the state of the job market:
- the "underemployed": people who have a job but are only working part time when they actually want to work full time and people who are working for far less money than they would normally be qualified to earn
- "discouraged workers": people who would prefer to work but have given up looking for a job

More details about how these calculations work and where the data comes from are on the Bureau of Labor Statistics' website: How the Government Measures Unemployment
posted by Jacqueline at 9:01 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ideefixe: but can you quantify what proportion of the increased value of the shirt which was created by the labourer, and what proportion was created by the capitalist? Arguing that the wage level reflects the respective proportions is specious, given what I've already pointed out about the differences between the people doing the same jobs based on gender or race or unionisation -- or country in which the labour is done. Does a seamstress in a developing country add less economic value to a product than one in a developed country? No - instead the capitalist takes advantage of the fact that surrounding wages are lower and keeps the extra profit. (Leaving aside issues of Transportation, of course, but given that higher profits can be made anyways, clearly the capitalist is taking even more).
posted by jb at 9:05 PM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, someone probably should have mentioned that if you develop a skill that isn't marketable, all effort and diligence in the world probably won't make much of a difference. Did you research the salaries and career paths of graduates in your respective majors before making your choice? If not, how did you expect to make a living once you were done?

Guess what? No one said anything about it except that if I had a college degree in anything I'd find a job no matter what. Study what you want because no one cares what you major in. This is what I was told. I had never even heard of internship until I was 27 years old. Now, I am also a straight, white, middle class dude. I think the lack of information I had might be even worse for people without the privilege I grew up with.
posted by josher71 at 9:20 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


"And here we sit, because we have no way to weaponize metafilter."

Form an elite strike team under the umbrella of Anonymous?

#OpMeFiteSpecialForces
posted by Jacqueline at 9:24 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


interestingly, the university of Toronto a while ago did a bit of research on the salaries of graduates. One of the highest earning majors from all the BSc's as well as BAs was ... philosophy.

In fact, I think it may have been the highest.

Elsewhere, I'd seen numbers for university graduates and what proportion were employed x numb of months after graduating -- I remember that Journalism had a lot of unemployed majors, but also that BAs in traditional humanities fields (english, history, etc) were as likely (or more likely?) to be employed than BScs, and definitely more were employed than the bachelors of Engineering (not a good showing there). This wasn't Uoft I think (they don't offer a specific journalism degree to my knowledge) -- it may have been Ontario-wide.
sorry for vagueness - I read this in passing some 12 years ago.
posted by jb at 9:30 PM on May 10, 2011


But in looking more widely at issues like actual need and the fair allocation of resources, one of the very first things that must be recognised is the inequality of ability to pay for things, that is, the inequality of the distribution of resources in our society that already exists -- an inequality which is as social as it is economic.

I wholeheartedly agree with this with respect to things like: education, food, and decent health care. For most other things, I think it's hard to deviate from allocating resources based on (economic) supply and demand without having worse outcomes.

Regarding the economic definition of "demand", the introductory paragraph says it all.

Does a seamstress in a developing country add less economic value to a product than one in a developed country? No - instead the capitalist takes advantage of the fact that surrounding wages are lower and keeps the extra profit.

Yes, the seamstress in the developing country is adding less economic value even if she's doing the same job. The seamstress in the developed world earns more because he has access to a different market.

The capitalist is only getting a few percent return to compensate him for his capital (you know this because you're the one indirectly lending money to him when you deposit your money in a bank — the interest you get is out of his profits.) The rest of the money he makes accounts for risk.

The low wages of the developing world are not a product of "capitalists" doing business there. They're a product of the entire system that prevents, for example, seamstresses of the world from uniting. So, we can demand low prices, but they can't demand high wages because if they do in one country, we'll just buy in another country.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:39 PM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, I've never heard of "greatest need" having a special meaning, and I agree with you, and disagree with him, that supply and demand distribute goods where they're needed most.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:49 PM on May 10, 2011


And then there's the irrational, aspirational dream so many Americans cling to that they, too, might someday be among that elite tier of earners.

We worked with a real estate agent once who couldn't stop himself from railing on and on about how terrible Obama's proposed tax increase on people who earn over $250K would be. He worked himself up into a lather about it, and quite seriously, the man very likely never earned a fifth of that amount in his life.

His objection boiled down to projection and an overactive imagination: If that's me in a few years, will my imaginary tax burden increase?

Worse, the guy posted on Facebook about this issue every other day or so. His biggest supporter in his status update diatribes was his brother, a bus driver.

This is why we don't revolt. We think we're driving up to the mansion ourselves.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:02 PM on May 10, 2011


An importance distinction in discussions of inequality is that of absolute vs. relative poverty. Absolute poverty is not having the bare necessities of life. Relative poverty is just being poor compared to the rest of society, or compared to the wealthiest.

Eliminating absolute poverty should be our priority even if income and/or wealth inequality increases while we do so. The U.S. has actually done pretty well in this regard. People here generally have enough to eat, clean water, roofs over their heads, access to basic health care, free K-12 and heavily subsidized higher education, etc. It's better to be "poor" in the U.S. than to be middle- or even upper-class in most parts of the non-Western world.

One reason our economy has done relatively well at meeting these needs is compound economic growth driven by innovations and investments from people striving to become rich. If that prize wasn't available, not as many people would try and thus there would be less growth and less overall pie to divide even if that pie were divided more "equitably."

However, we also need to keep in mind that what constitutes "absolute poverty" is a moving target and changes relative to what the majority of society can afford. For example, 20 years ago, not having a home computer and internet connection was not a big deal, and thus not being able to afford such things would not make you "poor" in an absolute sense. But now that the internet has become such an integral part of our economy and society, not being able to afford a home internet connection cripples a person's ability to find a job, manage their finances, buy things, complete an education, be an informed citizen, etc.

So instead of bitching about the outliers out beyond the far right end of the bell curve, we should instead focus on establishing a baseline standard of living that is relative to the median. The real problem isn't that some people are "too rich" relative to the rest of the society, it's that some people are still too poor. And no, simply taking from the "too rich" and giving to the "too poor" does not solve this problem because doing so destroys the incentives that spur the engines of growth.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:04 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


"One thing that needs doing is getting people out to vote, so steal a page from the Republicans and get something on the ballot that will actually attract Democrats to vote..."

Quality of candidates matters far less than an effective get-out-the-vote campaign.

For several decades, numerous research surveys (sorry, no citations handy, just something I remember from my poly sci classes) have found that a far greater percentage of Americans support the Democratic Party platform than are represented in electoral outcomes. This isn't because of election fraud (which is rampant but goes both directions and thus doesn't make a huge difference nationwide), but because Republicans have historically been much more consistent about getting out the vote than Democrats have been. A stereotype that has some truth to it is that Republicans go to church on Sunday and are reminded to vote on Tuesday, whereas Democrats wake up on Election Day, smoke a joint, and forget what it was they were supposed to do that day. :)

The 2008 Presidential election started to turn this around. The Obama campaign's get-out-the-vote campaign was phenomenally well-organized. I live in Nevada (a swing state) and the stories I heard from my Democrat activist friends demonstrated a level of coordination and precision in execution that some of the most successful companies in the world would aspire to. Volunteers showed up before dawn and were given lists of addresses of registered Democrats already mapped out on the most efficient route to take, and thus they had their "Remember to Vote!" door hangers out well before the polls opened. They called people all day to remind them to vote, they had volunteers to pick people up and drive them to the polls, etc. Thanks to effective utilization of the internet in organizing their get-out-the-vote campaign, 2008 was the year that the Democrats finally got their shit together.

If you guys could do this consistently every year, you would kick Republican butt. So if you're looking for something that you personally can do to make a difference, the #1 way the average person can help is to volunteer for your local party's voter turnout drive (and #2 would be new voter registration campaigns targeted toward populations that tend to lean Democrat).

All I ask in return for this free strategy advice is that after you kick the Republicans' butts, could you please throw us third partiers a bone by supporting electoral reform towards a proportional representation system? Kthxbai. :D
posted by Jacqueline at 10:35 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jacqueline- you make a good point to distinguish between absolute and relative poverty. However, epidemiologists and other social scientists are finding that relative poverty is strongly correlated with all sorts of problems (health problems, crime, etc) even with low levels of absolute poverty.

inequality, even when everyone has enough to eat, does matter -- for the data, please see the links in my earlier comment.
posted by jb at 10:39 PM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Damn, jb is on the set!
posted by klangklangston at 10:44 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


And no, simply taking from the "too rich" and giving to the "too poor" does not solve this problem because doing so destroys the incentives that spur the engines of growth.

Does not follow. The incentive to prosper is nigh indestructible. Nobody's saying take it all.

Plus, the good stuff happens in the middle, not the top. That's the "engine".

And, AND, don't forget that what's allowing for the possession of all our various gewgaws (and which is fundamental in explaining "Where's the outrage?") is debt.
posted by Trochanter at 11:06 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


"However, epidemiologists and other social scientists are finding that relative poverty is strongly correlated with all sorts of problems (health problems, crime, etc) even with low levels of absolute poverty."

jb: I looked at the links you provided and one thing I noticed immediately is that most of the societies with more "equality" and fewer "problems" are also relatively culturally and ethnically homogenous. Did they control for that at all? People are more likely to cooperate and share with people they perceive to be like them, and this tendency will be reflected in both the private and public sectors.

Anyhow, the Criticism section in the Wikipedia article you linked about The Spirit Society book goes into methodology concerns far better and in far greater detail than I am competent to argue myself. (But I will say that I think that most comparative international macroeconomic econometric models are bullshit because there are too many differences in data collection practices -- in both what is measured and how it is measured -- amongst countries for economists to honestly claim that their results are as accurate and precise as they present them to be. Garbage in, garbage out.)

It's also important to consider not just how inequality affects people living today, but what effect it has on long-term economic growth. Some amount of inequality is necessary as an incentive for the innovators and investors of the world. Inequality that makes some people worse off now may make many more people better off in the future, because small differences in growth rates compound over time into huge differences in standards of living. Just like we don't want to selfishly destroy our environment and use up all our natural resources and leave nothing to future generations, we also shouldn't sacrifice future generations' economic prosperity by implementing policies that make some people better off now at the cost of future growth.

There may be a "sweet spot" (or range) where there is enough inequality to provide effective incentives for pro-growth innovation and investment, but not so much inequality that it causes social ills. But I have no idea how we would even go about figuring out where that sweet spot is much less move our economy towards it without fucking things up and making them worse (or if we could do it without violating a lot of people's individual rights in the process -- after all, Soviet Russia achieved a development miracle by transforming an agrarian economy into an industrial superpower in only a couple of generations, but at what a terrible cost!).

Again, I suspect that the important inequality is the inequality between the poorest and the median. Or perhaps the spread of the distribution around the median, disregarding the far-right outliers. Because as others have pointed out already in this thread, most of us don't interact with the super-rich. A few people driving Lamborghinis and living in 100+ room mansions doesn't have that much impact on our perception of our relative well-being and status. But knowing that such a prize exists motivates a lot of people to work harder and take more risks (for good or for bad) than they would have otherwise.

Meanwhile, how do we make the poorest better off so that they're closer to the median, while keeping the median rising? I'd rather we focus on helping the poor than on attacking the rich. The latter comes across as petty envy (i.e., "tall poppy syndrome") and alienates the very people who have the resources to help us with the former.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:52 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


The idea that we can make wages completely equal is udystopian.

FIFY
posted by eugenen at 11:56 PM on May 10, 2011


Still wading through all the sub-arguments in this thread, but I have a quick note to everyone decrying the decline of the labor movement in the U.S.:

The U.S. labor movement is dying because it WON.

The agenda that the unions fought so hard for -- safe working conditions, minimum wages, the 40-hour workweek, overtime pay, limits on child labor, compulsory schooling, workers compensation, etc. -- is now enshrined into law. The mutual aid benefits once provided by union membership are now provided by employers or the government. Altogether, today's working conditions are beyond Samuel Gompers' wildest wet dreams.

Unionizing was the means to an end, not an end in itself. That end has been achieved, so why should people still join unions? Why should they continue to pay dues just to see their money spent on politicians they don't support or siphoned off into mafia pockets?

The labor movement won. Either accept your victory and go quietly into the night or come up with a new agenda for which it makes strategic sense to continue to use the labor union model instead of more modern activism organizational structures.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:02 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


after all, Soviet Russia

You gotta be kidding.


And as to us "fucking it up and making things worse": THE MARKET ISN'T MAGIC! It doesn't self correct. It doesn't find a "sweet spot" and spin there like a top. If you don't act on it, it topples. Again and again it's toppled. Boom Bust. That's the market. We have good, solid evidence right in front of us. We have history. This isn't something we have to guess and conjecture about. It goes all the way back to the god damned tulips.

For fifty years, after the thirties, we had a tightly regulated market that stayed stable. Then the ideologues started deregulating and zip! Boom Bust Boom Bust all over again.

And as to the union thing, who said the war was over? The struggle between labor and capital didn't end. It didn't end because it DOESN'T end! All those gains for working people you mention (with the exception of child labor laws) are always and constantly under attack. For instance, what are you talking about with the 40 hour work week? That's gone. Yeah sure, there are problems with unions. They're not all we want -- they're all we've got.
posted by Trochanter at 2:14 AM on May 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


Trochanter: "For fifty years, after the thirties, we had a tightly regulated market that stayed stable. Then the ideologues started deregulating and zip! Boom Bust Boom Bust all over again."

One thing that the regulating ideologues often conveniently forget is that faulty regulation in sectors of the market is at least as harmful as the lack of regulation in other sectors. That was the case in every single market bust.

Regulation isn't inherently a good thing, just like the lack thereof.
posted by falameufilho at 4:21 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


josher71: "Guess what? No one said anything about it except that if I had a college degree in anything I'd find a job no matter what. Study what you want because no one cares what you major in. This is what I was told. I had never even heard of internship until I was 27 years old."

Jesus fucking Christ what a sheltered life you must have lived.
posted by falameufilho at 4:31 AM on May 11, 2011


Don't compensate executives based on the stock price.

I have no problem with this policy (without longterm clawback provisions executive stock options only bugger other shareholders) but it won't solve inequality in this country. Look at the Forbes 400 list: you have to go pretty deep into the list to find anyone whose wealth came from executive compensation instead of from founding a company or inheriting stock.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:12 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jesus fucking Christ what a sheltered life you must have lived.

Welcome to rural Tennessee in 1992.
posted by josher71 at 6:14 AM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jesus fucking Christ what a sheltered life you must have lived.

Jesus fucking Christ, how incredibly presumptuous you are.
posted by rtha at 6:37 AM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


With all due respect, no one said that getting an education and working hard guaranteed anything.

That's funny. That's all anybody ever told me all throughout my k-12 years. Also, if it's not supposed to guarantee anything, why does it cost so much?

The question is, why is Sweden nudging towards the US system rather than the other way around?

Probably because our new number 1 export is terrible ideas; turns out the market is absolutely booming!
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:04 AM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


All of the countries with more equality are more ethnically and racially homogenous? What, like Norway?

This claim - that America can't possibly be more equal/have public health care/reduce crime by reducing inequality because the people have different skin colours - comes up constantly in threads. And it's a specious point. Yes, the US has a lot of non-White people -- and a very large number of those non-White people are African-Americans who are culturally American. As well, there are countries like Canada and Australia who have a) large non-White minorities (Canadian stats on visible minorities leave out aboriginal people) and b) substantially higher levels of recent immigration, proportional to the existing population. And yet both countries have more equality and lower levels of the correlated health and social problems.

I wouldn't say that racial divisions have no effect on the provision of, for example, social services. As pointed out in other threads, racism has done a great deal of harm to social services in the US by creating the impression that only the "other" will benefit.

But to argue that it MUST be multiculturalism/racial division that creates higher levels of crime, teenage pregnancy, health problems in countries -- like the US, the UK and Portugal (what are the divisions there?) -- with high inequality, while dismissing the massive elephant in the room (said inequality) is more myopic than I am (and I have very thick glasses).

Also, when the authors of The Spirit Level -- or the authors of the many peer-reviewed studies which they drew upon -- talk about inequality, they aren't talking simply about a few outliers. They are talking about the increased inequality between a large group of haves at one end and a larger group of have-nots at the other. For example, in Toronto the proportions of people with incomes well above the median (40% above median) and those with incomes below the median (incomes 20-39% below the median) have both increased, while the proportion of people with incomes around the median (80-120% of median) has decreased since 1970. (as reported in Globe & Mail a couple of months ago). The "bell curve" is not bell-shaped anymore - it's a two-humped camel. (Note: income does not naturally fall into a "normal distribution" the way that something like intelligence might; income distribution circa 1685, for example, was decidedly pyramid shaped with a big fat bottom of poor people tapering up from there).

And Toronto is not some weird outlier either -- income inequality is growing most of the world's rich countries, as the income of the top 10% increases at a faster rate than that of the bottom 10% -- largely driven by changes in the distribution wages and salaries (high status vs low status jobs), though the report notes that inequalities in income from capital have increased even more than inequality in work-income.
posted by jb at 7:50 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


One thing that the regulating ideologues often conveniently forget is that faulty regulation in sectors of the market is at least as harmful as the lack of regulation in other sectors. That was the case in every single market bust.

Regulation isn't inherently a good thing, just like the lack thereof.


Any person pushing for zero regulation is either banking on some kind of market failure to make money or truly believes in the perfectibility of the market. Those pushing for regulation may well be banking on the creation of a market that benefits them, but there's at least the possibility that they're trying to prevent serious market failure.

Unless you're a market fundamentalist, some kind of regulation is an inherently good thing as doing nothing always leads to bad outcomes, while doing something at least holds the possibility of improvement. Good regulation is better than bad, but some regulation is better than none for it establishes the primacy of society over the market. Regulations that fail can be challenged, but zero regulation is a dogma. "What kind of regulation works best" should be the item for debate, not "is a perfect market possible", as the latter is akin to counting how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
posted by Jehan at 7:52 AM on May 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Back to the original question:
Q- Why aren't more people outraged?
A- Because most of us have food on the table, clothes on our back, and a roof over our head. On top of that we have American Idol, Sitcom of the moment, PlayStation, XBox Live, Wii, Netflix, Stargate: SG 3 hrs/day, Food Network, Mutliplex, MetaFilter, Slashdot, etc. Not to mention the other pressing issues: floods, tsunamis, nuclear reactors, terrorism, etc.

I think most people understand that the political and economical system is borked, but we don't have much time to really think about it and get involved (heck, some days I have trouble finding the time for that 3rd cup of coffee). Then factor in how complicated it really all is, no wonder there isn't more outrage - who has time to sit down and figure it all out? Sure, there's a lot of immediate outrage, like when a family member is suffering because of a serious illness and lack of healthcare, or some kid dies of e-coli because the FDA doesn't give a hoot about inspecting meat factories; but to make a real difference, politically speaking, this outrage has to be sustained and somewhat focused (à la Egypt). We are far far away from ever getting to that level. So yeah, the loonies governing us are pro-big-business, anti-social, and narrow-minded; but so what? You, me, and my neighbour still have a giant-screen TV to watch the ball game, a car in the driveway, and a pantry full of food.

[I am talking big generalities here of course]
posted by Vindaloo at 7:55 AM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Jehan: "Good regulation is better than bad, but some regulation is better than none for it establishes the primacy of society over the market."

"Some regulation is better than none" sounds a hell of a lot like "any regulation is better than none". Also, the "primacy of society over the market" is an odd way to put things, because it positions the market as something alien to society, when the two things are pretty much intertwined. The way I see it, the market *is* society and vice-versa.

"Regulations that fail can be challenged, but zero regulation is a dogma."

Government can be an extremely monolithic system, and failed regulation lingers on for generations because they benefit thin slices of society that have disproportional representation in congress, even while screwing everybody else. Sounds familiar? The current US tax code, which is the crux of the discussion in this thread, is, according to the absolute majority of this thread, a failed regulation. How's the challenging of that regulation working out for you?

Zero regulation is indeed a dogma and we don't want that. But that is still preferable than having idiots and psychopaths in government concocting plans just because it's their job to regulate.
posted by falameufilho at 8:27 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I want to anecdotally back up this notion of 'driving up to the mansion'. My sister and her husband are both public teachers in upstate NY (Pembroke NY) and are always just a little cash dribble away from financial disaster. Yet they always, always vote (in my perception) against their own financial interests because they imagine that they will come into
some money someday. It's entirely irrational and absolutely ingrained.
posted by newdaddy at 9:29 AM on May 11, 2011


"The current US tax code, which is the crux of the discussion in this thread, is, according to the absolute majority of this thread, a failed regulation. How's the challenging of that regulation working out for you? "

You realize that this isn't the game-winner point that you think it is, right? Because the easy answer is that the current US tax code is working a hell of a lot better than no taxes on anyone at all. Ergo, some regulation is better than no regulation, but the best is the right regulation.

"But that is still preferable than having idiots and psychopaths in government concocting plans just because it's their job to regulate."

Yeah, that's such a fair and balanced description of regulation that I'm surprised you don't work for Fox.
posted by klangklangston at 9:46 AM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


The recent economic meltdown -- which was directly related to the relaxing of regulation -- is preferrable to the 30 years of relative stability the world enjoyed under a strong regulatory regime in the mid-twentieth century?

It is NOT preferrable to me, nor to the billions of other people on the planet who would rather that the occasional banker be annoyed by some red tape than to lose our jobs and starve in the streets. I like eating, and I like knowing that other people (including those on the other side of the world) can also eat. And aren't losing their homes or their retirement savings.

I don't fear the idiots in government; the idiots that threaten me and mine are working for private banks.

(And, as the film Inside job shows, the dangerous government idiots are the ones on the revolving door between government and the private banks).
posted by jb at 9:50 AM on May 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


You know a lot of the problem is that people borrowed too much money. Whether it be for a house or a car, the last 30 years in the anglo-saxon world have been about borrowing money. The finance world and decreasing regulation was complicit in this. Partially because politicians realized letting people borrow more money for material things made them happy, happy people vote for incumbents. The other side effect of this borrowing is that it allowed people to convince themselves their standard of living was increasing, when in reality real wages have been stagnant in the US for what? 35 years or something like that. Maybe slightly negative even for the middle 2/3rds of the distribution. Whats happening now is that that entire house of cards that came with all that leverage has imploded at once - so the middle classes wake up to find out that not only are they massively overlevered, but they aren't any better off today then they were in 1975 - but instead of forcing the changes that the US has needed to make through votes at the ballot box over a period of decades, they've let the top end of the income distribution take control - because hey, why not - I just bought this new toy/house/vacation. The piper has shown up, and we have no idea how to deal with the problem.
posted by JPD at 10:28 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyone who thinks that talking on forums,petitions, bumper stickers, and quietly swaying to "This little star of mine" with the graying Quakers on their village green will cause the top 1% to give up their obscene wealth is dead wrong.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:34 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]



klangklangston: "Because the easy answer is that the current US tax code is working a hell of a lot better than no taxes on anyone at all."

Except I am not the one who thinks the current U.S. tax code is akin to crimes against mankind, or an enabler of mass theft. I think it's somewhat tolerable, which is the best you can expect from a tax code.

"Yeah, that's such a fair and balanced description of regulation that I'm surprised you don't work for Fox."

I apologize. Let me come up with a metaphor for the birth of regulation more in line with your sensibilities.

jb: "The recent economic meltdown -- which was directly related to the relaxing of regulation -- is preferrable to the 30 years of relative stability the world enjoyed under a strong regulatory regime in the mid-twentieth century?"

This is a false dilemma. I agree with you that you can trace the recent economic meltdown to the relaxing of regulation, but the crisis was equally caused by wrongheaded regulation that overheated the real state market by subsidizing mortgages for low-earners, because the Federal government wanted to increase homeownership for the poor. The demand shot up and the need for an increased influx of money to fund these new loans created the market for the now infamous mortgage-based securities.

Your post shows a great concern for the plight of the workers all over the globe, so I ask you that next time you meet someone from China, India or Russia (you've just met someone from Brazil, hi!), please ask them how they felt about those "30 years of relative stability", and how much the "world" "enjoyed" it.
posted by falameufilho at 10:39 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Except I am not the one who thinks the current U.S. tax code is akin to crimes against mankind, or an enabler of mass theft. I think it's somewhat tolerable, which is the best you can expect from a tax code. "

Which you believe was conceived by idiots and psychopaths driven by regulation for regulation's sake? I mean, otherwise, your statement just doesn't follow.

And asserting critiques of the tax code based on the premise that it is not progressive enough should be read as evidence against regulation generally seems either stupid or willfully perverse.

"I apologize. Let me come up with a metaphor for the birth of regulation more in line with your sensibilities."

Defending a stupid mischaracterization you made with a stupid mischaracterization of your interlocutor's assumed biases is, well, stupid.

Perhaps you were confused by my facial hair and thought that I endorse a beard-based authority system?

"This is a false dilemma. I agree with you that you can trace the recent economic meltdown to the relaxing of regulation, but the crisis was equally caused by wrongheaded regulation that overheated the real state market by subsidizing mortgages for low-earners, because the Federal government wanted to increase homeownership for the poor. The demand shot up and the need for an increased influx of money to fund these new loans created the market for the now infamous mortgage-based securities. "

Even if you want to argue this, you are wrong in assigning blame to the regulation, unless you want to argue that markets can't help but do bad (and thus the regulation forced them to take bad risks). But it's weird to assume that it was the regulation that overheated the real estate market, rather than individual actors (and institutional actors). You could argue that the bad regulation was insufficiently constraining, if you wanted to be consistent, but there's little evidence that minimal regulation is a better solution than maximal regulation in your example.

"Your post shows a great concern for the plight of the workers all over the globe, so I ask you that next time you meet someone from China, India or Russia (you've just met someone from Brazil, hi!), please ask them how they felt about those "30 years of relative stability", and how much the "world" "enjoyed" it."

That's both a non sequitor and an odd assertion — Russians very much preferred the market regulation as a whole, and part of Putin's popularity came from fighting back against the oligarchs that benefitted from the rapid deregulation; his authoritarianism was welcomed by the Russian people, whereas Glasnost and Perestroika are still seen as massive failures within Russia. China didn't have 30 years of relative stability in the post-war era, they had The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. But that's rather unrelated to the idea of regulatory balance, and ultimately both India and China are too large and still in the throes of modernization, so making an argument that their regulatory structures are somehow tied to their domestic economies in a generalizable way is pretty absurd.

But since you're from Brazil, you can always ask some Moradores da favela what they think about income disparity.
posted by klangklangston at 11:14 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Klangklangston, you're arguing against a bunch of things I'm not saying. Some of them are perhaps because I didn't make myself clear. Others because you're projecting your hatred of the mouthbreathers from Fox News on me. Relax.

Which you believe was conceived by idiots and psychopaths driven by regulation for regulation's sake? I mean, otherwise, your statement just doesn't follow. "

I don't think everybody in government is an idiot or a psychopath, though I think the percentage there is higher than in the average population (one of the problems of representative democracy is the kind of person it tends to attract). I was initially arguing against the suggestion by someone else that some regulation is always better than no regulation. I don't think that's true at all - because there are idiots and psychopaths making laws, too. Not ALL laws are made by them. But there they are.

"But it's weird to assume that it was the regulation that overheated the real estate market, rather than individual actors (and institutional actors)."

First, read again - I am not assigning blame to bad regulation exclusively. I am saying it was a significant part of the problem. The regulation wasn't "insuficiently constraining", rather it perverted the incentives and created a business opportunity in selling mortgages to poor people who were buying houses with virtually no money down. Lack of regulation created other problems (like banks overreliance on credit default swaps). Both contributed to the meltdown.

"China didn't have 30 years of relative stability in the post-war era, they had The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. "

This is exactly what I'm saying. The world didn't enjoy 30 years of stability. Those 30 years may have been nice for the American middle class, but it was shit for much of the world. Brazil, India, China and Russia were closed, centralized economies with extreme, endemic issues. These economies have gone through an extreme modernization process, which means while they're not anywhere close to the economies of the western world, they have undergone extensive deregulation in several sectors, and that process, associated with the liberalization of the economies and labor in the western markets, brought them prosperity in a scale never seen before. Hundreds of millions of people were brought from below the poverty line and into the middle class. You can argue that the United States' loss was their gain. I don't think that makes a lot of sense, but the fact is that the 30 years of stability she praised weren't that good for a LOT of people in the world. A lot of them will tell you now is better. They can thank the market economy for that. even if their rulers are adopting it only piecemeal, it clearly made a huge fucking difference.

"But since you're from Brazil, you can always ask some Moradores da favela what they think about income disparity."

I never said income disparity was a good thing. I know it's a bad thing. I just know you can't solve it by assuming automatically that rich people are criminals and poor people are victims.
posted by falameufilho at 12:03 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a false dilemma. I agree with you that you can trace the recent economic meltdown to the relaxing of regulation, but the crisis was equally caused by wrongheaded regulation that overheated the real state market by subsidizing mortgages for low-earners, because the Federal government wanted to increase homeownership for the poor.

I have to call bullshit here, and every time someone tries to blame the financial crisis on NINJAs or whatever. While Bush's "Ownership Society" can take a bit of the blame, it was absolutely not the cause, or nearly an equal cause, to the fact that these high-risk low-income mortgages were bundled up into unregulated derivatives, rated AAA by a totally corrupt regulation agency, and then tossed around like hot potatoes. And then for good measure people gambled on credit default swaps on top of that. Yay. Mortgages fail all the time without bringing down the entire global financial system. Because normally all that shit is regulated. The collapse of 2008 was absolutely and totally a regulatory failure, which can be seen by the fact that countries like Canada, despite relaxing mortgage rules in the first decade of the 21st century, held together fine because they insisted that their banks be banks. The USA took some shitty mortgages and built a giant house of cards on them. (And basically that's all their financial sector ever does these days.)
posted by mek at 12:09 PM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]



This is a false dilemma. I agree with you that you can trace the recent economic meltdown to the relaxing of regulation, but the crisis was equally caused by wrongheaded regulation that overheated the real state market by subsidizing mortgages for low-earners, because the Federal government wanted to increase homeownership for the poor. The demand shot up and the need for an increased influx of money to fund these new loans created the market for the now infamous mortgage-based securities.


I have heard no evidence that the subsidising of mortgages for low-earners was a cause, let along "equally contributed" to the over-heating of the market. Those subsidies (in the form of Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae backing up morgage debt) have existed for decades.

What changed were regulations about the amount of money people could borrow and an explosion of the sub-prime market, and also very predatory lending. Actually, there is evidence that many non-white Americans who qualified for stable, vanilla mortgages were steered at a higher rate than white Americans instead towards adjustable rate mortages with later balloon payments - they could afford to buy houses, but were cheated by their lenders.

Homeownership for the poor is still a highly desirable thing - areas with high levels of homeownership have more community cohesion, less crime, and poor people are able to build up equity which can relieve elder poverty. I know most people talk about the educational parts of the WW2 era G.I. Bill, but another big part was the subsidy of mortgages for returning vets - a benefit which, due to discrimination by house sellers, was primarily accessed only by white vets. This has had a huge knock-on effect for wealth differences between white and black Americans - white Americans have so much more wealth because of their houses.

How we increase homeownership among the poor is a good questions. Personally, I'm in favour of either the government or other non-profit bodies building of medium-to-high density low-rise homes, and selling them at cost with non-profit loans. Both increasing the supply and taking the profit out of the loans could reduce the cost of the housing so that it is affordable. Basically the Habitat for Humanity model, but I would change the style of house-building to a high-density, low-rise one, like rowhouses, for other reasons (better for the environment, for public transit, for community cohesion, etc).

on preview: what mek said. I would especially second looking to Canada as your example of a place where there wasn't a financial melt-down, due to the fact that the minority government had not yet succeeded in gutting the regulation of banks.
posted by jb at 12:12 PM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


sorry -- I should clarify -

when I said what changed... I mean, that's what changed to increase the rate of foreclosures.

That these foreclosures led to a global financial meltdown was entirely to do with actions on Wall Street - that is, the securitization of these loans and the fraud perpetuated when they were sold as safe investments.
posted by jb at 12:14 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The 30 years of relative stability were not shared with the developing world, for a large variety of reasons - colonialism, wars, internal strife and politics (in the case of China). China is the country whose 20th century history I know best, but really it's not at issue here as it was economically isolated until the mid-late 1970s - what happened in China is a Chinese, not global story.

But generally, global financial markets were somewhat more stable than they are currently, and living conditions were improving through most of the developing world (until the Oil Crisis, which set off a series of debt crises, etc -- which really can be seen as the shock which upset that relative stability, which upset economic ideological consensus and led to the current wave of deregulation).
posted by jb at 12:20 PM on May 11, 2011


You of course realize that it was the fact that the people selling those loans that also blew up and created the crisis. If it was fraud, it was the dumbest fraud in history.

It was a failure of regulation, but I'm not sure you would have done anything different with respect to securitization. What you would have regulated was the LTV and required documentation.
posted by JPD at 12:29 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


and canada didn't blow up because their economy had been much stronger then the US' on the back of the commoditity boom. Wait until that ends before you start your victory lap.
posted by JPD at 12:30 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


mek: "rated AAA by a totally corrupt regulation agency"

Running out of battery on my laptop so, I'll have to argue this point only. Sorry about that. :-)

I don't think that was malice, that was incompetence. The three major credit rating agencies based the rating on the historic default rate of mortgages, and that data was shit now that people who didn't have a pot to piss in were taking mortgages. "And why didn't the other credit rating agencies blow the wistle?", you may ask. Because back in the seventies the existing ones were basically granted a monopoly by the SEC.

Bad regulation at work. Again. I'm not blaming the financial crisis on ninjas. I know deregulation played a major part. But ignoring the power of bad regulation to cause disaster is at least obtuse.
posted by falameufilho at 12:33 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Big Three definitely screwed the pooch, yes. At this point we are just disagreeing between the degrees of malice and degrees of incompetence. Maybe the Big Three were just so incompetent they thought making their ratings systems transparent so that banks could game AAA ratings for everything was a good idea. If they were intentionally staffed by morons as a backdoor method of regulatory capture, does that count as malice, incompetence, or both? Anyway, the question is academic.

If you want to see more bad regulation in action, again look north to Canada at our CRTC, which manages to be better at ruining the telecommunications industry than the Bell Monopoly ever was.
posted by mek at 12:59 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I read the beginning of this thread, then decided I had to get on with my day, but I've been thinking about it.

I think a major part of the problem is not just that the lower 75% believes that they could become part of the superrich, but that so many people think of themselves as actually rich or well-off. I'm speaking based mostly on my own experience. I consider that I grew up rich. My parents were rich. We had a big house, fancy cars, I went to private school and a good college. My mom retired to a small house on Maui.

I also know what poor means. I've spent my entire professional career working with disadvantaged people, mostly living in pretty extreme poverty. I've spent many hours in their homes, I've held their hands when they're evicted onto the streets cause they couldn't make rent. So I'm deeply aware of all the advantages and privileges I've had in my life, and therefore I don't shirk that I was raised rich.

But my dad was an engineer who made between 100,000 and 200,000 a year and my mom was a nurse who eventually became a professor. That's light-years from the kind of wealth we're talking about here.

And I know plenty of people in the $50,000-60,000 range who would consider themselves (rightfully) very fortunate and well-off. Because myself and others compare ourselves to the people on the streets or someone trying to support multiple children on minimum wage and say, "I'm pretty rich." And both left-wing liberals and conservative religious figures encourage this way of thinking.

So when talking heads talk about increasing taxes on people who can afford it, I think a lot of people say, "That's me." Or that could easily be me. They don't realize how profound the gap really is and how megarich "rich" can be. And all the numbers don't really penetrate, because most of us don't really understand math all that well. We certainly don't feel the numbers on an emotional level. And we don't see those superrich living next door or showing up for community events or such, so they don't feel real. If we were all working as servants in their mansions, then I would expect the outrage would be there.
posted by threeturtles at 2:40 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


threeturtles: "And we don't see those superrich living next door or showing up for community events or such, so they don't feel real. If we were all working as servants in their mansions, then I would expect the outrage would be there.

I just moved back to Bar Harbor, Maine, which has hulking great four-story mansions on its outskirts. I was walking down the street the other day and heard someone say "We're going to sail our catamaran down to Belize". Meanwhile, young people are cramming twelve people into an apartment meant for three, because the rent is so goddamned high.
Down on Deer Isle, you have houses with fucking car elevators right down the road from people living in a camper trailer because the roof on their house has caved in. It's like they're invisible to us, and we're invisible to them.

Nobody points out the obvious, nobody speaks their mind to their faces, because they're afraid that if they do, the naked emperor's going to stop sending them their crappy paycheck they get for pretending to be their happy, content servant, and they'll starve.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:55 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


...MORE DETAILS TO FOLLOW

Why in the world would they, who already collectively control the course of society, permit some man who they helped elect to take their wealth? There are always more people who want to be president and would be happy to play along.


Just the other day I was just reading a slim readable paperback, The American Presidency by Gore Vidal. He says some interesting and funny things in it. Some of the things he says might seem obvious to some, but I myself would have loved to read it when I was younger. He kinda sums things up for us.
posted by ovvl at 4:50 PM on May 11, 2011


Management of financial institutions made the crappy loans because it allowed them to get bonuses, despite long term consequences. This is called control fraud. Financial institutions making the loans failed, but in the process they booked profits, which materialized before the loans failed.

Management tied their bonuses to profits-- as soon as the profits materialized, the bonuses went into the pockets of the executives. But when the loans did fail in huge numbers, and the companies that made them went insolvent, the execs mostly kept the bonuses. For more on this, look up "Bill Black" and "control fraud."
posted by wuwei at 11:26 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just got back to this thread after a day away from the computer and all I can respond with is "What falameufilho said" because he articulated it much better than I ever could. :D
posted by Jacqueline at 1:47 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


just because i like the succinct summation of stats:
America's income inequality is worse than that in places like Pakistan and Ethoipia and roughly equivalent to that in Uganda and the Ivory Coast. Before its revolution, Egypt's income inequality — which played a role in sparking the uprising against former President Mubarak's regime — was actually better than that in the U.S.

This is some dubious company. And as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted today, America has the worst income inequality amongst 24 nations in the the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development...

Income inequality in the U.S. is currently the worst its been since the 1920s. Just the richest 400 Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of Americans combined, and the richest 10 percent of Americans control two-thirds of the country’s net worth. Currently, the top one percent of households make nearly 25 percent of the total income in the country, after they made less than 10 percent in the 1970s. Between 1980 and 2005, "more than 80 percent of total increase in Americans’ income went to the top 1 percent."

One of the manifestations of this inequality is hedge fund managers making as much in two minutes as Navy SEALs make in a year. Yet, Republicans in Congress are still content to whine about the unfairness of returning tax rates on the wealthy to the level at which they were under President Bill Clinton. And of course they consider new tax brackets for millionaires — like those proposed by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — to be entirely out of the question.
as for the 'what is to be done?' aspect, i do think the configuration of finance matters a lot:
I used to think that the right strategy was to muddle through in a context created by sophisticated financial markets. Human beings, as individuals and as policymakers, have limited information and are prone to flawed choices. Markets aggregate the information and foresight of millions... I think that this view, once my view, is now completely discredited...

The instruments we trade hide information and prevent adjustments as frequently as they reveal and promote them... Our financial institutions are best understood as means by which certain groups within our society protect and perpetuate themselves, and as mechanisms by which covert prerequisites of stability are maintained. Of course markets were never going to be perfect — no human institution is. But existing market institutions have fallen in my estimation from 'good enough, the best we've got' to 'incompetent and hopelessly corrupt' ... accepting muddling as a default position is unsatisfactory. It becomes a means of drifting towards hazards unknown and an excuse for attending to the interests of the powerful. The alternative of bold, flawed, improvisations is also unattractive. The choice between moldy bread and rancid stew is best made on a case-by-case basis...
so it's complicated, but that just means having a better understanding of the economy and in this regard modern monetary theory offers some insights, esp wrt taxation tax expenditures and employment.
posted by kliuless at 4:11 AM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


JPD wrote: You of course realize that it was the fact that the people selling those loans that also blew up and created the crisis. If it was fraud, it was the dumbest fraud in history.

Yeah, it was pretty dumb how one department would package up shit and sell it to everybody else followed by another department selling CDS on the shit or even buying the shit directly, but that's exactly what happened. It doesn't even seem terribly stupid if one believes home prices will always increase or at least remain stable.

In that scenario, the AAA ratings wouldn't have been completely misplaced. The problem was a combination of two things: The banks intentionally lending money to people who shouldn't have been lent money and packaging the worst of the worst into a CDO and claiming it was randomly selected.

I haven't looked recently, but even most subprime hadn't seen 20% of all the loans go bad as of late last year. However, when you deliberately pack the CDO with the worst rather than a random selection of subprime MBS, you increase the risk of default to near unity while claiming that the risk is the usual subprime risk. (pretty hard to get to zero in normal economic times when you're investing in a bunch of 'em at once..the usual default rate is "only" about 20% and the usual recovery on a default is more than zero) The theory is actually not a terrible one (it's pretty much equivalent to what insurance companies do). The fraudulent practice, on the other hand, was/is a completely different story.

It's somewhat akin to building houses with flash paper and claiming they're built of brick for insurance purposes. With half the houses in the country.
posted by wierdo at 7:48 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jacqueline: So instead of bitching about the outliers out beyond the far right end of the bell curve, we should instead focus on establishing a baseline standard of living that is relative to the median. The real problem isn't that some people are "too rich" relative to the rest of the society, it's that some people are still too poor.

Thanks for taking the time to articulate this point of view clearly. I have to say that I disagree strongly, though.

The sheer amount of wealth at the top insulates the rich from the rest of society. The Koch brothers aren't going to be affected no matter how bad things get. Why should they care about the level of unemployment, or the state of public education, or the affordability of health care?

Why does this matter? Think of being a passenger on a plane, coming in for a landing. You know that the pilot's going to be paying attention: if the plane crashes, he's going to die too. But if the rich are insulated from the rest of the society, it's as if the pilot's not even on the plane--he's on the ground somewhere, flying the plane remotely. If he's goofing off instead of flying the plane, and the plane crashes, okay, he's failed--but it's like the CEOs whose banks failed. They don't go bankrupt; they've got hundreds of millions.

If rich people are rich enough to set up their own private institutions, and if they believe that taxation is theft, then they're going to have a strong incentive to starve public institutions.

You mentioned food, clothing, housing, but not education and health care. Take a look at The Two-Income Trap (2003), by Warren and Tyagi, which discusses bankruptcy statistics and the recent rise in bankruptcies. Turns out that most people in the US who go bankrupt are suburban middle-class parents, trying to live close to the good schools.

In a more equal society, where everyone (rich and poor) goes to public schools and uses the public health care system, rich people have a strong incentive to make sure there's enough funding for public education and public health care. (This is more or less the situation in Canada; we do have private schools, but most people attend public school.)

So what's the answer?

Increasing the progressiveness of the US tax system would be helpful, but I think the real problem is basing CEO compensation on share prices rather than business results. A $1 million base salary with a $1 million bonus contingent on business results may be grandiose, but it pales in comparison to a $1 million base salary plus $100 million in stock options. And this kind of compensation structure gives CEOs a strong incentive to take excessive risks. If they win, they win big; if they lose, they still receive their base salary. The recent disasters in the US financial sector, destroying century-old banks, provide striking illustrations of bankers taking on excessive risks.
posted by russilwvong at 9:37 AM on May 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


As someone who has been forced to perceive himself as being on the "left", it's not like I feel that there are minor areas of disagreement between me and the Democratic Party - it's that I feel that we are on diametrically opposite sides on all the important issues of our day.

I feel the same way - like I'm on one side of the checkers board, and the Democrats are on the other. And the Republicans are trying to set the board on fire, after having killed my family.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:35 AM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Roger Ebert writes what many of us are thinking.

Not me. Now, if he were saying we should burn down the houses of this one percent with combustible lemons...
posted by ego at 1:13 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


One thing that I think would really help is a progressive consumption tax. If a rich person lives very frugally and invests their money in a business that supplies jobs, we'd be foolish to take that money away and spend it on blowing shit up in Iraq and Libya. The people we want to tax are the ones who spend indulgently and distort our economy towards extravagances. If you want a Rolex, you should have to pay for five poor people to get health insurance or an education. A progressive VAT would do just this: incentivize investment and discourage lavish spending.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:48 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea: Who decides what's extravagant? A $20 meal? A $30 meal? An iPod? What if you're employed by a business that produces these "extravagant" things? This is exactly the kind of economy-distorting policy that superficially seems like a good idea, but leads to bad outcomes.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 2:47 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


esprit de l'escalier: The Economist explains.
posted by russilwvong at 2:55 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


russilwvong: very interesting. I like this part:

"Should a recession occur, a temporary cut in consumption taxes would provide a much more powerful stimulus than the traditional temporary cut in income taxes."

Wouldn't you just be able to go to another country to spend your money though?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:20 PM on May 12, 2011


No, what Robert Frank is proposing isn't a point-of-sale tax--you would report your total consumption (income minus savings) at the end of the year, and the consumption tax would be based on that. So it wouldn't matter if you were spending money inside the country or outside.

The US is unusual in not having a national sales tax. Frank's proposal--a consumption tax, but one that's administered like an income tax--is an interesting idea, especially as the US tries to figure out how to balance its budget.
posted by russilwvong at 4:24 PM on May 12, 2011


If you're doing this with your income taxes, then this is kind of like making "non-consumption-taxable items" income tax deductible?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:46 PM on May 12, 2011


I guess you could contrapose it that way, though that misses the increased tax rate that results, not to mention the intended incentive effects. It might not reduce paper inequality very much, but it would tend to reduce practical inequalities. In some versions, a progressive consumption tax can also widen the tax base, though I prefer to pair it with a guaranteed basic income to reverse those effects.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:46 PM on May 12, 2011


The problem with that sort of talk is that once the "compromise" is passed, it'll be a plain national sales tax with a prebate.
posted by wierdo at 8:25 PM on May 12, 2011


10 CEOs who got rich by squeezing their workers.
posted by cashman at 10:05 AM on May 13, 2011


Inequality T-Shirt.
posted by cashman at 11:34 AM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


"The adjusted gross income of the wealthiest 400 taxpayers jumped 277 percent in real terms between 1992 and 2008, nearly four times the increase for everyone else. Over that same period, the effective tax rate on the richest 400 taxpayers (note: not necessarily the same people year-to-year) fell from 30 percent in 1995 to the 18 percent rate in 2008"

Effective tax rates for 400 richest taxpayers 1992-2008.
posted by shothotbot at 7:20 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The $2.5 Trillion Tragedy: What America Has Given Up For 10 Years Of Bush Tax Cuts
posted by homunculus at 9:30 AM on June 7, 2011


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