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DEAR AMERICA: You Should Be Mad As Hell About This
June 7, 2012 2:34 AM   Subscribe

DEAR AMERICA: You Should Be Mad As Hell About This. Here is a helpful series of excellent visual aids that shed light on the state of our current American socioeconomy.
posted by Vibrissae (76 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting, but I have to admit I stopped scrolling about graph number 2,300 or so.

Please know that I'm on the bottom line of most of these graphs, if you know what I mean, I'm certainly not a supporter of "rich get richer" or a member of the corporate elite, but even I found myself saying thinking "hmmmm.... a little slanted here". The photos were an emotional distraction and the wording was not at all balanced.

For example, the title above one graph stated "Commercial loans are still below their peak.", yep, that was true according to the graph, but the chart showed a significant recent increase that was worth noting.

Bottom line for me, if you want to argue with truth an honest, leave the clever emotional photos at home and balance the words.

All that said, my radical wife is going to eat this stuff up!
posted by HuronBob at 2:48 AM on June 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


HuronBob: this seems like a lot of vague doubts on your part and nothing specific at all.

For example, I thought that "Commercial loans are still below their peak" was a very fair caption for a graph that showed, well, precisely that.

"Still below their peak" definitely implies 1. there was a peak 2. there was a fall 3. there has been a recovery but not back to the peak.

Overall these graphs paint an appalling picture - where an increasing share of the prosperity of the United States has been captured by a tiny group of people who don't actually seem to be producing much if any positive value overall. Quibbling about captions - particularly captions that are factually accurate - is ignoring the actual meat of the article.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:56 AM on June 7, 2012 [21 favorites]


CEOs get a record 350x the average worker's salary, you say?
But they earned it! After all, on the previous slide you just told us that corporate profits are at an all-time high. The system works!

Average hourly earnings haven't increased in 50 years?
And why should they with all those unemployed people looking for a job?

I hope you can tell that I am just slightly cynical...
posted by sour cream at 3:07 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


The problem in a nutshell is this: In the never-ending tug-of-war between "labor" and "capital," there has rarely—if ever—been a time when "capital" was so clearly winning.

And yet "capital" seems intent on replacing President Obama in the middle the no-hitter he's been pitching for them.
posted by three blind mice at 3:16 AM on June 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


Average hourly earnings haven't increased in 50 years?
And why should they with all those unemployed people looking for a job?


Capitalism at work! Love it or leave it!
posted by j03 at 3:17 AM on June 7, 2012


And yet "capital" seems intent on replacing President Obama in the middle the no-hitter he's been pitching for them.

There's no reason to suppose that Romney wouldn't be doing much the same thing for them.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:20 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


In November, Americans will have a chance to speak their minds.
And there's one thing everyone should agree on:
America just isn't working right now.
Too bad there is no one we can vote for who will do anything about it. Obama has been way to timid and the policies that Romney is promoting would be actively harmful (cutting spending and so on, when what we need is stimulus)

So basically, we are fucked, and there is no way the November election can unfuck us.

And how could it? The people funding the candidates are the same ones who caused the problems in the first place.
posted by delmoi at 3:20 AM on June 7, 2012 [34 favorites]


nixerman...Calling me "ignorant" and throwing out the "people like you" phrase, really isn't really necessary. I wasn't refuting the facts, the dire situation or the truth of the graphs. My comment was only about the presentation style.

Lupis, point taken, perhaps that caption was more accurate than I first perceived it to be.
posted by HuronBob at 3:22 AM on June 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


"After adjusting for inflation, average hourly earnings haven't increased in 50 years."

but wait. isn't that to be expected pretty much? It seems that this actually must be relatively constant. Income should basically track the Cost of Living. The Cost of Living should be relatively flat after adjusting for inflation.

Or Is there expected to be some additional surplus that we are paid due to efficency gains?
posted by mary8nne at 3:23 AM on June 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


mary8nne is right.

Everyone of these graphs is a perfectly normal result of an unfettered capitalist system.

That's just the invisible hand of the market... bending you over and probing every nook and cranny for loose change. It's the American Way!
posted by j03 at 3:29 AM on June 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


For example, I thought that "Commercial loans are still below their peak" was a very fair caption for a graph that showed, well, precisely that.

"Still below their peak" definitely implies 1. there was a peak 2. there was a fall 3. there has been a recovery but not back to the peak.
That's actually kind of complicated. The peak was in the middle of the mortgage bubble when obviously lending was way to free in general. So for a healthy economy, we should probably have a lower overall lending rate in the long term. I don't think those loans are for mortgages, but rather for companies in general, which employ people. (although obviously some of them will be for real estate companies)

However, Nixerman makes a good point:
After the extraordinary give-away to the banks (roughly trillions summoned out of thin air) you shouldn't actually expect loans to be anywhere close to where they are now.
Right, the whole point of the bailout was to keep commercial lending high, so that companies (including small business) could borrow money to keep paying salary and make investments during the recession.
And yet "capital" seems intent on replacing President Obama in the middle the no-hitter he's been pitching for them.
They are upset because he's saying mean things about them. Of course it seems like overly polite barely noticeable criticism from the outside, but these are guys who expect everyone else to get down on their knees and worship them because they're "Job Creators" and they think they are the dynamic heart of the nations economy. And Obama is, like calling them the liver or pancreas instead, when actually they are more like a tapeworm, sitting in the gut siphoning off as much of the economy's nutrients as possible.
posted by delmoi at 3:31 AM on June 7, 2012 [16 favorites]


The funny part is where after the last slide, Business Insider says that the problem is that the peasants dug themselves into debt, and the state has to stop giving them things.

This is basically the end cycle of Occupy, where its rhetoric is used to perpetuate the problems that caused Occupy. So fuck all this.
posted by mobunited at 3:33 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


They are upset because he's saying mean things about them.

Upset? I thought that was the con. Obama talks tough, but does the exact opposite of pretty much everything he says. He and his supporters still calls his tax cuts "the Bush tax cuts" when it is Obama who signed the extension.
posted by three blind mice at 3:43 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I got stuck on the first sentence: In November, Americans will have a chance to speak their minds.

Really? There's a non-conservative in the running?
posted by DU at 4:04 AM on June 7, 2012 [11 favorites]


I don't have anything to add except a note from games theory and system analytics: that if one cannot change a system within the rules, especially when the benefactors of the current system get to write the rulebook, then the system must be changed outside the rules.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:04 AM on June 7, 2012 [10 favorites]


> "After adjusting for inflation, average hourly earnings haven't increased in 50 years."
> but wait. isn't that to be expected pretty much?

Well - not really.

For one thing, "inflation" as generally measured distorts the cost of housing - so some but not all of the recent run-ups in housing prices are not reflected; medical costs are similarly only partially represented; as far as I know, the cost of education isn't included at all.

There's the additional confounding factor of "substitution" - this is a deliberate trick introduced around the time of Mr. Clinton's administration where you gradually replace expensive items with cheap items in the market basket that represents "the price". You don't see a big gap in the graph because they phase in the change linearly over many years.

The result is that 50 years ago, an autoworker could support a non-working wife, buy a house, and send his kids to university. Now you'd need both parents working to achieve the same result - even though each of them is making in inflation-adjusted dollars about what the single working parent was 50 years ago.

Hourly wages isn't a good measure, either. There are a lot of people "underemployed" - that is, working too few hours to actually make ends meet. This saves their companies benefits, and results in the workers being in effect "poor", even though they might be making more money per hour.

And finally, the "average" isn't really a very good measure for wages. I didn't make "any" money last year (don't worry, it was deliberate and I have savings) - but put me in a room with Bill Gates and on the average we both made billions.

The average has been deeply distorted by the fact that a small number of people make far more compared to "the guy in the middle" than ever before.

A better measure would be the median earnings per person (not per hour). I just ran out of time to research this, but that would be the direction to go to get more believable numbers.

The productivity of the average worker has increased dramatically in those same 50 years. A big part of this is due to technology, but a big part of this has come from longer hours and a more highly-trained work force - better workers, in short! - and nearly all of the profits from this increased productivity have gone to the 1%.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:24 AM on June 7, 2012 [51 favorites]


Eat the rich!
posted by crunchland at 4:31 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just want to say that so far I generally like this discussion, and hope it keeps on being mostly skeptical and informative, instead of stupid and insulting, so that when I read it tonight after work I will be smarter instead of just more cynical.
posted by mediareport at 4:32 AM on June 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


> "After adjusting for inflation, average hourly earnings haven't increased in 50 years."
> but wait. isn't that to be expected pretty much?

Yes, and that's why we all live in mud huts.

No, wait, inflation is the increase in price for a specific quantity of goods, while productivity increases allow us to produce a larger quantity of goods per unit of labour. This should, and historically did, give us increases in real (ie: adjusted for inflation) income.
posted by pompomtom at 4:46 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree with HuronBob on the presentation style - I would love to share this with some of my conservative friends and maybe start a real conversation. But I scrolled down with growing unease over the style... and when I got to the picture of the famous factor portraying a fictional wall street villain smoking a big cigar, I knew I would lose them there if not sooner.

Too bad, because I think they'd actually analyze the content if it weren't for the spammy-email presentation style which makes it seem less trustworthy.

I'll share it anyway, but it will have to be with an apology for the style. Or I may just paste the facts and charts into an email, and link to the second part of the article, "...and here's how to fix it."
posted by evilmomlady at 4:51 AM on June 7, 2012


Americans are not angry about this, and they are not going to get angry about it either.
Americans are at the mall, in the food court, enjoying a cinnabun.

Elections can be bought with sound-bites. And the elections are for sale.

Wisconsin voters just showed us the truth of it all. Americans will sell out their neighbors pension,
before they ever make the corporate overlords pay a penny.

Bread and games, the American population is happy.
posted by Flood at 4:55 AM on June 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Fixed link on how to fix the economy
posted by DU at 4:59 AM on June 7, 2012


who cares? i mean, rich or poor, dead is dead amirite?
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:09 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


America is mad as hell about this. The issue isn't having the will to enact change, it's having the ability to do so - and you just can't fight enormous wealth, endemic corruption and a thoroughly broken media & political process that has been cleverly engineered to divert that anger and hate to the other side of the divide. At this point, the only way anything will change is a huge popular uprising. Good luck doing that in a country with a militarised and authoritarian police force though.
posted by a debt owed at 5:09 AM on June 7, 2012 [16 favorites]


People who can read a graph are not the people who need to understand this message.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:14 AM on June 7, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm normally not a fan of Blodget, but this was pretty good.

As for Obama, what we've seen is the result of:

1) Using a lot of Clinton's economic team in his administration (You remember Clinton? Signed the legislation eliminating Glass-Steagall and lowering capital gains taxes?)
2) The GOP effectively controlling Congress

Nevertheless ... do you really think Romney won't be much worse? Really? With the GOP controlling the House and possibly the Senate? *shakes head*
posted by pmurray63 at 5:18 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I live in Wisconsin, I'm already mad as hell.
posted by desjardins at 5:31 AM on June 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


When you include people working part-time who want to work full-time, plus some people who haven't looked for a job in a while, unemployment's at 15%.

15%

How anyone can be sanguine about the Democrats' chances in November in the face of a number like that is beyond me.
posted by Trurl at 5:33 AM on June 7, 2012


Great charts! And then I get to page 2, and find out the problem is consumer debt? How does one get that the root cause of massive inequality, unemployment, stagnant wages, etc., is consumer debt? When us regular folk knuckle down and pay off all our debts, then will CEO salaries go down and wages go up? Will the concentration of wealth in a smaller and smaller portion of society end? Does this make some sense that I'm not seeing?
posted by Mavri at 5:37 AM on June 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


DON'T YOU TELL ME WHAT TO BE MAD ABOUT!!!
posted by orme at 5:43 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


The link by DU on fixing the economy at least makes a somewhat coherent explanation of the real cause of the ongoing depression, which I would typify as stemming from the ongoing credit expansion based on Ponzi economics of the government and wealthy elites in the banks and Wall Street. By dumping unbacked credit into the economy our buying power is continually reduced while being boned by the corrupt and illegal actions of the banks. Then the article devolves into a middle ground fix approach where the US installs a long term budget deficit reduction path that gently puts us back into economic growth. Unfortunately the exponential growth in debt leaves the US no time at all to get the budget back in balance. The 8% yearly growth in Medicare expenditures alone will detonate the budget in 7 years. The longer we wait, the worse the correction must be. If we wait until the markets force a correction, our Greek moment will have arrived. The political parties are absolutely in the pocket of these corrupt players. There has yet to be any acknowledgement of the facts on the ground by any major political figure, much less the Tea Party congresspeople who sold out the moment they took office.
posted by diode at 5:48 AM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


There are three issues here:

1. The problem.
2. The cause of the problem.
3. The solution to the cause of the problem.

Reading through these graphs, I was heartened to think "at least we agree on the problem".

But Blodget doesn't do a great job identifying the cause(s). (as, on preview, Mavri says) Consumer debt was a patch that fixed the problem for a while but did little to address the cause. Getting rid of that debt will have to be a part of the solution but it will not be THE solution. The dysfunctional loan-making on the part of the banks is also a problem but as whoever said, you can't push on a string.

A question for evilmomlady and those of you who think the presentation style is overboard: do you think framing it as labor versus capital will gain any traction? Are those concepts simply too steeped in marxism?

A lot of those graphs, by the way, are from Pikety and Saez and are all available in glorious Excel format straight from the source. If you want to understand inequality in the USA, there is no better place to look.
posted by ropeladder at 5:51 AM on June 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


How anyone can be sanguine about the Democrats' chances in November in the face of a number like that is beyond me.

It is apparent to me that the Democrats will succeed. Their political machine is fast, and their support deceptively high. Obama's oversight of the economy has caused and will cause their base to go off.

Just as I am sure that support for the Occupy movement will weather. The terrible forces arrayed against their quantum leap efforts has brought the sanction of the masses. I only hope this discussion will not be tabled.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:00 AM on June 7, 2012


So, um...how do you get into that 1% exactly?
posted by miyabo at 6:05 AM on June 7, 2012


do you think framing it as labor versus capital will gain any traction? Are those concepts simply too steeped in marxism?


I think the point I was trying to make is this: does it really need to be "framed" at all. Glorious data becomes suspect when it is framed in any manner. Let it speak for itself.
posted by HuronBob at 6:09 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think much of America is mad about all of this.
Unfortunately, a sizable, highly-vocal and energized portion of them seem to be pushing candidates and policies that will only work to shove even more wealth toward the top, while demonizing policies that might actually help the middle and lower classes, all in the name of "restoring America". It's mind-boggling.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:19 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I agree with HuronBob on the presentation style - I would love to share this with some of my conservative friends and maybe start a real conversation. But I scrolled down with growing unease over the style... and when I got to the picture of the famous factor portraying a fictional wall street villain smoking a big cigar, I knew I would lose them there if not sooner.

Yep, I agree with this. Who's the target market for this article? If it's actually people with some knowledge and interest in the subject, then don't insult their intelligence with a picture of Gordon Gecko.
posted by bquarters at 6:23 AM on June 7, 2012


...income inequality has gotten so extreme here that the US now ranks 93rd in the world in "income equality." China's ahead of us. So is India. So is Iran.
If only one of the candidates would make a kind of "missile gap" issue out of this. If only we had a candidate who could even conceive of it mattering.

Americans are not angry about this, and they are not going to get angry about it either.
Americans are at the mall, in the food court, enjoying a cinnabun.


Americans are either spending all their time working at a job they are afraid to lose (and getting to and from it), or standing in line at the unemployment, or some other line to try and get enough assistance to feed their families. I would prefer that your baseless generalization were true, but I'm afraid mine is closer to reality.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:33 AM on June 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


CEOs get a record 350x the average worker's salary, you say?
But they earned it! After all, on the previous slide you just told us that corporate profits are at an all-time high. The system works!


I think this comment nicely frames the perspective driving the numbers. Notice who is given all of the credit here for those profits. Didn't the workers who labored to make those widgets down on the line contribute to those profits in a meaningful way? Don't THEY deserve some of the spoils? Evidently not. Let them eat cake.

You remember Clinton? Signed the legislation eliminating Glass-Steagall and lowering capital gains taxes?

yes...I remember....and he makes my skin crawl every time I see him wag his dirty little finger at me while lecturing about what got us into this economic mess on the campaign trail as Obama's surrogate. The same dirty little finger he used to pass the pen to Phil Gramm after signing away that sensible regulation. Nice example of bipartisan cooperation.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 6:34 AM on June 7, 2012


There are three parts here:

The intro is a call to Protestant-Northern-European rules-based morality and values. I could pick it apart, but that might be a bit of a derail.

The second part show what's wrong. It's pretty good, I don't have a lot to argue with here, with the disclaimer that I've only had a chance to glance at it.

The third part sounds like a standard centrist, middle-of-the-road basket of solutions. After the excitement of Part 2, Part 3 left me going 'huh? that's it?'. Again, deserves a closer look.

Any of those three could spark an interesting discussion.
posted by gimonca at 6:44 AM on June 7, 2012


So, we want bread? Let us eat cake!
posted by localroger at 7:02 AM on June 7, 2012


Americans are not angry about this, and they are not going to get angry about it either. Americans are at the mall, in the food court, enjoying a cinnabun.

Ha! Speak for yourself. Our mall is in bankruptcy and is nearly vacant.

The problem is not just that incomes in the middle tier, inflation-adjusted, have stayed flat. (though in reality, they haven't for all of the reasons others mentioned up-thread; they've actually declined for all practical purposes).

The problem is that, at the same time, even adjusted for inflation, the top earners takings have ballooned in comparison to the other income strata, and the result has been to artificially inflate the prices of the kinds of higher-end goods and real property the wealthy buy and invest in--houses, cars, etc.--well beyond what the rest of the market, which hasn't seen its real income increase in the meantime, can possibly sustain. The only way people in the middle and below can keep pace with the distorting effects of that massive wealth bubble that Trickle Down and Save the Rich tax policies have created is to borrow money, and so, we've got these easy credit policies at the Fed to make sure we've got plenty of economic bandaging available--not to stop the hemorrhaging, but only to slow it down and cover up the problem.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:05 AM on June 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


Americans are at the mall, in the food court, enjoying a cinnabun.

These are the people who are visible to you. There are vast swaths that can't afford to go to the mall and for whom a Cinnabon would be a really special treat. Those people might be outraged* but we don't know it because they're not the ones the media talk to. The media have a vested interest in pretending everything's okay and people aren't upset. There are apathetic people to be sure, but the charts make it abundantly clear that the middle class is shrinking, so I don't understand why people make the gross generalizations that "Americans" are all just too fat, lazy, and stupid to care.

* Frankly if I'm poor and my kids are hungry, I'm probably too worn down to care about anything past paying the rent.
posted by desjardins at 7:16 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unions and Shared Prosperity
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:22 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are real gains in efficiency from which everyone should benefit, but that'll only happen with a basic income^.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:25 AM on June 7, 2012


Eat the rich!

They'll probably taste like something between veal and foie gras but we will never know because there is not nearly enough to go around.
posted by srboisvert at 7:28 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is much of this I agree with, like CEO pay, banks hoarding their cash, and the current unemployment problem. But at the same time, there's no recognition that the overall standard of living has increased majorly in the last several decades. And even the bottom 5% in the USA (as an aggregate number) live better than the top 5% in India. And the "corporate profits" may benefit CEOs with stock grants, but they also largely support pension funds, 401ks, and other savings means that large swaths of the middle class hold.

Once a week, I volunteer for a shift at a food pantry near my house. It can be a sobering experience but sometimes it can be unexpectedly reassuring too. Many of these kids are first generation Americans, and they will have access to a high-quality public school in the community. While their parents struggle to understand English they translate effortlessly. Many of the people that come through have smartphones on their hip (or in their hands), and have working cars. A number of them are overweight, which of course brings up a host of other issues, but still: people that are struggling enough that they need to come through the food pantry are unhealthy not because they have too little to eat but because they have too much.

None of that is to say that there aren't systemic problems or we shouldn't work to make them better. It's just a good thing to think about.
posted by AgentRocket at 7:35 AM on June 7, 2012


I believe summaries like this one are misleading because they point to economic theories as the cause and solution to a nation's problem. The real problem is that total wealth is increasing only on axes that are accessible to a few people:
- Globalization makes most work flow to the cheapest labor
- To be a CEO/VP you need prior experience
- As most growth is in areas with cheapest labor this is also where there will be more chance of social mobility
- The countries that are growing the most are more corrupt
- Therefore increasingly, CEOs and VPs have to be hired from the aristocracy because nobody else has relevant experience(even if it is by osmosis from daddy and mommy) and someone from overseas may have questionable ethics

By ethics I mean: ability to grow a business by selling things not bribing officials. There is lobbying in the non-growth world but it is not anti competitive, and the rule of law still stands.

Solution:
1. Stop pricing people out of education
2. Accept that businesses must die, but create an environment where starting new ones is feasible (simplify regulation, slow bailouts)
3. Better regulate consumer debt
4. Reduce government debt
posted by niccolo at 8:28 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


These are the people who are visible to you. There are vast swaths that can't afford to go to the mall and for whom a Cinnabon would be a really special treat.

I've had Cinnabon about 2-3 times in my life. (Okay, for the first 30 years, it was because it was too expensive; now that I have a (small) disposable income, I'm also older and worried about my health.)

But I did work for a time where I had to walk past a Cinnabon every single day to and from work. It was torture.
posted by jb at 8:34 AM on June 7, 2012


Getting angry is not my problem. Not being made sick by my anger (mentally, and physically by the stress caused by the mental) is. The anger is everywhere. If things remain about who can harness anger most effectively we're lost (POSSIBLE SPOILER FOR 21st CENTURY MY BAD).

The problem with all his solutions and most all of the solutions I hear anywhere is that they boil down to "we gotta convince people to do it like THIS". We argue endlessly over the details of what the THIS is. Gosh we can argue about that all day long.

But the harder problem seems to me to be figuring out who WE are and how we ever agree on whatever the THIS is and how we then actually convince/force/trick THEM to go along. At the end of the day there is no cohesive or effective "we" and running things gets done by Same As the Old Boss. I don't know what the hell to do about that so I guess I'm part of the problem I'm complaining about. I wish I knew who was discussing actual pragmatic solutions to it.
posted by nanojath at 8:57 AM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


A bazillion graphs and pictures of Gordon Gekko, and not a single word on how Americans (especially those in the middle and lower class) are being taught and told think not of people in their situation or worse, or not even of other people in general, but entirely on how to make themselves superior than those around them. That's the greatest failing here, and quite honestly the anger over who's doing better than who is a distraction.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:04 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


And even the bottom 5% in the USA (as an aggregate number) live better than the top 5% in India.

No they do not. Despite its claim to be "adjusted for the cost of living," this is simply impossible. There are large costs which are optional in other economies which are not optional in the US.

For example, having a car is an option in most of the world, but lacking a car is a great hardship in most of the US where that limits both your work and purchasing options. I am 100% sure that whoever drew that graph did not factor that in.

Similarly, in most of the world you can erect a humble dwelling on an unused bit of land and get away with it, improving it into a more comfortable shack and then a house as opportunity permits. That is not allowed in the US, where such rudimentary structures are illegal even on the most rural farmland, much less in cities. There are reasons for this but it amounts to a hardship Indians do not face; there is no middle ground in the US between a cardboard box under a bridge and a structure that cost either you or your landlord at least several tens of thousands of dollars to build.

And medicine and healthcare are vastly more expensive in the US; I'm sure that cost of living index doesn't reflect USD$40 / month + prescription checkups for birth control in the US versus USD $2.50 OTC in, say, Mexico for the exact same pills.

In places where most people are poor there are adaptive mechanisms which go far beyond the cost of a loaf of bread which simply do not exist in the US, and in the US there are mechanisms of literal cruelty put in place to crush the poor that do not exist in those other places.
posted by localroger at 9:06 AM on June 7, 2012 [11 favorites]


Sorry, I'm only mildly discontented. I've got Netflix.
posted by Fister Roboto at 9:18 AM on June 7, 2012


replacing President Obama in the middle the no-hitter he's been pitching for them

President Obama doesn't control the purse strings. The finger is properly pointed squarely at the majority in the House (and also at the filibustering minority in the Senate).
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:24 AM on June 7, 2012


why people make the gross generalizations that "Americans" are all just too fat, lazy, and stupid to care.

Saying that we are a nation at the mall is not a gross generalization - it is reality. It is exactly what our leaders are telling us to do.

We have been fighting two wars for over a decade now. We have had a Republican and Democrat as President during these wars. Has either one asked the population to tighten their belts, to sacrafice anything for the war effort? NO.

We have catastrophic debt, and all of ouor leaders, in both parties, are talking about how we need to keep the consumer purchasing high.

The American people are doing exactly what the leaders of this country want them too - government, military, and business leaders. And what else can you expect from a population of people?

The problem is, the leadership is leading the people off the cliff. Our leaders want us at the mall, using credit cards and buying crap we don't need.
posted by Flood at 9:30 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


*Prints out thread, sits down in comfortable chair. Puts on reading glasses. Takes a long sip of brandy.*

There is lobbying in the non-growth world but it is not anti competitive.

*Carefully swallows brandy and gasps.*
posted by ~ at 9:37 AM on June 7, 2012


And even the bottom 5% in the USA (as an aggregate number) live better than the top 5% in India.

Really? Because I have lived as part of the bottom 5% (or maybe as high as 10-20%) in the USA, and I have a friend (with the same US income) whose family is in the top 5% in India -- and they had a MUCH higher standard of living than either of us.
posted by jb at 9:48 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Given that the conversation here has touched on the fact that worker productivity has gone up dramatically in the last half century, I feel compelled to pop in to note that productivity is a measure of rate of exploitation.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:19 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


And even the bottom 5% in the USA (as an aggregate number) live better than the top 5% in India.

Have you been to India? The top 5% live in safe neighborhoods, have servants waiting on them hand and foot (kitchen staff, housecleaners, and personal drivers), have plenty to eat, usually have advanced degrees, are deferred to in practically every social situationsave for retirement, and own assets beyond earned income. Which sounds EXACTLY like the lifestyle of America's bottom 5%, yes.

If you want to argue that the richest 5% in India share much of the same crappy infrastructure and environmental ruin as the American poor, I might agree with you there. But in general, no way do the bottom 5% here live as comfortably as the top 5% there.
posted by Rykey at 10:32 AM on June 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


A better measure [than average earnings per hour] would be the median earnings per person (not per hour). I just ran out of time to research this, but that would be the direction to go to get more believable numbers.
Imagine people's height being proportional to their income, so that someone with an average income is of average height. Now imagine that the entire adult population of America is walking past you in a single hour, in ascending order of income.

The first passers-by, the owners of loss-making businesses, are invisible: their heads are below ground. Then come the jobless and the working poor, who are midgets. After half an hour the strollers are still only waist-high, since America's median income is only half the mean. It takes nearly 45 minutes before normal-sized people appear. But then, in the final minutes, giants thunder by. With six minutes to go they are 12 feet tall. When the 400 highest earners walk by, right at the end, each is more than two miles tall.
posted by AceRock at 10:40 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


> productivity is a measure of rate of exploitation

No, how much of a worker's productivity is paid to that worker is what measures exploitation or the lack thereof. You can easily imagine very productive workers who were also overpaid and thus were exploiting their employers, i.e. were actually being paid more money than they created in value.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:03 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


So basically, we are fucked, and there is no way the November election can unfuck us.

And how could it? The people funding the candidates are the same ones who caused the problems in the first place.


Well, isn't the belief that the election that will change the country, even in a position as powerful as the president of the United States, a myth? I mean, we look to the election of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, or Reagan as some sort of key that changed directions of the country. These events happen because of a large number of factors, trends, demographics, laws, and elections that build up (or erode) over time. And to get back to where we were, it's probably going to take much more, and more time.
posted by FJT at 11:21 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that the biggest factor that never seems to be mentioned in discussions about just how fucked we are economically, is the size of corporations. Most new jobs in the U.S . are created by small companies; most small companies have much less difference between CEO pay and employee pay, which I suspect is not just a function of CEOs being invested in the long-term success of their companies, but also because they know their employees and have to look them in the eyes when they lay off or reduce pay, hours, or benefits.

As the biggest companies have grown (in terms of employees, finances, and geography), the disconnect between the top and bottom has grown, and the human connection has been lost. If we are to get on a track of greater equality and opportunity for more than a few years correction, we need limits, statutory or financial, on the size of companies, and the first step to that is to stop privileging mega-corporations over small businesses.

When was the last time you heard of a million-dollar-a-year company getting property tax or sales tax forgiveness for a decade or three, or having the public buy them a property and build their building and provide utilities? Yet big box stores, malls, F1000 factories, and similar businesses get those kinds of breaks all the time, billions of dollars worth. The game is so rigged it'd be laughably obscene if it weren't real people reaping the consequences.
posted by notashroom at 11:50 AM on June 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


Has either one asked the population to tighten their belts, to sacrafice anything for the war effort? NO.

why ask people to sacrifice when you can trick it out of them with smoke, mirrors, accounting tricks, increased debt and government crippled by lower taxes?

we've sacrificed a great deal for the war effort - the problem is, few of us know it, and none of us were told we were doing that
posted by pyramid termite at 2:00 PM on June 7, 2012


Not trolling here, but what is the baseline that one should use to measure quality of life? Is there some sort of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for standard of living?

I think we'd all agree that every American expects to be compensated for their work such that they can meet the basic need for themselves and their family (i.e., food, shelter, safety...and I would say healthcare). Beyond that how do you measure quality of life? Do you try to compare apples to apples with your parent's generation? Do advances in technology even make that a fair analysis? Most of us have hundred or thousands of songs at our fingertips in a way probably boggles our parents' minds.

I am probably a dead center middle class married father of two kids with a $180K mortgage. We pay our bills on time, save 15% a year for retirement and don't live beyond our means. Economically I feel like I won the lottery and I feel secure which is a major personal metric for quality of life. The cost of living in Texas is relatively low compared to other U.S. states. But, and as a life-long resident I can say it, DFW is a shit-hole in a lot of ways (air quality, traffic, 110 degree summer days, horrible urban planning, very little public transportation). So I am secure, but I breathe bad air, get stuck in a lot of traffic, sweat a lot, never ride a bike outside of a park and can't ride a bus/train to work.

Sorry, this became a bit of a rant and I apologize for that. But the question remains, how do you create an overall baseline for standard of living? It's something that interests me.
posted by punkfloyd at 2:30 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


And yet "capital" seems intent on replacing President Obama in the middle the no-hitter he's been pitching for them.

I think that's the really interesting part here. Even at the top of the ladder, the Masters of the Universe are behaving irrationally and against their own self-interest. It's not some malevolent conspiracy by the 1% to keep everyone else down (apart from Rove et al): a lot of rich people genuinely believe they are Job Creators, and Obama's mild criticisms are apparently enough to make them park their money with Romney. Romney is so attractive because like them he seems to genuinely believe that his work at Bain created value, and that he therefore earned his millions.

Every rich person who isn't a sociopath really does believe they earned it; they need to, to live with themselves. They need to vote for that story, because the alternative - that they've grown rich by robbing their fellow citizens and dismantling the social safety net with the assistance of a series of corrupt governments and ineffectual regulators - well, that story is pretty depressing. Much better the tale told by austerians, that overspending by bureaucrats and poor people living beyond their means is the cause of the crisis, and the solution is for government to get out of the way and let the rich people save the day.

It's complete bullshit, and will drive the economy off the cliff, hurting rich and poor alike - but that doesn't seem to matter to anyone.
posted by mek at 2:34 PM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


So, um...how do you get into that 1% exactly?
You have to earn more then about $400k per year.
No they do not. Despite its claim to be "adjusted for the cost of living," this is simply impossible. There are large costs which are optional in other economies which are not optional in the US.
not adjusting for cost of living would have made India look worse and America better, not the other way around. Maybe you need a car in the US, but in India you can get a brand new car for $4k (you can probably get one of those scooters scooter for your whole family pretty cheap as well) And you can get a tablet computer for $35. This also applies to stuff like food, rent and so on.

So if you don't adjust for cost of living, life in India would actually appear even worse.
Similarly, in most of the world you can erect a humble dwelling on an unused bit of land and get away with it
India is pretty densely packed.
Really? Because I have lived as part of the bottom 5% (or maybe as high as 10-20%) in the USA, and I have a friend (with the same US income) whose family is in the top 5% in India -- and they had a MUCH higher standard of living than either of us.
Was he just in the top 5, or actually in the top 0.5? Someone at the 95th percentile would only be making make 5-10k? It's not clear, but it's not that much. They might have servants because there are even poorer people. But Americans in the bottom 5% could probably afford to hire servants if they only cost a dollar or so a day. They probably have a cellphone that costs more each month then what it would cost to hire a third world servant.
posted by delmoi at 3:13 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


And the "corporate profits" may benefit CEOs with stock grants, but they also largely support pension funds, 401ks, and other savings means that large swaths of the middle class hold.

This clearly demonstrates that you don't understand the link. The increases of those profits have not gone to the middle class in any form, but rather to the richest among us.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:59 PM on June 7, 2012


You Should Be Mad As Hell About This

yes, but then I'd be mad as hell about problems I can't fix or even meaningfully influence, and that's a miserable place to be.
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:32 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I share nanojath and Mars Saxman's concerns. I knew all of the facts in these charts and I think and worry about them every day. But I feel powerless and demoralized; our political system seems to be rigged (or, to put it more neutrally so as to give the powers that be less credit for supervillainous genius rather than luck, path dependant) in a way that that makes the real needed change to our tax code, health care and educational systems etc. unlikely. I have my own life to live--work and family mostly--that leaves me without time or energy to do something. And when I do do things (knocking on doors for Martha Coakley in 2010 or whenever it was might be the last time I volunteered in an organized way for a political cause) I still feel powerless and demoralized.

The thing about these charts is that they show about a century's worth of data. My sense is that that century is an extreme outlier across the broad swathe of human history. In most times and in most places, wealth is concentrated in a few hand and most people live near subsistence level. We seem to be regressing back to that mean in a hurry, and I worry that there's nothing we can do about it.
posted by sy at 5:47 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


not adjusting for cost of living would have made India look worse and America better

I'm not saying they didn't try to adjust, I'm saying that adjustment is impossible. Most economists who attempt this sort of thing use the cost of staple food items as a baseline and then try to tweak it. But the tweaking is very nonlinear and the very idea that a graph like that should be taken seriously at all is just stupid.

Services price to market to a certain extent, which is why birth control pills in Mexico cost approximately 5% of what they do here. If you are in the top 5% of your country (even without massive US style inequality) it means there are people you can afford to hire as servants and toys you can buy lots of which are luxuries for the bottom 95%. If you are in the bottom 5% even of a very rich nation many things your neighbors take for granted are beyond your means.
Similarly, in most of the world you can erect a humble dwelling on an unused bit of land and get away with it
India is pretty densely packed.


And this has to do with what how? They will bulldoze your primitive shanty because it's too close to the neighbor's and blocks his view of the yacht club?
posted by localroger at 6:16 PM on June 7, 2012


Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Leo Apotheker.
Though Apotheker served less than 11 months as CEO, he received over US$13 million in compensation: a severance payment of $7.2 million, shares worth $3.56 million and a performance bonus of $2.4 million,[13] although the company lost more than $30 billion in market capitalization during his tenure.
This is the consequence of these graphs. The extreme concentration of wealth in such a small group means that they look after their own. The problem isn't that Mr. Apotheker was received the equivalent to the budget of a medium-sized school district for 11 months work. The problem is that he did so while also managing to almost completely destroy a 70-year old American-grown multinational.

Heads, you lose; tails, they win.
posted by heathkit at 8:45 PM on June 7, 2012


Prez sez everthings fine, so STFU.
posted by wallstreet1929 at 7:40 PM on June 8, 2012


And this has to do with what how? They will bulldoze your primitive shanty because it's too close to the neighbor's and blocks his view of the yacht club?
Uh, no, it means there is no room for you to just build a random shack. Any shackable space will already be filled with shacks obviously there is some process by which people acquire and transfer the shacks, not to mention the building materials aren't free either. Where would you even get the stuff to build it?

There are obviously lots of homeless people in India. Apparently 78 million people, (225 times the number of people in new orleans)
posted by delmoi at 10:01 PM on June 8, 2012


So wait, the entire country of India is now cities? Dangit, I never knew.
posted by localroger at 6:15 AM on June 9, 2012


Uh, no, it means there is no room for you to just build a random shack. Any shackable space will already be filled with shacks obviously there is some process by which people acquire and transfer the shacks, not to mention the building materials aren't free either. Where would you even get the stuff to build it?

Wow, that means the miles and miles (kilometers and kilometers?) of wide-open countryside I saw in India must be filled with invisible shacks. And the bazillions of shacks I did see (in more densely populated areas) must have made from non-existent, totally unacquirable materials. Why are you stuck on this idea that there's no way India has room for any more shacks?
posted by Rykey at 11:55 AM on June 10, 2012


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