Skip

Hanging Ourselves By Our Bootstraps
March 3, 2013 6:35 PM   Subscribe

A well-executed and terrifying visual representation of exactly how stratified wealth is in America. It's far worse than you could have imagined. [SLYT]
posted by erstwhile ungulate (147 comments total) 91 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's far worse than you could have imagined.

Lots of us haven't grown up being taught that the US is utopia.
posted by pompomtom at 6:39 PM on March 3, 2013 [20 favorites]


This is why the whole narrative of the war on the rich makes me laugh. There are no resources available to fight such a war.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:42 PM on March 3, 2013 [35 favorites]


Well, one. We've got them outnumbered.
posted by radwolf76 at 6:45 PM on March 3, 2013 [83 favorites]


Yeah, the reality is about what I thought -- a massive spike consisting of the Forbes 10 or Forbes 50. Everyone else is a rounding error.
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:51 PM on March 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is why the whole narrative of the war on the rich makes me laugh.

By far the most insulting thing about rich people pretending to be worried about some sort of "class warfare" on the horizon is the implication that they think we're all too stupid to notice that the rich have been fighting an all-out war on everyone else in the country for decades (at least).
posted by IAmUnaware at 6:53 PM on March 3, 2013 [60 favorites]


The thing I keep wondering is how to get this kind of data out to the public in an intelligible, believable manner. It's all well and good that the minority of people who already have this information keep being re-exposed to it in different media, but that -- provably -- does nothing to correct the problem.
posted by kernel_sander at 6:54 PM on March 3, 2013 [12 favorites]


Is there a source for the video? It's very well produced -- Tufte would be proud -- but it's strange to see something going viral from a YouTube account with no identifying information and only that video, and nothing I could see in the credits indicating who made it.
posted by zittrain at 6:55 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


By what mechanism or system could the distribution change?
posted by carsonb at 6:55 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


By far the most insulting thing

... is the way the rich continuously move the discussion from wealth to income. This video does the same by the end (around the 5 minute mark).

We will never get anywhere focusing on income. Focusing on income is an extremely effective tactic for the wealthy to actually reinforce the gap between the ultra-wealthy and the next tier down. Raising taxes on $200k and so on is an example of how silly this is; in CA $200k is not "rich." We have to do something about the wealth distribution.
posted by rr at 6:57 PM on March 3, 2013 [16 favorites]


The concept of "wealth" is only meaningful in the context of cost of living. I mean, it sucks that the ultra-rich are ultra-rich, but does it matter if the middle class can buy a house?
posted by KokuRyu at 6:57 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


carsonb: "By what mechanism or system could the distribution change?"

A graduated income tax has worked pretty well in the past.
posted by octothorpe at 6:57 PM on March 3, 2013 [11 favorites]


By what mechanism or system could the distribution change?

The easiest one - but which we will never, ever get - is a flat out wealth tax. Since that will not work, let's go for things like getting rid of carried interest, making the tax on capital gains progressive, and so on. Focus on the proceeds of wealth, not W2 income.
posted by rr at 6:59 PM on March 3, 2013 [16 favorites]


The thing I keep wondering is how to get this kind of data out to the public in an intelligible, believable manner.

It is getting out there, slowly. Occupy didn't happen in a vacuum, and people aren't becoming less aware. Let's keep that pressure up.
posted by JHarris at 6:59 PM on March 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


And from the ever out of touch John Tamny comes an article titled The Life Enhancing, Unrelenting Brilliance of Income Inequality, which is something you should read only if you want to get really irritated at a mind-bogglingly stupid argument from a man who is bafflingly divorced from reality.
posted by spiderskull at 7:01 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Progressive taxes are the way to fix this; especially taxes on wealth.

KokuRyu: "The concept of "wealth" is only meaningful in the context of cost of living. I mean, it sucks that the ultra-rich are ultra-rich, but does it matter if the middle class can buy a house?"

Sure it does if they can't afford health care; the roads to get to work are crumbling; and clean water isn't flowing out of their taps.
posted by Mitheral at 7:01 PM on March 3, 2013 [12 favorites]


Such a relevant quote from the AskMefi question about USA homelessness earlier today:

"As Steinbeck said, the poor in America see themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires."

That's why the 99% is letting the 1% get away with this shit. Or at least a big part of it.
posted by scose at 7:01 PM on March 3, 2013 [35 favorites]


The concept of "wealth" is only meaningful in the context of cost of living. I mean, it sucks that the ultra-rich are ultra-rich, but does it matter if the middle class can buy a house?

The easiest way to deal with that is to focus on wealth that starts so far beyond the cost of living that it doesn't matter. For example, for every $1M of LTCG income above $1M annually, the capital gains taxation increases by 2%.
posted by rr at 7:02 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


A graduated income tax has worked pretty well in the past.

It's a good idea, but as has been pointed out here, wage earnings are not what the super-rich are living on.
posted by psoas at 7:03 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most voters in America do not understand marginal income tax. They don't understand that a marginal tax rate of 50% would only apply to income inside a designated margin and not in the other margins. Most voters also do not understand that this system is inherently fair, because if everyone made that amount of money, they would be paying the same amount of tax.
posted by Brian B. at 7:05 PM on March 3, 2013 [19 favorites]


That's why the 99% is letting the 1% get away with this shit. Or at least a big part of it.

The 99% are ignorant and - honestly - a lot of them cannot do basic math. The information is out there and has been out there for decades. The problem is, they allow themselves to get distracted and divided by the simplest, laughable arguments. The political discussion is always, always wrapped around the magic "americans think this is rich" $250k-a-year number and they never stop and think about why that is.
posted by rr at 7:05 PM on March 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


... but does it matter if the middle class can buy a house?

The fact that buying a house is framed such an inherent priority toward many people who can not afford to -- nor should even attempt to -- do so is one of the big reasons the poor are poor and the ultra-rich are ultra-rich.
posted by griphus at 7:05 PM on March 3, 2013 [22 favorites]


This is an excellent bit of data visualization, but FOR FUCK'S SAKE EITHER LEARN WHAT SOCIALISM IS OR STOP SAYING THE WORD.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:05 PM on March 3, 2013 [54 favorites]


"The concept of "wealth" is only meaningful in the context of cost of living. I mean, it sucks that the ultra-rich are ultra-rich, but does it matter if the middle class can buy a house?"

Um, yes? The middle class is, you know, the middle class. There's a lot of people below that for whom home ownership (let alone decent health care) does not even register as a distant possibility.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:06 PM on March 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


I mean, it sucks that the ultra-rich are ultra-rich, but does it matter if the middle class can buy a house?

Actually, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with people being rich, or even ultra rich, except for two things:

(1) Money is power in this country, and the wealthy have, on the whole, shown a reckless willingness to use that power to the detriment of the less fortunate. Look at the real estate market -- there are many potential homeowners who have the money for a down payment, and have a decent combined income to qualify for a mortgage. They can't find houses to buy. Why? Because the ultra wealthy are outbidding them with cash offers across the board. Not only do they raise the net cost of homes in the area, they prevent access to a stable line of equity and the strongest pillar of the middle class.

(2) Much of the ultra-richs' wealth has come at the cost of the middle and lower classes. Look at Houston, TX. The recession has had zero effect on that area because artificially high gas prices have been lining the pockets of the oil industry and its support industry. Your average American is basically supporting Texas' wealth, and that's less discretionary spending, less savings, etc.
posted by spiderskull at 7:07 PM on March 3, 2013 [21 favorites]


I agree with the sentiments, but most people are pretty lousy at understanding distributions and charts. I'm a bit leery of basing policy or political movements on them.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:07 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty - honest question - can you elaborate?
posted by parki at 7:08 PM on March 3, 2013


Pope Guilty: "This is an excellent bit of data visualization, but FOR FUCK'S SAKE EITHER LEARN WHAT SOCIALISM IS OR STOP SAYING THE WORD."

From the tone of his voice, I thought that he was being ironic there.
posted by octothorpe at 7:10 PM on March 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


The comments on that video are something to behold.
posted by codacorolla at 7:10 PM on March 3, 2013


Much of the ultra-richs' wealth has come at the cost of the middle and lower classes

This is false. Or is at least not in evidence. The problem you have is that you can argue that a fairer distribution of wealth is a moral good even without painting the wealthy as robber barrons. As a point of fact, I know a large number of people with net worths well over $10M; some significantly more than that. It is an accident of history that I know them. They were not robber barrons and their wealth was, in most cases, earned by doing something that was a net benefit to humanity. They are good people and mostly they are ethical.

The problem you have is that wealth removes risk; wealth allows patience; wealth has leverage; ... There is not always a narrative of good/evil. We need to change the discussion to deal with the gravity of wealth not fantasies of good guys and bad guys.

The exception to this is the enormous wealth created by wage arbitrage: inshoring (breaking engineering, nursing, etc.), mass importation of illegals (breaking argriculture, construction and other professions), and offshoring (breaking pretty much everything related to labor). This is the case where "evil" could be found, if you wanted to find it, because the effects were obvious (and both the left and the right are totally complicit in the demolishment of America's working and middle classes by pushing these).
posted by rr at 7:11 PM on March 3, 2013 [12 favorites]


What was that bit showing that the bailout in 2009 essentially made the top one percent richer and the rest of us more poor?

The ultrarich have total capture of the system: by political, legal, and corporate means, the game is rigged such that they benefit no matter what. Heads, they win; tails, you lose.
posted by adipocere at 7:13 PM on March 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


From the tone of his voice, I thought that he was being ironic there.

The scare quotes were a bit off. It said "The 'dreaded' SOCIALISM" when it should've been "The dreaded 'SOCIALISM'".
posted by zardoz at 7:14 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Concentration of wealth does have advantages. The poor consume; the rich invest (because they can). And in some empirical sense, the rich have proved themselves the best protectors and conservers of the money; that's why they have it. If they are poor stewards they often (though not always) tend to lose their money.

Inasmuch as wealthy people are good (or at least better on average than other people) at managing their investments to generate profit, perhaps we simply need better ways of making what's profitable = what's good for the country. We need ways to link profit to creating good jobs, to environmental stewardship, and even to alleviating poverty and the like.
posted by shivohum at 7:25 PM on March 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Pope Guilty - honest question - can you elaborate?

Socialism is the control of the means and process of production by the workers instead of an elite which makes their living by owning capital, not "capitalism except everybody has the same amount of money."
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:32 PM on March 3, 2013 [42 favorites]


the rich have proved themselves the best protectors and conservers of the money

But how does this make concentration of wealth a good thing for society? The person who's best at getting more for himself and hoarding as much as possible is the person who's best fit to have it?
posted by lostburner at 7:33 PM on March 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


The poor consume; the rich invest (because they can).

This is the most completely hilarious thing I've read all weekend, and I would like to formally extend my invitation for you to serve in the Thug Brigades of my Glorious New Regime. I offer you custom-fitted Thugwear (ballistic nylon or leather as fits your personal fashion), free Thugboots, and a place among the second (third) tier of the Glorious New Society!

Remember, if you stomp on the people below you, you'll Rise Higher!

It's a core tenet of ours. I'm sure you'll memorize it in due time; your Brigade Leader will make sure of it.
posted by aramaic at 7:36 PM on March 3, 2013 [15 favorites]


"The poor consume; the rich invest."

That is the BIG LIE that our entire dysfunctional economy is based upon. "Investing" is spending money to make more money. In our current Golden Age of Automation and Globalism, it can no longer guarantee anything will be "trickled down" to anyone below the investor.

The things that most lower income workers do to earn their money are worthwhile. Professional management and professional investing are what you call "Overhead", a generally non-productive activity

If the Top 1% - all of them including the best among them - were to disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow, after a brief period of confusion and forced adjustment, the rest of us would absolutely be better off.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:39 PM on March 3, 2013 [33 favorites]


cjorgensen: "This is why the whole narrative of the war on the rich makes me laugh. There are no resources available to fight such a war."

I would posit that the rich are the most vulnerable when the common people have precisely nothing to lose.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:40 PM on March 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


If the Top 1% - all of them including the best among them - were to disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow

Hey, the Earth is doomed. DOOMed I tell you. Toast. The only hope is starships, and only really rich fucks could even afford a ticket on a starship. We're all DOOMED except those rich fucks who will ride starships out of the Solar System to some new paradise where whatever.

Did I mention DOOMED? And starships?
posted by localroger at 7:44 PM on March 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Concentration of wealth does have advantages. The poor consume; the rich invest (because they can). And in some empirical sense, the rich have proved themselves the best protectors and conservers of the money; that's why they have it. If they are poor stewards they often (though not always) tend to lose their money.

Hoarding is the opposite of investing, and concentrating wealth is much akin to hoarding. And many wealthy people have it because they inherited it, not because they are especially good stewards of money.
posted by gingerest at 7:47 PM on March 3, 2013 [21 favorites]


The person who's best at getting more for himself and hoarding as much as possible is the person who's best fit to have it?

In a way, yes. Conserving and increasing wealth takes requires prudence, farsightedness, intelligent risk-taking, deferred gratification, and the knowledge and the network of connections that wealth and business attracts (a comprehension of negotiation and entrepreneurship, connections with lawyers and accountants, familiarity with a range of financial instruments, a comprehension of the political system, etc.). If these characteristics also go along with greed and selfishness, then, well, perhaps we ought to try to maximize the benefits of the former and minimize the detriments of the latter.

The 1% who have all the wealth don't eat all their money or put it under their mattress. They do spend some of it on luxuries, but most of it goes into investments where it increases. They want it to increase as much as possible with as little risk as possible. That's what their own greed/selfishness dictates, and they're good at doing that.
--
In our current Golden Age of Automation and Globalism, it can no longer guarantee anything will be "trickled down" to anyone below the investor.

I'm not entirely disagreeing with this sentence. That's why I said profit should be aligned more to socially desirable outcomes.
posted by shivohum at 7:47 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's interesting how similar -- and similarly ominous -- this is compared to a historical graph of world population. Or a black hole. Asymptotic democraphic graphs are not fun.

And like the graph of a black hole's gravity well, the national economy is increasingly warped by this singularity of wealth. See the concept of "plutonomy" as described by an internal Citigroup memo, where the economy increasingly revolves around the financial activities and interests of the few ultra-rich where the outright majority of the money is concentrated while the rest languishes, neglected.
posted by Rhaomi at 7:47 PM on March 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


In my fantasy world people who are desperately concerned about the 1% stop reinforcing the stereotype about self-absorbed Americans and start considering themselves part of the rest of the world. At that point most of the U.S. is part of the 5% and this becomes a very different conversation.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:51 PM on March 3, 2013 [12 favorites]


Repeatedly confuses wealth and income. There is no such thing as an official wealth poverty line, so that part makes no sense at all. Wealth goes negative if you have debt so I don't know why that wasn't on there.
posted by miyabo at 7:51 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


does it matter if the middle class can buy a house?

They can? If so, not for much longer in major cities. The prices are astronomical. What used to be $200 000 are now often triple that, and our salaries have not kept up with the "value" of houses.
posted by juiceCake at 7:54 PM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


In my fantasy world people who are desperately concerned about the 1% stop reinforcing the stereotype about self-absorbed Americans and start considering themselves part of the rest of the world

The problem with this line of thinking is that it's unclear what you feel would happen if we started considering ourselves part of the rest of the world.
posted by rr at 7:57 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


the U.S. is part of the 5%

True. The American 0.1% are the global 0.005%. When you look at it that way, wealth is concentrated to a degree that's even more extreme than this video shows. How is that a reason not to be concerned about plutocracy?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:57 PM on March 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Concentration of wealth does have advantages. The poor consume; the rich invest (because they can). And in some empirical sense, the rich have proved themselves the best protectors and conservers of the money; that's why they have it. If they are poor stewards they often (though not always) tend to lose their money.

Nonsense. The fact that some people accumulate most of the money is a system failure, not circular proof of their beneficial savior status. Regardless, studies done in gaming economies show that hoarding wealth stagnates things.
posted by Brian B. at 7:59 PM on March 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


We've got them outnumbered.

And surrounded
posted by mattoxic at 8:00 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


And they can't get rid of all of us, who would unclog their toilets?
posted by radwolf76 at 8:03 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


IAmUnaware: "This is why the whole narrative of the war on the rich makes me laugh.

By far the most insulting thing about rich people pretending to be worried about some sort of "class warfare" on the horizon is the implication that they think we're all too stupid to notice that the rich have been fighting an all-out war on everyone else in the country for decades (at least).
"

In reality it's only about half the US population is too stupid to notice it.
posted by symbioid at 8:03 PM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


As long as its "us vs them", you're just a broke 1%er with a broken world view.

Poor people are just as greedy as rich people.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:04 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


As long as its "us vs them", you're just a broke 1%er with a broken world view.

Indeed.

When the poor learn to start thinking about the needs and wants of the rich, we can finally have a productive conversation about class and wealth in our society.
posted by verb at 8:08 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


And in some empirical sense, the rich have proved themselves the best protectors and conservers of the money; that's why they have it.

Powerful capitalists do the best at capitalism?
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:08 PM on March 3, 2013


Poor people are just as greedy as rich people.

That is incredibly facile.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:08 PM on March 3, 2013 [13 favorites]


Americans [...] start considering themselves part of the rest of the world

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that if you were to poll the world-outside-the-US, "get your house in order" would beat out "moar meddling, plz" by a wide margin.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:10 PM on March 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


In a way, yes. Conserving and increasing wealth takes requires prudence, farsightedness, intelligent risk-taking, deferred gratification, and the knowledge and the network of connections that wealth and business attracts (a comprehension of negotiation and entrepreneurship, connections with lawyers and accountants, familiarity with a range of financial instruments, a comprehension of the political system, etc.).

Here's a big part of the problem with wealth distribution. You left out a key characteristic.

Luck.

You have to have the right parents and be born in the right part of the country and have a lot of other things go your way before you can even think about accessing any "network of connections" or even know that such a thing exists. Just being smart and working hard aren't enough, you have to be lucky too.

Changing the incentives is all well and good but allowing such a huge disparity in wealth as we have now disproportionately rewards good luck.

The CEO of the company I work for make 500 time more than me (and my salary is really close to the average). There is simply no way he 500 times smarter, works 500 times harder, has 500 times as much experience, or any combination thereof. I seriously doubt his contributions are worth 500 times my own either. I know he is really smart and I know he works really hard, and he has worked for the company for his entire working life but a HUGE chunk of his success is just luck. That is why wealth should be taxed. If two people put forth the same amount of effort and skill but one is far more successful than the other, some of it comes from luck (and the social support that made the luck possible) and that should get taxed.
posted by VTX at 8:15 PM on March 3, 2013 [42 favorites]


For all of the ideological banter about what wealth inequality means – and I refer primarily to the YouTube comments, John Galt – for many people in America, the result is very real. It is not a fluffy ideological argument. It is a very structured reality. A reality of segmentation and isolation.

Whilst the middle-class reads the New York Times, in horror at what happens both above and below, the poor are suffering in conditions the wealthy are trying to solve... in the third world. Corruption. Institutionalised violence. Illiteracy. Disease. Drug abuse. For every person that is helped by a foundation set up by the largess of profiteering, there is a person within the domestic society also suffering.

We like to discuss the illusion of access. If Jay-Z can do it, so can everyone else. If Michael Dell can do it, so can everyone else. If Mark Cuban can do it, so can everyone else. Wealth is a choice and so is crime.

If that were true, who would choose crime? If being poor in America was a choice, who would choose to be poor in America? In a society so obsessed with celebrating wealth, it punishes poverty. As if poverty itself wasn't already punishment enough.

And thus the often repeated maxim that if we dare to cap the upside of wealth, we will destroy the success story of innovation and wealth creation. That if we dare to put in place mechanisms to redistribute wealth back amongst the very society of people that created, that we will somehow destroy that mechanism of wealth creation.

There is a gold calf in the room, and it is not on the mantlepiece. It is in the middle of the room, and we dare not to discuss it. For then you are a communist. You are French. You are Chinese. You want everyone living in a commune, crowded around a common stove. You want to turn the lights out like North Korea. If you dare to mention that a society without a cap to its wealth will result in a type of tyranny so institutionalised and invisible that it is accept wholeheartedly by the very people it enslaves.

One only has to look at the short history of... civilisation to see what happens when wealth inequality grows to an extreme. When the prisons are filled with poor people, not criminals. When the poor are so poor and disenfranchised, they give up on ever having a better tomorrow. They lose their very interest in being part of a society or in having a society.

Thus, the barbarians destroyed Rome. After Rome destroyed itself. And the barbarians destroyed Europe. After Europe destroyed itself. And the barbarians are always easily identifiable. When they are controlled, they are called 'colonies' or 'immigrants' or 'trading partners'. But then we get greedy. We're not thankful that someone stood in the sun, picking fruit so that it might be on the table. We're angry that they want health care and they can't afford it themselves.

We don't believe when the net migration figures show that immigration is really the least of our problems. If many Americans could go to Mexico, they would. Oh, but the press tells us that there are swaths of beheadings and the drug cartels are in control. They don't mention the exploding GDP, rapidly increasing quality of life, and environmental clean-up. It turns out the beheadings happen where Mexico touches America. Where the drug cartels of Mexico serve desperate American poor, who's government is so cruel, not only is their no economic ladder for them, but they are not even allowed to numb themselves to that reality.

So whilst the ideological arguments are interesting – and they are. What a unique time in modern history to discuss automation, quantitative easing, and the changes is demography. Or the rise of craft brews, service culture, and the self-celebratory TED talks. The reality is that what this YouTube video shows is real people are enduring very real suffering. A suffering so intense, we cannot bring ourselves to talk about. A disparity becoming so entrenched, Oakland is exploding in violence, the very existence of it's youth threatened. Whilst across a small body of water – or a short bridge – the youth in San Francisco are threatened with the ignorance of what's happening a across a small body of water – or a short bridge. On side cannot make a decent wage. The other side cannot stop making a decent wage. They are brothers from the same family, who are blind to the fact that if they do not cooperate, one will have little reason not to destroy the other. Unless the poor get there first.

And beyond all of the ideological arguments, the very real fact is that this income inequality serves someone's purpose. There is a reason that wealth is distributed so unequally. It is not a natural phenomenon, and it is not like this everywhere else. In fact, the only other places that it is like this, are in places which we demonise for their wealth inequality. The beauty of the machine. For if this machine is not serving you, this machine is taking from you. If you are not in the 1%, then the 1% are taking from you. They are taking your life literally from your hands, whilst you still believe the American dream.

And if you are part of the 1%, and you find that a bit dramatic, well, why wouldn't you? For the 1%, times have never been better, why would you want them to change? But make no mistake, this is not a system natural in design, and it is not a system that must be perpetuated. This system is a choice, and we have all equally chosen to subjugate ourselves to it. And for what? Because one out of hundred of us may life so well, it makes the suffering of 40% of us irrelevant?

We beg your pardon America.

Somebody said "brother-man gonna break a window, gonna steal a hubcap, gonna smoke a joint, brother man gonna go to jail"

The man who tried to steal America is not in jail


We beg your pardon America, we beg your pardon once again

Because we found out that seven out of every ten black men behind jail, and most of the men behind jail are black

Seven out of every ten black men never went to the ninth grade

Didn't have 50 dollars and hadn't had 100 for a month when they went to jail

So the poor and the ignorant go to jail while the rich go to San Clemente


And we understand all the more deeply, and we beg your pardon

As unemployment spirals toward 7 percent, and it seems like 70 percent in my neighborhood

As unemployment spirals and as we watch cattlemen on TV shoot cows in the head and kick 'em in the graves while millions are starving in the Sahel and Honduras and maybe even next door

We understand all the more deeply as Boston becomes Birmingham becomes Little Rock becomes Selma becomes Philadelphia, Mississippi, becomes yesterday all over again

We understand and we beg your pardon

posted by nickrussell at 8:16 PM on March 3, 2013 [80 favorites]


The concept of "wealth" is only meaningful in the context of cost of living. I mean, it sucks that the ultra-rich are ultra-rich, but does it matter if the middle class can buy a house?

Think about it from the other end. Bill Gates once described his wealth as "for all practical purposes, infinite." After buying a super-mansion and servants and a fancy Porsche, he ran out of things to spend his money on. So he decided to buy the world's health care system. Other rich fucks like the Walton Family (Walmart) decided they wanted to buy the US educational system.

A core issue of income inequality is buried in the video. The 1% owns half the investments in US. The bottom 50% owns 0.5%. The 1% has stolen the entire economy, it now works solely for their benefit, not the benefit of Americans as a whole. Are you going to let them steal the health care system and the educational system too? Does America only need enough education to have health care workers for the 1%, and fund managers to count their money?
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:18 PM on March 3, 2013 [16 favorites]


And like the graph of a black hole's gravity well, the national economy is increasingly warped by this singularity of wealth.

I had a suspicion all along that the wealthy tend to... well... suck more.
posted by logicpunk at 8:23 PM on March 3, 2013


Is there a source for the video? It's very well produced -- Tufte would be proud -- but it's strange to see something going viral from a YouTube account with no identifying information and only that video, and nothing I could see in the credits indicating who made it.

I don't know about the source of the video, but the data appear to be from "Building a Better America--One Wealth Quintile at a Time," a 2011 paper by Norton & Ariely in Perspectives on Psychological Science. The video's first chart may also come via Figure 4 here, which also has a lot of other useful inequality facts on one page.
posted by chortly at 8:31 PM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


In a way, yes. Conserving and increasing wealth takes requires prudence, farsightedness, intelligent risk-taking,

No, here in the USA, it takes regulatory capture. Those nice qualities you list might play a more significant role in less corrupt societies, but here in the USA, you will not find much correlation between someone being prudent etc, and being in the top 1%. You'll find better correlations if you look for qualities like influence.

The noted and studied problem with meritocracies is that the people at the top who got there by merit, will immediately set about pulling the ladder up after them so their quite normal kids/heirs/family/buddies can achieve great heights too - instead of those heights being reserved for the most meritorious people of society.
The US was never a meritocracy, but those values figure prominently in the promises made by the national myth, and a capitalist version of the same systematic downfall has occurred.
posted by anonymisc at 8:40 PM on March 3, 2013 [23 favorites]


The thing about the investments of the wealthy, regardless of whether they are good at investing, is that they invest in the kinds of things that wealthy people invest in.

I'd rather the poor continually have a say in which gets invested in too, regardless of whether that means investing in investments that don't return great monetary returns. Because what we will get is investment in things the poor feel should be invested in.
posted by tychotesla at 8:44 PM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd rather the poor continually have a say in which gets invested in too, regardless of whether that means investing in investments that don't return great monetary returns. Because what we will get is investment in things the poor feel should be invested in.

This is the same as saying the poor will invest in whatever they are suckered into. A real solution will need to come to terms with the fact that poverty doesn't usually include sound longterm planning - that's not a slight on the poor, but a reflection of how we allowed them to get there.
posted by rr at 8:57 PM on March 3, 2013


No, here in the USA, it takes regulatory capture. Those nice qualities you list might play a more significant role in less corrupt societies, but here in the USA, you will not find much correlation between someone being prudent etc, and being in the top 1%

This is simply not true. Regulatory capture has a play in the wealth of some americans but I dare you to show that outside of a few specific industries it has any effect. Do you think that the founders of Intel had regulatory capture?
posted by rr at 8:58 PM on March 3, 2013


It's far worse than you could have imagined.

Nope, it is about exactly as I imagined.

from the widget: Tax Facts Hardly Anyone Knows and If I Can Do It So Can You

Previously: Money Power and Politics and TED: Yes To Drying Your Hands, No To Income Inequality and, and, and ...
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:00 PM on March 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


The John Tamny article that spiderskull linked to above is, as he noted, incredibly infuriating. The title, again, is "The Life Enhancing, Unrelenting Brilliance of Income Inequality," and should stand through the ages as an artifact of the time, conclusively showing how clueless the rich could be. It is shockingly condescending.
posted by JHarris at 9:06 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my fantasy world people who are desperately concerned about the 1% stop reinforcing the stereotype about self-absorbed Americans and start considering themselves part of the rest of the world. At that point most of the U.S. is part of the 5% and this becomes a very different conversation.

I live in 'the rest of the world', a part that includes a fair few billionaires, including the world's richest woman. We don't have quite the income inequality because we don't give the rich a blank check to shit on the poor.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:10 PM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well what struck me about the video is that the middle class doesn't really exist anymore. The thing is, I don't think a lot of the people who used to be middle class and are now poor are aware of that fact. What I mean is, they don't really have the mentality that a lot of us longterm poor folks have. They're a lot angrier for one thing, and they have an awareness that they are entitled to something more.

So the 22-year-olds in the earlier interns post who think they should have a good job out of college but instead work as baristas while they toil at their internships, they really expected something better. I mean, to me, a 22 year old is fortunate if they can get a good job driving a school bus, but that's because I'm poor and grew up around poor people. Working in fast food is exactly where I'd expect someone in their early 20s to be simply because I didn't know many college graduates when I was that age so I had only the distant awareness that there were other possibilities for young people besides being poor. But now there aren't anymore.

I've been on food stamps for a while but something radical has happened in that last five or six years. It used to be that I often ran into cashiers who couldn't run the card correctly, or stores would have only a few registers that could handle food stamps. I had a working relative, someone who used to be blue collar middle-class, and when I asked him to go to the store for me and use my card he was always so embarrassed to do it in his work uniform.

Now, someone who wears a work uniform is probably just as broke as me. Now, every other person in line at the market is on food stamps. My relative still has his job and he makes the same amount of money (in itself a problem), but he's out of money at the end of the month just like me and the rest of us on welfare. A lot of people are going hungry now. A lot of people are jumping from job to job now. They have nothing but debt no matter how much income they have.
posted by Danila at 9:14 PM on March 3, 2013 [24 favorites]


A lot of people are jumping from job to job now.

Remember back in the 90's when very serious people were talking about how people would have to change jobs every few years instead of working at one firm their entire career? And they were trying to sell the idea that this was a good thing.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:23 PM on March 3, 2013 [23 favorites]


You left out a key characteristic. Luck.

I know luck plays a big part in success when viewed in terms of who deserves what. But I'm not talking about who deserves what: I'm talking about who is the best able to manage the nation's stock of wealth. That wealth grows when invested wisely. It ought to be invested by people who have the know-how to invest it most wisely. The successful, lucky though they may be, are better than others at this. Since their consumption of their wealth is still small compared to how much they might grow it, their being rewarded, unfair though it is in some ways, may well be worth it.

Now to illustrate, I am making up these numbers just to show a point:

Imagine Mr. Rich is worth $1 billion, and invests $950 million a year reasonably wisely, and spends the rest. He is effectively taking a $50 million salary. Now suppose he invests that $950 million into investments that would grow the money long-term at 8% (just to take a simple example). So let's say over a year it generates $950 million * .08 = $76 million.

Whereas if the entire billion were distributed into the hands of the middle-class, WAY more of it would be spent instead of invested, since the middle-class doesn't have the luxury of saving as much as the extremely rich. So say only $200 million would get invested. And since the middle-class don't have as much investment know-how, let's say that they only get a 6% return instead of an 8% return (though in fact it may be a lot worse than that).

So they make $200 million * .06 = $12 million.

Giving the billion to Mr. Rich instead of to the middle class means $76 - $12 = $60 million more growth on that money per year.

Now obviously there are benefits to the middle class getting the money: the wealth is more evenly distributed. But investment growth is lower. And over time that difference, with compound interest, will be huge. The long-term growth of the economic capital of the nation will be quite different.

On the other hand, it's a fairer arrangement. And the middle-class, by spending more, puts some profit into the hands of corporations, who will then presumably invest some of it. So there are some countervailing effects.

But the point is: there is a highly plausible case to be made that keeping a lot of money in the hands of the very wealthy has a real purpose, even if it also has problems.

No, here in the USA, it takes regulatory capture.

I don't know about that. Just to look at the top 20 richest people in the US: Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, the Koch brothers, the Walton family, Mike Bloomberg, Jeff Bezos, Sheldon Adelson, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, George Soros, Forrest Mars, Jacqueline Mars, Steve Ballmer, Paul Allen.

I don't see regulatory capture as being the primary source of wealth in any of these cases (correct me if I'm wrong).

Many of these got here by family inheritance, but most didn't. Most are very shrewd entrepreneurs, and almost all are significant philanthropists. And I'd also bet all of them have the structures, knowledge, and connections in place that allow them to grow their money very well indeed.
posted by shivohum at 9:24 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


We don't have quite the income inequality because we don't give the rich a blank check to shit on the poor.

September's not that far away.
posted by pompomtom at 9:24 PM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


most of the U.S. is part of the 5%

True. The American 0.1% are the global 0.005%. When you look at it that way, wealth is concentrated to a degree that's even more extreme than this video shows. How is that a reason not to be concerned about plutocracy?


The problem with this constant focus on the plutocracy and the "1%" is that is conveniently lets the US middle class completely off the hook. It paints middle class Americans as victims of gross economic injustice who deserve a much bigger slice of the pie.

When the reality is they are richer than 95% of humankind and actually deserve a smaller slice of the pie, if global wealth were distributed fairly.

A huge slice of the American middle class -- and many of the people in this thread -- are already in the global 1%. Most are in the global 5%. Go check out the "how rich am I calculator" at Giving What We Can and see for yourself where you stand.

Why is it important to recognise this? Personally I think that those who benefit from gross economic injustice have a moral responsibility -- at minimum -- to give back a significant percentage of their wealth to those who most need it (such as the 19,000 children who die daily of preventable causes like diarrhea). Peter Singer gave a fantastic Google Talk about this a couple of days ago where he outlines his simple argument for why almost all of us have a serious ethical obligation to give more to reduce global poverty; as serious as the obligation on us to save a child drowning in a pond in front of us, his famous "shallow pond" analogy.
posted by dontjumplarry at 9:38 PM on March 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Do you think that the founders of Intel had regulatory capture?

Do you think they don't?
posted by anonymisc at 9:42 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think that those who benefit from gross economic injustice have a moral responsibility -- at minimum -- to give back a significant percentage of their wealth to those who most need it

When a family member had a serious debt issue due to bad decisions, I was not happy about it but was willing to help. Part of that help included a negotiation about how to avoid the problem in the future and a willingness to cut aid off if it was just being squandered stupidly.

The further you get from family, the harder it is to justify anything. Within a town, state or country we can make a reasonable argument that we are, by social agreement, all in it together and people will make at least a minimal effort not to make things worse. Some of this comes from the force of law and the empowerment of the people via the democratic process.

If you tell me how to extend this across national boundaries, I'd love to hear it.
posted by rr at 9:44 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do you think they don't?

You ignored the tense of the question. And yes, I doubt they have regulatory capture today. Would you care to demonstrate it?
posted by rr at 9:44 PM on March 3, 2013


You ignored the tense of the question.

Because you ignored the point I made - the ways that systems that rewarded merit become unbalanced. The USA has changed since the 50s and 60s. CEOs have gone from several times average pay, to several hundred times average pay, and that ain't because of merit.
posted by anonymisc at 9:48 PM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Because you ignored the point I made - the ways that systems that rewarded merit become unbalanced. The USA has changed since the 50s and 60s. CEOs have gone from several times average pay, to several hundred times average pay, and that ain't because of merit.

Swap "Intel" for "Juniper" or for "Google." Do you think Google had regulatory capture at the point where it made its founders and early employees rich? Really?
posted by rr at 9:53 PM on March 3, 2013


Income taxes on earned income isn't how the wealthy live, but they DO get a lot of their money from capital gains, dividends, and interest, and that's as easy to tax as any other kind of income.

They've been getting a nearly free ride for decades, and now folks are screaming bloody murder for the tax on $250k and up that includes income from their investments.

In my pinko commie universe, earned income should be the one taxed very little, and the investment income should bear the highest taxes.

I'm grateful that despite the wranglings and fear mongering of the Bush era administrations, we still have an inheritance tax.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:55 PM on March 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


...but it's strange to see something going viral from a YouTube account with no identifying information and only that video, and nothing I could see in the credits indicating who made it.

Well, it is a war, is not ? Why paint a bullseye on your back ?
posted by y2karl at 9:55 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


rr, you can point to the lottery winners all you like, but for every Google that made it, there were hundreds of no-name start-ups whose superior product was defeated by the established giants using methods that were not the market.
posted by anonymisc at 9:57 PM on March 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


(Why are we even talking about companies. People are the issue)
posted by anonymisc at 9:59 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The problem with concentrated wealth is that wealth is power. It allows you to own the means of the production, have a huge influence on the economy, buy and develop politicians and hire people to convince the population to do what you want.

Investment can be run any number of ways and leaving those decisions in the hands of the few who by circumstance and opportunism find themselves rich is certainly not the best way.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 10:06 PM on March 3, 2013


rr, you can point to the lottery winners all you like, but for every Google that made it, there were hundreds of no-name start-ups whose superior product was defeated by the established giants using methods that were not the market.

(Why are we even talking about companies. People are the issue)


Because you made the nonsensical claim that the issue was regulatory capture which you have utterly failed to demonstrate.
posted by rr at 10:13 PM on March 3, 2013


I always thought that regulatory capture was used by companies to stay rich, not get rich.
posted by The Ted at 10:13 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


regulatory capture was used by companies to stay rich, not get rich.

Yes. Exactly.
posted by anonymisc at 10:20 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always thought that regulatory capture was used by companies to stay rich, not get rich.

This is true, but does not jive with this:

No, here in the USA, it takes regulatory capture. Those nice qualities you list might play a more significant role in less corrupt societies, but here in the USA, you will not find much correlation between someone being prudent etc, and being in the top 1%. You'll find better correlations if you look for qualities like influence.

What you will in fact find is a *lot* of people being prudent. New wealth - with is more than 50% of ALL wealth in the US - is not based on regulatory capture. RC is how they defend their turf and seek rents, but it is *incredibly dishonest* to claim that RC is somehow the basis of wealth.
posted by rr at 10:24 PM on March 3, 2013


I'm probably alone here, but I don't think a graph like this should be on a linear scale. I think something like money (which, as you get more money, getting even more money than that is easier and less valuable to you) belongs on a logarithmic scale. That would make this a bit of a less dramatic trend, but I imagine the basic trend would remain.
posted by Buckt at 10:25 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know what's much scarier than this wealth disparity graph? The rate of change. Hard to convey that in punchy infographics, though.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:32 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


rr - the argument was that people who had money must obviously be good with it as demonstrated by the fact that they had it. That is false - regulatory capture has a lot more to do with why those with a large slice of pie are able to keep and "nurture" that money.

Look at the modern incarnation of the GOP - putting a higher priority on don't-restore-taxes than on anything else. They know which side their bread is buttered on.
posted by anonymisc at 10:33 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is true, but does not jive with this:

The word is "jibe," dammit. Jibe.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:33 PM on March 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


That would make this a bit of a less dramatic trend

Isn't it the point to make it as dramatic as possible?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:34 PM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm talking about who is the best able to manage the nation's stock of wealth. That wealth grows when invested wisely.

You still don't get it: This growth is bad for the economy and even worse for society. Money needs to flow.
posted by patrick54 at 10:38 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lawrence Summers: How to target untaxed wealth - "The richest taxpayers actually make relatively little use of deductions and credits. What is needed is an additional element, one that has largely been absent to date: the numerous exclusions from the definition of adjusted gross income that enable the accumulation of great wealth with the payment of few or no taxes."

Emmanuel Saez: Taxing Away Inequality - "If we define rent in terms of situations where pay doesn’t correspond to what economists call ‘marginal productivity’—that is, the economic contribution a person is providing—I would say yes, because the evolution of income concentration over time and across countries has a number of features that are inconsistent with the story where pay is everywhere equal to productivity. The changes in income concentration are just too abrupt and too closely correlated with policy developments for the standard story about pay equaling productivity to hold everywhere."

Real wealth - "Most of those in the bottom half of the top 1% lack power and global flexibility and are essentially well-compensated workhorses for the top 0.5%, just like the bottom 99%. In my view, the American dream of striking it rich is merely a well-marketed fantasy that keeps the bottom 99.5% hoping for better and prevents social and political instability."

Before Greed - "Perhaps the most revealing memorial to Lincoln and his world is found in one of the most mundane of American documents: the census. There he is in the Springfield, Illinois, listing of 1860: Abraham Lincoln, 51 years old, lawyer, owner of a home worth $5,000, with $12,000 in personal property. His neighbor Lotus Niles, a 40-year-old secretary—equivalent to a manager today—had accumulated $7,000 in real estate and $2,500 in personal property. Nearby was Edward Brigg, a 48-year-old teamster from England, with $4,000 in real estate and $300 in personal property. Down the block lived Richard Ives, a bricklayer with $4,000 in real estate and $4,500 in personal property. The highest net worth in the neighborhood belonged to a 50-year-old livery stable owner, Henry Corrigan, with $30,000 in real estate but only $300 in personal property. This was a town and a country where bricklayers, lawyers, stable owners, and managers lived in the same areas and were not much separated by wealth."

The Risk Ownership Society - "So, all this has happened before, and it will happen again. Must it always? Is there no way out? Levy describes four countermovements to financialized risk: the slave South, 'fraternalism', welfare corporatism, and the welfare state... Levy touches very briefly on a fourth countermovement, New Deal-era regulation and social insurance. During 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s, macrofinancial risk was markedly absent. Were we actually less free in the mid-twentieth century because of this? ... What should we make of nations like Denmark that seem to be able to mix freedom and dynamism with a pervasive and effective welfare state?"

Hidden profits, hidden rents - "There are lots of good reasons to reduce our dependence on the institution of debt in favor of more equity-like arrangements. Evolving towards a smaller financial industry less capable of capturing rents is another reason."
posted by kliuless at 10:40 PM on March 3, 2013 [23 favorites]


Well money can't buy happiness.

Right? ... ?
posted by mazola at 10:47 PM on March 3, 2013


RC is how they defend their turf and seek rents, but it is *incredibly dishonest* to claim that RC is somehow the basis of wealth.

This is incoherent. If the majority of the economy is owned by 1% (as it is), and that share of national wealth production is defended largely by regulatory capture (as it is), then the majority of wealth created in the country - what one might fairly call "the basis of wealth" - goes to the people it goes to because of regulatory capture.

Defending "turf" IS the basis of wealth when the majority of the wealth production is owned by a few,
posted by anonymisc at 10:48 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Majority" is not a totality of the economy, so there are still ways to get rich/powerful that don't involve already being rich/powerful, but those odds are growing slimmer at a frightening rate.
posted by anonymisc at 10:51 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do you think Google had regulatory capture at the point where it made its founders and early employees rich? Really?

Inasmuch as PageRank is a fairly trivial modification of pre-existing network centrality measures (Katz, Eigenvector, etc), and inasmuch as Silicon Valley more generally and Stanford more specifically played an essential role in the capture of the software patent process that made Brin, Page, and Stanford (the nominal owner of the patent) incredibly rich -- then yes, regulatory capture was fundamentally essential to Google's early success.
posted by chortly at 11:04 PM on March 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


anonymisc is doing a good job of arguing here, I agree with most of what he says, but by not saying it, I get to spend a little more time working on THE POST. Thanks, guy-or-gal!

Well money can't buy happiness. Right? ... ?

Money can buy reduced misery, and you can't be happy if you're miserable. So it plays a factor.
posted by JHarris at 11:04 PM on March 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


The problem with this constant focus on the plutocracy and the "1%" is that is conveniently lets the US middle class completely off the hook. It paints middle class Americans as victims of gross economic injustice who deserve a much bigger slice of the pie.

When the reality is they are richer than 95% of humankind and actually deserve a smaller slice of the pie, if global wealth were distributed fairly.

A huge slice of the American middle class -- and many of the people in this thread -- are already in the global 1%.


My girlfriend and I are struggling to have enough money to pay for groceries every month and are so very thankful for the ramen noodles that make up so much of our diets, and if you add up all our assets and investments (HAHA YEAH RIGHT) and then subtract our debts (mostly student loans) our net worth is roughly -$80,000, but you're right, we obviously deserve a smaller piece of the pie. Same with all of our "middle class" relatives and friends who will pay creditors every month for the rest of their lives and still probably die in debt.

I know you're trying to argue for what you think from your position of privilege is some kind of perspective, but frankly, fuck your ridiculous manipulative oversimplifications. I own this computer and some clothes and literally nothing else. I rent an apartment (because I will never be able to afford to purchase a house or any real estate), I sleep on borrowed furniture, and I cannot afford to own or lease a car so I can't even attempt to find work outside of public transportation range (and I live in southeast Michigan, where the local government is owned by the auto industry and you can probably guess how they feel about public transportation). If my piece of the pie gets any smaller, I'm going to starve to death naked in the street.
posted by IAmUnaware at 11:09 PM on March 3, 2013 [32 favorites]


It sounds like you aren't middle class and therefore he isn't talking about you.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:13 PM on March 3, 2013


Hm. I'm in the global 14%.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:18 PM on March 3, 2013


I don't know about that. Just to look at the top 20 richest people in the US: Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, the Koch brothers, the Walton family, Mike Bloomberg, Jeff Bezos, Sheldon Adelson, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, George Soros, Forrest Mars, Jacqueline Mars, Steve Ballmer, Paul Allen.

They may personally not have regulatory capture, but who is managing their capital for them?
posted by DreamerFi at 11:27 PM on March 3, 2013 [3 favorites]




Swap "Intel" for "Juniper" or for "Google." Do you think Google had regulatory capture at the point where it made its founders and early employees rich? Really?
Even though this is a red herring because regulatory capture is about entrenching wealth, not creating wealth, it's worth pointing out that these companies are the exception to the norm. They're the hippies of the business world. The idea of giving employees equity at the rates they did and continue to do got them called socialists by most of their contemporaries, at least during the early years of Silicon Valley. And one of the big reasons that Intel was founded at all was that Fairchild was not sharing the wealth with Fairchild Semiconductor employees and Bob Noyce got sick of it. In addition to being far more generous with equity, this particular and narrow industry is also much better at paying their employees high wages. Thus, Intel, Juniper, and Google are forces against the huge wealth disparity that we see in modern America. If everyone was like them, we'd have a real middle class!

A good amount of the "regulatory capture" in the past few decades has been explicitly lessening the tax rates on people with high incomes, and more so those with large capital gains. It was the whole point of trickle-down economics, and current tax-busters pursue tax breaks for the wealthy primarily, with tax breaks for the non-wealthy only as afterthoughts. An entire party has been devoted to regulatory capture for entrenching wealth and making sure that it gets concentrated into the hands of a few. (Imagine if that party heard Reagan talking about taxing capital gains as ordinary income! They'd go burn down his presidential library!)
posted by Llama-Lime at 11:46 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Remember back in the 90's when very serious people were talking about how people would have to change jobs every few years instead of working at one firm their entire career? And they were trying to sell the idea that this was a good thing.

What I always think of is biographical sketches of people in the 19th century, when the roles available were pretty much "farmer" (verging on 75-90%), "merchant", and "employee with no job security whatsoever". The sons who didn't have wealth would have to find their own, and the litany of smart people, too middle-class to be a factory worker, but not situated enough to rest on inherited wealth, was often one "ruin" after another.

The era of "inexpensive schooling => lifetime job" is really an artifact, for much of the population, of the postwar 20th century.
posted by dhartung at 12:06 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


It feels like we've been talking about this for more than a decade and I'm really, really hoping for a carthartic coda at the end this whole sordid re-run of "The Life of a Culture".
posted by Slackermagee at 12:12 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, one of the Related Videos in the pack of wealth inequality vids is about griding up useless meat for hot dogs, so you may get your wish.
posted by benzenedream at 1:28 AM on March 4, 2013


The recession has had zero effect on that area because artificially high gas prices have been lining the pockets of the oil industry and its support industry.

What should a one-time energy source be priced at then?

To get a gallon of milk you need a cow, some grass and the ability to sit down and milk the cow. And the next gallon of milk - sunshine and a cow.

To get the gallon of gasoline you need things like a a multi million plant to separate out the gas portion, if the raw product is taken from the deep ocean you need a drill ship that rents for 1/2 a million a day, The next gallon of gas comes from what million year old stockpile of plants?

So why is milk and gasoline 'bout the same price if "price" is somehow a marker of 'value' and ability to replace with another unit?

the rich have proved themselves the best protectors and conservers of the money; that's why they have it.

And here I was thinking 'the rich' have money because their long-dead relatives came up with the money.

Conserving and increasing wealth takes requires prudence, farsightedness, intelligent risk-taking, deferred gratification, and the knowledge and the network of connections that wealth and business attracts (a comprehension of negotiation and entrepreneurship, connections with lawyers and accountants, familiarity with a range of financial instruments, a comprehension of the political system, etc.).

That bold part that is an afterthought just shows how out of touch advocates of wealth are.

The ability to use force begets wealth. The Governments power of force translates to wealth for those who can manipulate that system.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:38 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Giving the billion to Mr. Rich instead of to the middle class means $76 - $12 = $60 million more growth on that money per year.

Interesting theory! On the other hand, recorded history.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:52 AM on March 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


Many of these got here by family inheritance, but most didn't. Most are very shrewd entrepreneurs, and almost all are significant philanthropists

Got proof beyond handwaving?
posted by rough ashlar at 1:53 AM on March 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


It ought to be invested by people who have the know-how to invest it most wisely. The successful, lucky though they may be, are better than others at this.

Is there any evidence that business people - especially those who have made themselves very wealthy through owning companies - are particularly good at running modern governments?

I'm struggling to come up with examples. George W. Bush is the only US President to have earned an MBA, but he was, by any objective standard, one of the most incompetent presidents in US history. On the other hand, the former law professor Bill Clinton did very well indeed.

I'm also skeptical about the claim that wealth should be given to the rich to invest on behalf of society, simply because many of the ways of getting wealthy involve creating competitive advantages for your firms that are actually quite detrimental to society as a whole - outsourcing, creating a culture that squeezes your workers harder than your competitors do, creating a de facto monopoly of some kind, being dishonest (but within the law) about how great your product is, dismantling a successful firm so you can sell its pieces for a lot of money individually, branding (which only creates the appearance of value) and so on. There is no reason to believe that someone who is good at tricks of that sort (which are a big part of modern wealth creation) would be good at making investments that would benefit a lot of people in the longer term.

As far as I can see, the arguments in favor of allowing a tiny minority to claim exclusive power over an enormous proportion of society's wealth boil down to the following:

1) They made it, so they deserve it - but this is doubtful. Many rich people inherit their money or their starting stake at least and can then pay others to grow it; they may have gotten lucky; they may have figured out ways to exploit the system; they probably got a lot of it just by being able to claim ownership of the results of the labor of others; and even if they worked hard and were talented and really genuinely deserved to do well - are they honestly 650 times more hard working and talented than anyone else? I don't think you could say that about da Vinci or Einstein, let alone someone who's just a CEO. And I suspect that you could retrain a willing and intelligent worker to do what most CEOs do in the space of about a couple of years. Project management is not a rare or difficult skill, it really isn't. Not in comparison with, say, artistic ability or scientific talent.

2) They will make best use of it - but there doesn't seem to be any evidence of this. And the economy is, I suggest, more demand-led than supply-led: if you have a lot of consumers with money to spend, entrepreneurs will seek them out, and the competitive process of capitalism can do the work it is meant to do.

3) The market knows best - except that anyone who knows anything at all about economics knows that that is complete bunk. How a market is set up has a massive impact on how it functions; there are all sorts of ways in which powerful interests can and do intervene to distort markets in all sorts of ways - even assuming that the things that neoclassical economists say about how a "market" operates were true, which they largely are not.

4) If you are American you are richer than someone in Africa so stop whining - a nasty argument that attempts to persuade people not to fix injustices by making them feel guilty. Why shouldn't someone make their own society more fair and just, simply because another society has people in it who are doing worse? You might as well argue that it would be fine to strip the Walton's of 99/9% of their family fortune because they would still would still be rich on a global scale - and yet, funnily enough, the people terribly concerned about the global poor don't tend to advance that argument.

These are really not good arguments at all, but despite that I see them advanced - and demolished - and then advanced again - over and over online. To be honest, I think that they mostly convince people who want to believe them, either because they want to believe that we live in a just world where money is the reward of behaving in the "right" way; or because they have a position of privilege and don't want to think about it too much; or because they would quite like to exploit other people and are sort of hoping that everyone else will be dumb enough to fall for it.
posted by lucien_reeve at 3:23 AM on March 4, 2013 [22 favorites]


That's one of the most effective visualizations of US income inequality that I've seen.
posted by kprincehouse at 3:52 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Look at the real estate market -- there are many potential homeowners who have the money for a down payment, and have a decent combined income to qualify for a mortgage. They can't find houses to buy. Why? Because the ultra wealthy are outbidding them with cash offers across the board. Not only do they raise the net cost of homes in the area, they prevent access to a stable line of equity and the strongest pillar of the middle class.

Last house we bid on (failed to get) went in two round - first, all comers. Second - cash only. This in a pretty nice town indeed. So, yeah - low interest rates courtesy the government which is killing savings for the middle class and getting the moneyed into investment areas they didn't used to get into.

They made it, so they deserve it - but this is doubtful.


"They made it" is a statement of (alleged) fact, "they deserve it" is opinion. Which is doubtful? And are you drawing a distinction between those who did earn it and those who merely inherit? What about those who grow a small family business into a bohemoth?
posted by IndigoJones at 4:10 AM on March 4, 2013


I say this not to be insulting or dismissive -- my views on income and wealth distribution have been stated many times before, and I am extremely sympathetic to the message -- but because I find it very much at odds with the rest of the presentation: to me the most intriguing part about this excellent visualisation was the prevalence of small room resonance in the voiceover.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:16 AM on March 4, 2013


I'm talking about who is the best able to manage the nation's stock of wealth. That wealth grows when invested wisely. It ought to be invested by people who have the know-how to invest it most wisely.

Forgive us for being skeptical of the Very Wise People less than a decade after the investment banks catastrophically collapsed our economy leading to a crisis that persists to this day for the rest of us, but has left them even richer. Maybe they can use their wisdom to bail themselves out next time instead of taking from our government.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:32 AM on March 4, 2013 [15 favorites]


I think an interesting conversation would be "what should this graph look like"? The points made above about rich people having some utility for the economy because they can afford to invest in things and take risks makes me think you don't want it totally flat. But does the exact shape matter? The "logarithmic" notion is interesting too, and sort of matches the idea underlying our progressive income tax, I think.

But does the top end of the distribution really matter at all, or do we just care about making the bottom end "good enough"? Would it matter if the graph were the same shape, if we had a decent guaranteed minimum income?
posted by OnceUponATime at 4:48 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the fact that we still base wealth on an ablist system "some people are able to do xyz and therefore deserve enough money to live comfortably while those who fail don't"-- it's extremely problematic.

The mentality that anyone CAN perform well in school and the work place if THEY JUST TRY HARD ENOUGH-- keeps a brutal class system in place that justifies keeping people with learning disabilities, less cognitive ability, emotional burdens, developmental issues, mental illness and various other differences of skill that don't match the market place needs in horrific conditions and claiming they "deserve it".

I think a capitalistic system for luxury items makes perfect sense. A capitalistic system that basis the right to have housing,food, and medical care on having the skill set to survive a brutal and merciless workplace is just barbaric.

After all, many of us believe DOGS deserve food and housing based on no ability to generate financial wealth whatsoever. We are more willing to house and feed dogs than human beings who we have classed as unworthy of basic survival because they struggle with various aspects of school and work performance.
posted by xarnop at 4:56 AM on March 4, 2013 [26 favorites]


Swap "Intel" for "Juniper" or for "Google." Do you think Google had regulatory capture at the point where it made its founders and early employees rich? Really?

Intel is effectively a monopoly, and has abused that monopoly position for years. the lack of successful enforcement of the monopoly laws is a form of regulatory capture.

Google made it's founders and initial employees wealthy via an extremely successful stock issue during a historic bubble in the stock markets driven by (in part) money flowing into the stock markets due to a wide range of conditions tied up in the regulatory capture of the financial markets. Google is a profitable company, but the extreme price of it's stock has little to do with "fundamentals" as they apply to other companies. it's also effectively a monopoly... it's successful because it's successful: see BingTM.

Thus, Intel, Juniper, and Google are forces against the huge wealth disparity that we see in modern America. If everyone was like them, we'd have a real middle class!

lol. tell that to the thriving US semiconductor industry... oh wait, what industry outside of specialized defense procurement? and then there's Google, an advertising company so efficiently capitalized that it's expanded into... driverless cars?

if only the US economy were dominated by monopolistic business with vast stock market wealth, everything would be better.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:58 AM on March 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also considering that those with power deny the right of the poor to land on which they could grow their own vegetables and build their own houses-- means that yes, the people who own all the land and won't share it with the poor should at least share the necessity items the poor have difficulty accessing. Or make public gardens and the right to build your own shelter (if we want codes then provide assistance to meet those codes)-- a basic human right.

People can't create businesses out of NOTHING. We don't have any resources to build items to sell, or tools to create services... There is nothing for the poor to create wealth out of. In this country you used to be able to homestead land-- you could just go out and cut trees and sell wood, or you could grow vegetables and sell them at the market.

We don't have access to the land or resources to create our own businesses. One own the air, one pay to breath.
posted by xarnop at 5:24 AM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well what struck me about the video is that the middle class doesn't really exist anymore. The thing is, I don't think a lot of the people who used to be middle class and are now poor are aware of that fact. What I mean is, they don't really have the mentality that a lot of us longterm poor folks have. They're a lot angrier for one thing, and they have an awareness that they are entitled to something more.

So the 22-year-olds in the earlier interns post who think they should have a good job out of college but instead work as baristas while they toil at their internships, they really expected something better. I mean, to me, a 22 year old is fortunate if they can get a good job driving a school bus, but that's because I'm poor and grew up around poor people. Working in fast food is exactly where I'd expect someone in their early 20s to be simply because I didn't know many college graduates when I was that age so I had only the distant awareness that there were other possibilities for young people besides being poor. But now there aren't anymore.

I've been on food stamps for a while but something radical has happened in that last five or six years. It used to be that I often ran into cashiers who couldn't run the card correctly, or stores would have only a few registers that could handle food stamps. I had a working relative, someone who used to be blue collar middle-class, and when I asked him to go to the store for me and use my card he was always so embarrassed to do it in his work uniform.

Now, someone who wears a work uniform is probably just as broke as me. Now, every other person in line at the market is on food stamps. My relative still has his job and he makes the same amount of money (in itself a problem), but he's out of money at the end of the month just like me and the rest of us on welfare. A lot of people are going hungry now. A lot of people are jumping from job to job now. They have nothing but debt no matter how much income they have.


A fair number of my friends dropped out of college, kept their service-sector job, and slowly crawled up the management chain to the point that they're pulling in a quite livable wage, even though they are not employed in the professions. "Middle class" is a wiggle word, but how do you not count these people as "middle class"?

Also note that most of these friends grew up in upper-middle-class households, where it was assumed they would attend a four year college or university and enter into a profession. So it's not that the "middle class" jobs have vanished completely, it's that the children of doctors and lawyers are now taking those jobs as the top erodes and educational expenses continue to rise. It's a downwardly mobile economy.

My father grew up dirt poor, went to school, and became a lawyer. That transition seems nigh impossible today, between the enormous tuition and the overcrowded job market. All the gains in economic mobility that happened during my parents' generation are being undone, slowly but surely.
posted by deathpanels at 5:37 AM on March 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


... is the way the rich continuously move the discussion from wealth to income.

When you don't have any wealth, income is everything. When you have serious wealth, income is irrelevant.


The noted and studied problem with meritocracies is that the people at the top who got there by merit, will immediately set about pulling the ladder up after them so their quite normal kids/heirs/family/buddies can achieve great heights too - instead of those heights being reserved for the most meritorious people of society.

This. In fact, I have heard a semi-wealthy Libertarian literally say that it is morally wrong to make wealthy people pay taxes when they could be using their wealth to "invest in" their own children.
posted by Foosnark at 5:38 AM on March 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


The conflation of "wealth" with "worth" is perhaps the sickest symptom of this sick society.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:44 AM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ya know, I don't mostly have a problem with people being "rich." What I have problems with are insane wealth (one man'a extreme wealth is many, many others' poverty), greed (and therefore unchecked capitalism) and disgusting levels of inequality (which can severely disadvantage the 95% below.) But hey, if you're smart and enterprising I'm cool with you having a boat. Just no golden rudders, mkay?
posted by nowhere man at 6:04 AM on March 4, 2013


You know one considerations I've had (I can't do math so ya'll tell me how off base this is)-- is that we stop taxing for housing. Once you get housing, no taxes or extremely minimal taxes. There could be some half-1 acre of land that was tax free per person/family. All luxury items that are unrelated to physical, emotional, or health needs could be heavily taxed to make up for it.

Think how much more possible it would be house the homeless if it were a one time expense? Think how much more possible to save people from being overworked in miserable jobs if we could get people into housing and then they could have some breathing room to start choosing their hours and what kind of working conditions they can physically and psychologically endure while knowing they have housing stability?

We would likely save a lot of money currently being spent on medicating the physical and mental health problems of people being trapped in work that they know they can't really handle. I don't know... just a thought?
posted by xarnop at 6:13 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess what I mean is for basic housing/condo units etc-- extremely large houses and plots of lands would still be taxed as luxury items...(?)
posted by xarnop at 6:17 AM on March 4, 2013


Real estate taxes are wealth taxes. Real estate is also one of the most common income generating investments. I understand the point about it being unfair to owe taxes on property that you're living in which is not bringing in any income, and that's why many states have different tax rates for "homesteads", but I think that is precisely the problem with "wealth taxes" in general.

A lot of "wealth" is in use and isn't liquid. Real estate is maybe one of the least complicated forms of wealth to tax. How do you pay a wealth tax on your art collection or your small business?
posted by OnceUponATime at 6:38 AM on March 4, 2013


We should just dump them off our backs.
posted by nicolin at 6:52 AM on March 4, 2013


I'm sorry, I meant increasing sales tax on luxury items, not wealth taxes on purchased items. And taxing excesses of land/housing seems more fair than taxing people just for living whether they have the income to handle that expense and still eat/pay emergency expenses/healthcare/transportation/childcare or not.
posted by xarnop at 6:54 AM on March 4, 2013


A universal living wage, then you can have all the gold mansions you want.
posted by fullerine at 7:17 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Personally I think a dorm room, access to land to grow your own vegetables, raise chickens etc (and access to a marketplace where the produce could be sold) and a public kitchen/bathroom should be a basic human right for any human that's not breaking laws about harming other people i.e. safe to use and share common areas.

I think if this were a right, than many people could use that sanctuary to go do work training/internships/schooling and build a career with housing and food stability in place and without having to work some 40 hours and barely have food or housing while ALSO trying to go to school and learn new things and keep up with everything. And some people who either can't or don't want to climb the ladder could subsist without creating a particularly high burden on others. It's ridiculous we think people should be living in subhuman living and working conditions while also being superstars of ingenuity and brilliance and endurance in school and work.
posted by xarnop at 7:18 AM on March 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also considering that those with power deny the right of the poor to land on which they could grow their own vegetables and build their own houses-- means that yes, the people who own all the land and won't share it with the poor should at least share the necessity items the poor have difficulty accessing.

I believe 'those with power' deny land holders the ability to grow what they want where they want.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:25 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can grow what I want but I can't have chickens on my 1/3 of an acre because I live "in town."

I've been thinking about the middle class buying power of my parents (in their 70's) vs. the middle class buying power that I have realized (in my 50's) vs. what the future holds for my daughter. It is only now in my 50's that I have come to grips with the fact that I will never attain the financial security and the lifestyle of my parents. My father, who worked for L.A. county, lives in a million dollar home in San Francisco and spends 3 weeks every summer in Florence. My mother, a nurse, took a vacation every year of her adulthood (sometimes 2 or 3) and bought a new car every 5 years. She has been to places I will never see: Australia, the Holy Land, Hawaii, Italy, the Netherlands, and so on. All of my aunts and uncles are in comparable situations: travel, second homes, Cadillacs, large retirement funds and fat pensions. I've come to terms with the fact that I will never buy a new car, much less a luxury car, nor visit the world, but what I really worry about is my retirement and the future medical bills.

My 19 year old daughter is another worry and my greatest concern. 4 years of private school and right now she is working as a chauffeur for an old family friend for $10.00 an hour under the table. She refuses to go to college because she says it won't help. I don't know what to say to her because she might be right. Better for her to try and become a grocery clerk or a nanny or in-home caretaker rather then try for the dizzying heights of a teaching or nursing degree.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:33 AM on March 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Whereas if the entire billion were distributed into the hands of the middle-class, WAY more of it would be spent instead of invested, since the middle-class doesn't have the luxury of saving as much as the extremely rich.

Yes, more of it would be spent, as in given to other people in exchange for goods and services. This allows more people to earn a living by providing good and services, which is a good thing. You seem to believe that “investment” is the only proper thing to do with money, by which I take it you mean to stick it in a bank somewhere and earn interest. Take that to its logical conclusion – would it not then be “best” if all of the money in existence was in the bank as “investment” and none of it was in our pockets or used to pay for goods and services? This is exactly why we’re in this position, little of the money, which represents the wealth of the country, is available for use. It’s all sitting in a small number of people’s bank accounts and "making" them money. I understand that this is sometimes done by providing capital to businesses who do things, but which businesses, how is it used? Investment is not a morally neutral activity.

I think something like money (which, as you get more money, getting even more money than that is easier and less valuable to you) belongs on a logarithmic scale.

I would accept that so long as the purchasing power of the money was also based on a logarithmic scale. Of course, it isn’t, and $2 from an exceptionally wealthy person and $2 from someone with no other money in the world buys the same cup of coffee. What we can see in these graphs is an exponential increase in wealth for those who have more money, which is a pretty obvious result of interest. What I’d be happier with is a logarithmic increase in wealth.

Of course, since these are just graphs based on mathematical equations, just saying something is “exponential” or “logarithmic” describes the general behavior of the function, which can be modified by other factors in the equation. It’s also a problem because any exponential function will go toward infinity and we don’t have infinite wealth or money. Exponential and logarithmic functions are inverses.
posted by nTeleKy at 10:49 AM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


The wealthy, in the absence of any regulation, will eventually suck all the wealth out of the rest of society, leaving bare subsistence, as game theory would predict. This is the way it has always happened in real life, too, so at least the theory is correct.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:51 AM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The intentional undoing of the social gains made in the 20th century, by the current moneyed classes doesn't surprise me much, the writing has been on the wall in that regard since the late 90's. What has been a surprise is the willingness of so many who have so little, to cheerlead their own rape and ruin with such vigor...
posted by stenseng at 11:21 AM on March 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


"The poor consume; the rich invest."

If this were true, there would never be shows like Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous or My Super Sweet 16.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:36 AM on March 4, 2013


Of course they consume, but it's better for the economy if ten parents can buy their daughter a Hyundai built in Alabama than if one can afford a Ferrari.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:57 PM on March 4, 2013


I've been downwardly mobile my entire life. I used to blame that on myself - well, I blamed it on myself when I was still an actual member of the great American middle class. My parents were upper middle class and I grew up during the sixties and seventies where they were really kind of upper upper middle class, so I suppose it is natural that I have long described myself as high socio, low economic. As the 80s and Reagonomics began to take hold, I remember my father (who would live and die a Kennedy era Democrat and was a successful CEO for several companies throughout his career but a difficult to put it mildly man as a father) railing about greed and the way things were trending. "No CEO," he said, "Should ever make more than 20 times more than the worker on the factory floor. That's how this country stays great. What they're trying to do now, it's going to destroy the middle class." Prescient. And correct.

Well I managed to make a small living over the years and hold on to an artsy job and make a nonprofit salary and raise my kids. We were never rich - by many American standards we were poor indeed - but we were okay, you know. Up until about three years ago when I got laid off and now we are bona fide food stamp holding dirt poor ramen eating members of the underclass. And you know what? Back when I had a real job and health insurance and a 401K and a car that wasn't falling apart and I didn't actually fucking worry about whether I would have to choose between feeding myself or my dogs this week, I used to think it was my fault and stupid of me that I didn't run with the advantages I was given and become or at least marry an investment banker. Now that all those things are true and I don't know what the hell I'm going to do, I don't think it was my damn fault anymore. I had a career for twenty years on and off and I did nothing to make that go away.

I look around and I'm so far from alone in this and yet people are ashamed. Everyone is so ashamed, oh god, we tried, we tried but we failed, it must be our fault. So they're silent about it and you hear in whispers, "She moved in with her daughter. . . . he's living in his car. . . he hasn't had a job for 2 years and they lost the house." Hushed tones and nobody wants to admit it. Well we should admit it because damnit, no, it's not our fault. The fucking country is skewed in a way it never has been before, not even in the time of the robber barons. The 1890s Vanderbilts whose legacy I live amongst here in this town, never dreamed of an America so brutally skewed between rich and poor. Our parents and grandparents never thought it would go like this. Chew on this one: when I was a little girl in the early 70s there were no beggars on the street in the US. No, really. I saw my first beggar when I was 8 years old on a trip to Ireland and my mother gave her all our unfamiliar Irish money and cried.

I made less money last year than I have since I was 21 years old or in a year where I had actually given birth. My children are doing even worse: they both moved in with me. My daughter's paying off student loans and a car loan and has more debts than income and can't see a way clear. My son just got a restaurant job. His girlfriend works fast food. Nobody makes more than $12 an hour. Between the three of us and my son's girlfriend - and all because my parents were upper middle class and I inherited enough money to buy a house - we can more or less keep the lights on and the dogs fed but every week is a new terrifying adventure.

Therefore, because fuck it, let me share a little light relief.
posted by mygothlaundry at 3:08 PM on March 4, 2013 [16 favorites]


Of course they consume, but it's better for the economy if ten parents can buy their daughter a Hyundai built in Alabama than if one can afford a Ferrari.

But mostly it's better for, you know, society. I had a very frustrating discussion with my right-wing father once about what the definition of a good economy was. He insisted it was one that generated the most wealth. I had this crazy idea that it provided people with what they need.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:18 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


What I came in here to say, too, before I got carried away with my own anecdata of woe, is that the other elephant in the room of wealth inequality is wage stagnation. All of my friends are not starving like me. I do know a few people who are doing okay and even one or two who are doing quite well. Are they doing better than they were in the 80s or 90s? Oh hell no. I would say that easily 80 - 90% of the people I know are making the same or less money than they were 15 or 20 years ago.

In 1996 I had a pretty good job at a major US museum putting together kids' programs. When I moved to Asheville I took a small pay cut and a different job in PR & communications for the art museum here. I then proceeded to make essentially the same money for the next twelve years. Yes, that's right: twelve years. No real raise. One of my good friends who does the same job I used to do at a different nonprofit is making the same money I was making 15 years ago. Another friend of mine had a nice six figure income in the 90s. She's working harder, doing the same work and making, um, about 45K. In other words, fixed income! It's not just for seniors anymore! Do you think the cost of living is the same as it was 15 years ago? Pardon me while I roll around on the floor alternately laughing and crying.

And that, wealth inequality apologists, is one of the big reasons why the "Rich people deserve their money" argument doesn't fly. Rich people are making more money, vastly more money than ever before, on the backs of the people who are making vastly less money - than ever before. And that is the other elephant sitting on the couch (it is crowded in here, so crowded) that we are all so very reluctant to discuss: why is it that companies can make record profits and yet they pay their workers less and less? And why do we quietly put up with it?
posted by mygothlaundry at 4:00 PM on March 4, 2013 [17 favorites]


This is what happens when we stop being citizens and start being "consumers." When there's no longer a society, just an "economy."
posted by stenseng at 4:23 PM on March 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


The Job Creators Are Not Creating Jobs [possibly because they are not nor have ever been 'job creators'].
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:19 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Very interesting presentation. But I'm at a bit of a loss finding it terribly useful. As usual in threads involving economics and prosperity, the responses shed almost no light.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:28 PM on March 4, 2013


Very interesting presentation. But I'm at a bit of a loss finding it terribly useful. As usual in threads involving economics and prosperity, the responses shed almost no light.

What response would you like? It's a lot like Occupy Wall Street. For all the people waiting for the message to emerge, it was very lost that Occupy Wall Street was the message in itself.

For all of the people who sat in that urban campground, they received the message loud and clear. It was quite interesting to watch the social befuddlement. But what do they want? What are their demands? What is this about? It's just a bunch of people sitting in a park.

Meanwhile, in the park, people who had been left behind in the financial crisis were the message. They had been suffering alone. Debts rising. Unemployment rising. Needs not met. (Probably) ample self-flaggelation about their inability to provide for their own presents and futures.

So they went outside. And they found that they were not alone. These were not their own problems but the problems of a lot of other people. The reason they did not want to leave that park was that they had two things there that were absent before:

1) Community. If there are that many people disenfranchised by finance in the financial capital of the world, it's much less lonely to be together.

2) Attention. They sat alone, in apartments and houses around the city. Suffering unemployment; underemployment. Nobody cared. Their friends with jobs told them Go get jobs. We have them. So can you.. The government said We're doing all we can. And finance said Well, there are winners and losers then, aren't there.

When all those people got together in the park, what they learnt was that it's okay to be on hard times. It's just as a much a structural problem with the economic and governance systems as it is a problem of the individual. And that's why they didn't want to leave. What did they have to go back to? Crushing student debt and underemployment? Loneliness? A media-industrial complex of unattainable celebrity culture?

Many elites wiped their brow at the end of Occupy Wall Street. Thank god that's over they said. Those silly people have gone back to respecting the law they said (as they pay fines for environmental pollution because it's cheaper than environmental sustainability). They missed the point completely.

And now you're missing the point complete. I suggest you try a little bit harder. No disrespect intended, but it's not that hard to find a meaning in this. If you are failing to find meaning, I would examine if this presentation makes you nervous or afraid. Because the reality is that there is only one solution. Wealth redistribution. If you are not willing to entertain that, then you will find a difficult time with this presentation. For without accepting at least some quantity of wealth redistribution, you are tacitly fine with the way things are. And if that is the case, then no, there's no usefulness here for you.
posted by nickrussell at 5:33 AM on March 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


Just to make the point again, the founders of Intel and many other companies on the list above actually did make their money through regulatory capture in the form of patent and copyright control. They had the United States government play enforcer to keep control of intellectual property that they discovered or purchased and prevent others from using. This is a form of regulatory capture.

Since Bill Gates purchased the code for MicroSoft-DOS, I would posit that regulatory capture is the principle source of his wealth, along with Allen and Ballmer. As for the others on shivohum's list, regulatory capture in the form of intellectual property laws contributed significantly to the wealth of all the rest as well.

This is a blind spot in many people's views of regulatory capture. For more information on how the current system of copyright and patents hurts Americans, check out Dean Baker's book The Conservative Nanny State, especially chapter four, Bill Gates-Welfare Mom, How Government Patent and Copyright Monopolies Enrich the Rich and Distort the Economy.
posted by GregorWill at 9:45 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


why is it that companies can make record profits and yet they pay their workers less and less?

Because there are billions of Chinese and Indian peasants and we opened up our economy to labor competition from them. It's been a race to the bottom for the American worker ever since, occasionally papered over with various credit tricks that have created bubbles now and then.

On one hand, you had the pro-globalization / free trade crowd, with their fresh-from-ECON101 platitudes about "comparative advantage" and the win-win of trade; on the other hand you had the owners of capital, who were laughing to themselves all along because they knew where all the benefits of trade were going to accrue. And it wasn't, and isn't, to workers.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:58 AM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]




« Older Detailed Floor Plan Drawings of Popular TV and...   |   He picked up mad rhymes at the Penington School Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post