It's 2015 and inequality looks like it's going to be here for a while
January 19, 2015 12:19 PM   Subscribe

Oxfam's latest report ahead of the World Economics Forum in Davos says that "by next year, 1% of the world’s population will own more wealth than the other 99%."

Global inequality has been picking up steam in international conversation as 2014 saw the rise Thomas Piketty's Capital. The topic has become so prevalent that even the Wall Street Journal now publishes many terrifying and illustrative charts on the growing pace on inequality.

In the US, a new Congressional GOP-majority threatens to hold off any meaningful change to the American tax system. American inequality disproportionately affects people of color, and has accelerated at such a rapid pace than it is at its worst point since the Great Depression.

Compounding the issue has been the decline of unions (which were historically linked to controlling wealth inequality) and the decline in purchasing power (wages peaked several decades ago). In the past, Americans' productivity had a close relationship with income gains, but this relationship has declined for decades.

Some commenters have asked, "Why are we not more angry?" Meanwhile, many small victories have happened in the last year, including the raising of the minimum wage to $15 in Seattle and San Francisco, the first successful contract for University of Illinois Chicago faculty and adjuncts, and a possible step to make it easier for workers to organize.
posted by mostly vowels (126 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 


“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, 'It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.' It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: 'if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?' There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
posted by Fizz at 12:23 PM on January 19, 2015 [86 favorites]


This isn't happening because the 1% are jerks. Maybe they are, but that's not why this is happening.

It's happening because there is less and less demand for labor relative to the supply. And as technology improves, productivity per worker will go up until the workers themselves aren't even needed at all. We have to figure out what a society with only 75%, 50%, 25% employment looks like and how to keep it from imploding.
posted by the jam at 12:29 PM on January 19, 2015 [47 favorites]


Quick poll US metafilter: What decile is your household income?

I'm in the bottom 10 percent.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:30 PM on January 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


@Fizz - the funny thing about the Vonnegut quote is that the character it's attributed to is an American officer who has defected to the Nazis and become a propagandist. One of the best things about that book: nobody gets to be a hero or a villain.

But all that aside, is there anything an average person can do about this? Or should i just keep my head down and wait for the structure to collapse catastrophically?
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 12:34 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


the jam: When the workers aren't needed, who will be consuming the production?

Yup, it's musical chairs, and the chairs are being removed at an ever increasing rate even as more and more players enter the game.
posted by Cosine at 12:34 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


This isn't happening because the 1% are jerks. Maybe they are, but that's not why this is happening.

It's happening because there is less and less demand for labor relative to the supply. And as technology improves, productivity per worker will go up until the workers themselves aren't even needed at all. We have to figure out what a society with only 75%, 50%, 25% employment looks like and how to keep it from imploding.


They're jerks, the proof is that the excess productivity is invested in mega-yachts and London real estate, rather than distributed proportionally to the exponentially more productive worker.
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:36 PM on January 19, 2015 [74 favorites]


Mission accomplished.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:38 PM on January 19, 2015


Some commenters have asked, "Why are we not more angry?"

What a neat bit of propaganda, ignoring entirely the many, many Americans who are very angry. First, it implies either that the news media are faithfully reporting the actual anger of Americans, or that everyone knows how angry everyone else is. Second, it implies that however angry Americans are, they're not angry enough, the evidence for which is presumably that we haven't had an armed revolution yet. Third, it disingenuously situates this speaker, the same one who somehow knows exactly how angry everyone else is, as an expert on how angry people ought to be in order to have their anger taken seriously, or noticed in the first place.

We have to be very wary of claims like this one. It's a complex and subtle dismissal of ongoing and growing resistance to the status quo, it's a vision of an alternate reality not matching the one we actually live in. And the wealthiest people want the rest of us to think we're alone, we're the only ones who are angry, or that in fact nobody is all that upset.

We have to be wary of this propaganda because as the status quo continues to become more brutal and ever more indefensibly unjust, so the claims that seek to legitimate, underplay, and elide its effects on our lives will become more numerous, subtle, and strenuously defended as impartial or common-sensical.
posted by clockzero at 12:38 PM on January 19, 2015 [85 favorites]


Everything you need to know about income inequality is this : I don't make that much money.

And I'm in the 89th percentile.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:39 PM on January 19, 2015 [29 favorites]


"Why are we not more angry?"

Bread and circuses, mostly circuses.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:39 PM on January 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


Or should i just keep my head down and wait for the structure to collapse catastrophically?

This will likely happen at some point, but probably not in America. Americans may complain about it, but they don't seem willing to act to bring down huge levels of inequality. Maybe it's an aspirational thing.
posted by Noms_Tiem at 12:39 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Can anyone elaborate on Vonnegut's quote from Slaughterhouse-Five:

"The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: 'if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?' There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.”

I'm having trouble what that specific portion of that quote is supposed to convey.
posted by jdthai87 at 12:41 PM on January 19, 2015


Liz: I assume that's code for a billionaire's soul-searching trip to Tan Penis Island.

Jack: For your information, most of Tan Penis Island was destroyed in Sting's house fire.

I'm not entirely sure why I posted this comment
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:41 PM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Quick poll US metafilter: What decile is your household income?

I'm in the bottom 10 percent.


Two mid-level game devs, 80th percentile; exactly where I thought we were (scraping the bottom of the top quintile).
posted by Ryvar at 12:43 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


"They're jerks, the proof is that the excess productivity is invested in mega-yachts and London real estate, rather than distributed proportionally to the exponentially more productive worker."

I think people confuse the 1% with the .1% quite often. I'm pretty sure that most of the 1% is the jerk with the big car and the McMansion that eats at the fancy eatery in town. The .1% you don't see in your city, and have those mega-yachts (or yachts in general, the mega-yachts are probably for the .01%).
posted by el io at 12:44 PM on January 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


the top 10th percentile for income in the US starts at about $150,000 *per household*.

the reason why the 1% get to do what they want is because they buy off the top 25% i.e. it's because of you.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:44 PM on January 19, 2015 [11 favorites]


the jam: It's happening because there is less and less demand for labor relative to the supply. And as technology improves, productivity per worker will go up until the workers themselves aren't even needed at all. We have to figure out what a society with only 75%, 50%, 25% employment looks like and how to keep it from imploding.

The easy answer is "pay/hire folks based on their output." That becomes hard for a lot of folks. On one hand, should a fast food worker get paid for the number of burgers that go out the door, especially if their shift lines up to a slow period? On the other, plenty of jobs, like mine, lack a discrete unit of output. Stuff just gets done.

I somewhat disagree with the premise: while technology has been an enabler of productivity, in many cases, it's more through making it easier for hours worked to creep up ("let me do a quick check of work email on my SmartPhone..." (two hours go by)) is a large factor.

Personally, the first thing I would do is require all but C-suite jobs (CEO, CFO, etc.) get paid overtime.* What counts as "work" would have to be broadly defined (that quick sweep of email counts--and server logs will be checked!). Companies would no longer be able to do the work of 120 employees with only a hundred people, or force folks into 60 hour weeks on a "you're lucky to have a job basis." Likewise, we'd need to reverse rulings such as the recent one that allows Amazon to call a mandatory security sweep just part of the commute. In short: force companies to pay for every unit of labor they consume.

*There may be other classes of workers--my point is that it would be an exceedingly limited percentage of a company. Just being declared "manager" or "executive" or "vice president" (in a company of hundreds or thousands of folks with those titles) would do.
posted by MrGuilt at 12:44 PM on January 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm having trouble what that specific portion of that quote is supposed to convey.

It emphasizes that the poor have been successfully enlisted into demeaning the poor, and that this exaltation of the wealthy as the only non-failures, even by those who by this measure must regard themselves as failures, goes, thanks to our Horatio Alger mythology, hand-in-hand with patriotism and is in some ways indistinguishable from it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:45 PM on January 19, 2015 [23 favorites]


89th percentile, yet my kids qualify for subsidized college loans, and we need them.
posted by COD at 12:47 PM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Quick poll US metafilter: What decile is your household income?

Solo, 1.3rd percentile. Household, 0.5th percentile. Ahahahaha! Ha ha. Heh. Heh. Eh. And I was estimating with a pretty good month, too.

Well, that was depressing.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 12:48 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Though, hey: our combined income is in the 1%! Just, you know, the wrong 1%.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 12:52 PM on January 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


the excess productivity is invested in mega-yachts and London real estate, rather than distributed proportionally to the exponentially more productive worker.

If it's distributed to the workers, I don't think it's counted as productivity, which is output per labor cost, right? They define distiribution as a labor cost, I think.
posted by thelonius at 12:52 PM on January 19, 2015


the top 10th percentile for income in the US starts at about $150,000 *per household*.

I know that's an unimaginable amount to a lot of people, but it's also not enough to buy a solidly middle class lifestyle in many urban areas, especially if you have kids, significant student loans and/or medical debt. And yet the 90% are still pushed to strive for the practically unattainable.
posted by desjardins at 12:52 PM on January 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


Time for taxation of the over represented!
posted by clavdivs at 12:56 PM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Wait! No, I'm all wrong! I read it wrong, kept reading Total Monthly Income as opposed to Total Money Income. Yeah, I didn't think we seemed to be that bad off. Good heavens, reading comprehension.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 12:56 PM on January 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


1% of the world’s population will own more wealth than the other 99%

In other words ... We outnumber them 99-to-1 ... And there are no rank-and-file military or police in that 1% ... Hmmm ...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:56 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


So, I guess that's 14th percentile, which seems more like what I would have guessed.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 12:57 PM on January 19, 2015


They're jerks, the proof is that the excess productivity is invested in mega-yachts and London real estate, rather than distributed proportionally to the exponentially more productive worker.

The easy answer is "pay/hire folks based on their output."

That's not how capitalism works though. People don't get paid based on some intrinsic worth, in just the same way that penicillin doesn't cost a thousand dollars due to it's intrinsic worth. Wages are paid and prices are set by supply and demand.

It's the reason why software engineers are paid 100k+ a year coming out of college. Not because what they do is more important than what teachers or police officers or social workers do. But because there are fewer people who can do that job than there are jobs. Give it a few years of "Everyone Should Learn To Code" initiatives, and you'll see those wages drop like a rock too.

Relying on capital-owners to be "nice" is a terrible strategy for getting a functional economy. We're going to need a radically different economy if we can hope to avoid having the entire world fall into the framework that currently exists in developing countries -- a tiny upper class, an only slightly larger middle class, and huge underclass.
posted by the jam at 12:58 PM on January 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


If it's distributed to the workers, I don't think it's counted as productivity, which is output per labor cost, right? They define distiribution as a labor cost, I think.

Then what I meant was the profits, not productivity. Whatever the proper econospeak is, the productivity/profit gains have been captured, intentionally, by the 1% ownership, rather than returned to the labor/employees.
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:58 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


What I mean by "solidly middle class lifestyle," which I realize may differ from other people's definitions: own a home with 3 bedrooms or more, own two decent late model cars, have money in retirement fund, have an emergency fund, able to use 2 weeks of vacation to actually go somewhere, go out to eat.
posted by desjardins at 12:58 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's pretty weird to see that my household is 87th percentile, and we live in a modest 3br house in the suburbs and don't own luxury cars or live extravagantly. I would say we are "comfortable", but I wouldn't have guessed us to be 87th percentile.
posted by Fleebnork at 12:59 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


That logarithmic chart doesn't convey the enormity.
Try the L-Curve chart.
posted by hank at 12:59 PM on January 19, 2015 [18 favorites]


Though that's even more depressing, really, to know that that so many people have it more difficult than we do.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 1:00 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


In other words ... We outnumber them 99-to-1 ... And there are no rank-and-file military or police in that 1% ... Hmmm ...

Good luck turning the police and military on their own employers. And even if that happens, someone will have to take power, and is there any guarantee that group/person will be better?
posted by desjardins at 1:01 PM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


My husband and I apparently fall into the 93rd percentile, which is depressing if you consider that we currently live in a 1 bedroom apartment in the Boston metro area - the rental and real estate prices around here are just that crazy.
posted by peacheater at 1:02 PM on January 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


Our household income puts us at a pretty high percentage--nearing the 80th percentile--but student loans, medical bills, and the credit card debt we acquired during our own personal Great Depression (three years when one of us didn't have a job, first me, then my wife) zap that buying power significantly. Yes, we can pay the bills, but actually building some wealth is a challenge. The great thing about being actually rich is your kids don't need student loans, so they can keep what they make.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 1:02 PM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Good luck turning the police and military on their own employers. And even if that happens, someone will have to take power, and is there any guarantee that group/person will be better?

“In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me—who lives and who dies?”
posted by Justinian at 1:02 PM on January 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


n other words ... We outnumber them 99-to-1 ... And there are no rank-and-file military or police in that 1% ... Hmmm ...

Consider that on a global scale, you might actually be part of that 1 %. Here is a site which will calculate your global percentile for you. On this scale, my personal yearly income is apparently at a 99.9 percentile level.
posted by peacheater at 1:03 PM on January 19, 2015 [14 favorites]


And even if that happens, someone will have to take power, and is there any guarantee that group/person will be better?
A century of indoctrination that Communism is the Worst Thing Ever (and Socialism the Second Worst) was designed to raise a population that doesn't want to find out.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:04 PM on January 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


And there are no rank-and-file military or police in that 1% ... Hmmm ...

Good thing that unmanned drone deployment is ahead of schedule, and the robots on the way will take care of the rest of that irksome detail!
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:06 PM on January 19, 2015


BTW, as I have revealed before, I am on Social Security Disability, at a rate based on 25 years of mostly lower-middle class income, and I am in the 27th percentile (among men, 35th overall, living alone household is irrelevant). Another reason to sit down, shut up and just be ashamed of myself.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:08 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Why are we not more angry?"

Because most people have been sold on the premise of the American Dream: work hard enough, and you, too, could be a one-percenter. Or at least a five-percenter. If don't make it, it's because you didn't work hard enough--your own damn fault. IF (when) you don make it, don't you want to keep every penny, rather than have it go to programs for those who were to lazy to achieve the success you earned all by yourself?
posted by MrGuilt at 1:11 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


You can be in the top few percentiles and still be just one medical crisis away from homelessness.
posted by elizilla at 1:12 PM on January 19, 2015 [30 favorites]


85th percentile. I believe I'm considered lower middle class, so I didn't expect that number to be so high. Remarkable.

You can be in the top few percentiles and still be just one medical crisis away from homelessness.

Yeah, over the last few years I've had a couple of ER visits and it nearly destroyed my situation. Scary stuff.
posted by brundlefly at 1:15 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Why are we not more angry?

I guess it's our fault for not being more angry, the same way we're taught it's our fault when we're not rich.
posted by itstheclamsname at 1:16 PM on January 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


You can be in the top few percentiles and still be just one medical crisis away from homelessness.
You know I think that is one of the big reasons why Americans can be so reluctant to be generous to others in society who are in need. Everyone is insecure, everyone thinks that they can earn just a bit more and be totally secure and so they go on and on trying to earn more money and pay less taxes, while simultaneously cutting the social safety net for others. It's also a big reason why people here seem so reluctant to define themselves as rich, even if their percentile on the income scale would define them as so - there's something so middle-class about being one crisis away from poverty.
posted by peacheater at 1:16 PM on January 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


If don't make it, it's because you didn't work hard enough--your own damn fault.

What if I just happen to suck at ingratiation, self-promotion and back-stabbing?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:19 PM on January 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


“In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me—who lives and who dies?”

A rich man, a middle class man, and a poor man sit at a table. On the table is a plate with 10 cookies. The rich man takes 9 cookies, points at the poor man, and says to the middle class man, "Don't let that guy steal your cookie."
posted by Fleebnork at 1:20 PM on January 19, 2015 [131 favorites]


Good luck turning the police and military on their own employers.

It's a nice bit of understated worldbuilding in John Michael Greer's novel Star's Reach that 400+ years in the future the greater and lesser (respectively) aristocratic titles around in what used to be the continental US are obvious corruptions of "general" and "colonel".
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:24 PM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


What if I just happen to suck at ingratiation, self-promotion and back-stabbing?

No no no...it's hard work, dedication, nepotism, and inheritance.
posted by MrGuilt at 1:25 PM on January 19, 2015


Our household is about 82nd percentile. We have the 3-bedroom house and the two cars, but 6 months after I retire we're going to be eating cat food.
posted by Foosnark at 1:27 PM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Good luck turning the police and military on their own employers.

Many successful exploitative economies have had three classes: overlords and owners, technocrats and enforcers and the oppressed workers. It's how the British ruled their empire, how South Africa constructed apartheid, how the plantation owners managed the agricultural US south. "The Irish were slaves too". That's how these thing work.

Obama's recent announcement at stopping forfeiture benefiting law-enforcement is, in my view, a direct response to how the police-cum-bailiffs function in Ferguson (among many other places all across America), de-funding the enforcement and technocratic bureaucracies largely responsible for continuing the system.

If it sticks, it may be one of the most important reforms of his tenure.
posted by bonehead at 1:35 PM on January 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


Cosine: "the jam: When the workers aren't needed, who will be consuming the production?

Yup, it's musical chairs, and the chairs are being removed at an ever increasing rate even as more and more players enter the game.
"

Now I'm picturing a dystopian fiction story where consumption is now an automated process and robots get custom products tailored directly to them.
posted by symbioid at 1:35 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


After finding myself in the 98 percentile (I'm not even sure if I'm doing this right), I was relieved to find I'm in the top 15% globally. Hey, I may be super-poor, but I lucked out that I'm super-poor in the U.S.
posted by _paegan_ at 1:39 PM on January 19, 2015


All this talk of US income distributions is really odd. Many of the global 1% are in this thread. I'm in the top 2.5%, and I make less than the UK median salary.

The problem of inequality goes much deeper than the problem of superyachts.
posted by howfar at 1:42 PM on January 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


Hey foosnark, what is this 'retire' you speak of?
posted by Mister_A at 1:52 PM on January 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


We have to figure out what a society with only 75%, 50%, 25% employment looks like and how to keep it from imploding.

Till the fields, obviously.
posted by phaedon at 1:58 PM on January 19, 2015


That's what the TVA and the like were founded to cope with back in the Great Depression of the 20th Century.
posted by Mister_A at 1:59 PM on January 19, 2015


You know I think that is one of the big reasons why Americans can be so reluctant to be generous to others in society who are in need. Everyone is insecure, everyone thinks that they can earn just a bit more and be totally secure and so they go on and on trying to earn more money and pay less taxes, while simultaneously cutting the social safety net for others.

In broad strokes, middle- and upper-class folks are generally reluctant to give, not so much lower-class ones (h/t viggorlijah). Poor folks are notoriously generous when it comes to charity, whether it's sharing some of your food or food stamps with a neighbor or putting together an ad-hoc child care co-op so at least some of you can find work outside the home.

I think part of the reasoning behind this is that people who are middle-class and above are both inherently more able to access upward mobility (since they started from the proverbial second or third base) and coming up from social and familial backgrounds that support their goal to not ever be poor and indeed get even richer. But poor people are already poor, and if the poverty goes back a few generations, we and our parents and grandparents have been raised from birth to internalize the notion that we will never escape it, so there's just a whole lot less grasping for the brass ring altogether -- why would you even try?

On top of that, you have the oft-cited crab mentality, where poor people who try as hard as they can to scrabble up the side of the bucket and get above the economic caste of their birth are often castigated by their lower-class friends and family for putting on airs and acting too upper-class. As a kid, if I ever dared to dream out loud about going to college someday, my mom would cluck her tongue, shake her head, and say, "Pride cometh before the fall!" That, or "Someone's getting a little big for her britches!" (FWIW, I never did make it out of the bukkit.) Even my high school guidance counselor told me to get ready for a lifetime of asking people if they wanted fries with that. People just don't say that kind of shit to middle- and upper-class kids, so they develop this built-in confidence/internal safety net that a lot of lower-class kids will simply never have.

It's also a big reason why people here seem so reluctant to define themselves as rich, even if their percentile on the income scale would define them as so - there's something so middle-class about being one crisis away from poverty.

IMO, a lot of people here are so reluctant to define themselves as rich (even when their income, education, etc. clearly indicate otherwise) is because they're politically progressive and they don't want to see themselves as part of the problem, part of the oppressor class. But I say, if you're rich, man, own it! Own it and give away as much of your wealth as you can, by hook or by crook. Give something away. Give everything away! Buy a whole bunch of shit that is super-useful and gift it to people who don't have anything at all -- et voila, you've partially returned the favor to a world that has supported your ambition and ascension, given a hand up to your fellow travelers in the process, and managed to strike a little tiny blow against inequality with every move you made.
posted by divined by radio at 1:59 PM on January 19, 2015 [35 favorites]


Hey foosnark, what is this 'retire' you speak of?

That thing I'm totally going to do when I win Powerball. Any week now.


It's the reason why software engineers are paid 100k+ a year coming out of college.

Wait, where does that happen? I am a software engineer who graduated from college in 1993 and I don't make that much yet. Granted, up until a couple years ago it was in the game industry...
posted by Foosnark at 1:59 PM on January 19, 2015


I think a big problem with the conversation is that a lot of people can only understand what poverty is relative to their own experiences. I went to a very wealthy public school system (the American kind) as a kid, and I remember some guy in high school saying "hey, my dad's not rich, he only makes six figures!"
posted by teponaztli at 2:04 PM on January 19, 2015


The world is bigger than USA, Oxfam's announcement was about the world.

Income of $35k (£22.5K) gets you in the top 1% of income.

http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/02/27/were-all-the-1-percent/

posted by Dr Ew at 2:04 PM on January 19, 2015 [14 favorites]


No kidding about "one medical disaster away from homelessness". I went from top 3% (US) in my 30s to homeless on SSDI in my 40s.
posted by Dreidl at 2:05 PM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


These kind of calculators really need a cost of living adjustment built in. It says I'm personally in the top 10 percentile, but I live in a decent part of San Jose so I'm not living like a king because that'd mean 4k in rent a month.

But, I could decide to move to Tracy or something, and yeah now I'm hanging out with my 5BR house and two luxury cars or whatever.
posted by sideshow at 2:08 PM on January 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


If it's distributed to the workers, I don't think it's counted as productivity, which is output per labor cost, right?

Productivity has nothing to do with labor cost, at least not directly. Productivity is simply the total value of output in dollars divided by the number of hours worked.

So if a worker can produce $10 worth of widgets an hour, then their productivity is 10 dollar per hour. Let's say they are paid $5 of that output and the other $5 goes to the owners of the business.

If the worker now has electric tools to replace the old hand tools, the worker can now produce $15 of widgets per hour. Their productivity has gone up 50%. But if the worker is still paid only $5, the owners now get $10. Their profits have gone up 100%. The worker has gotten no share of the increase in productivity. All of the extra productivity has gone to the owners.

This is what has happened over the last three decades. Even though each worker is producing more value than ever before, their wages have not gone up at all -- for three decades.

This is quite different from the three decades after WWII in which workers shared in the increase in productivity. Everyone shared in prosperity. If today's workers had simply been given the same share of productivity increases as workers in the past, the average household would have an extra $20,000 a year of income.

That is a staggering number and indicates just how much of the country's income has shifted to the top 1%. U.S. workers are the most valuable in the world, producing more per hour, but have gotten nothing for it.
posted by JackFlash at 2:09 PM on January 19, 2015 [33 favorites]


I dont get a cost of living allowance even , so my real income has regressed. Hence my search for a new way to make money.
posted by Mister_A at 2:13 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm in the top 5% individually, and 88th percentile as a household because my wife doesn't work. I rent a 2br apartment 20 miles from San Francisco, own one 15 year old car, don't vacation every year, and probably won't be able to retire or easily afford a good college for my kid.
Welcome to the American dream.
posted by bashos_frog at 2:13 PM on January 19, 2015


The world is bigger than USA, Oxfam's announcement was about the world.

Income of $35k (£22.5K) gets you in the top 1% of income.


The announcement was also about wealth, not income.
posted by one_bean at 2:14 PM on January 19, 2015


It's the reason why software engineers are paid 100k+ a year coming out of college.

Wait, where does that happen? I am a software engineer who graduated from college in 1993 and I don't make that much yet. Granted, up until a couple years ago it was in the game industry...


Bay Area. They need too when 1BR way the fuck out in Gilroy can go for 1,800 per month.
posted by sideshow at 2:15 PM on January 19, 2015


If today's workers had simply been given the same share of productivity increases as workers in the past, the average household would have an extra $20,000 a year of income.

This.

The top 1% has effectively been stealing $20,000 a year from 99% of US households, for the last quarter century.
posted by bashos_frog at 2:16 PM on January 19, 2015 [25 favorites]


These kind of calculators really need a cost of living adjustment built in. It says I'm personally in the top 10 percentile, but I live in a decent part of San Jose so I'm not living like a king because that'd mean 4k in rent a month.

But, I could decide to move to Tracy or something, and yeah now I'm hanging out with my 5BR house and two luxury cars or whatever.


This kind of thinking blows my mind a little. Your money gets you the ability to live in a decent part of San Jose. You are living like a king because of where you live, who cares about five bedrooms.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:27 PM on January 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


IMO, a lot of people here are so reluctant to define themselves as rich (even when their income, education, etc. clearly indicate otherwise) is because they're politically progressive and they don't want to see themselves as part of the problem, part of the oppressor class.

To me, the word "rich" implies wealth as well as income. I have high income, but not very much accumulated wealth. As was said - I'm really just a medical emergency away from ruin, even though I don't live paycheck to paycheck anymore. I grew up dirt poor, so I know how much better I do have it than other people - but I am also aware of just how far it is to fall, too.

Being rich would mean that is more security in my situation - so I am not "rich". At least in my mind.

We've had 30 years of cutting taxes. Why aren't we richer ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:30 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Everything you need to know about income inequality is this : I don't make that much money.

And I'm in the 89th percentile.


Even more illustrative: I'm on a grad student stipend, which is supposed to be chump change., and I'm in the 50th percentile.

The amount of money that I'm given by a rich university to do nothing but study, have a place to sleep, and eat food is more than what half of people make. (note that I also get free healthcare so if you factor that in I bet I'd be about 60th percentile)
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:36 PM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


From today's Economist:
Wealth is so unevenly distributed, that you need just $3,650 (less debts) to count yourself among the richest half of the world’s population. A mere $77,000 brings you among the wealthiest 10%. And just $798,000 puts you into the ranks of the 1%—within the reach of many white-collar urban professionals in the West. Hence, more than 35m people carry such a plump purse. Among the three billion adults at the bottom with less than $10,000 in wealth, 90% reside in developing countries. Yet 15% of millionaires live in developing countries too. For those of us lucky enough to live in the developed world we are the problem from a global perspective--you/we may well be the 10% and a few of you/us the 1%. Are you feeling fortunate.
posted by rmhsinc at 2:48 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I will this very simple. in our country we cannot even raise a highly dated minimum wage and yet in the most recent election, people voted mostly for the party that opposes raising that minimum wage.
posted by Postroad at 2:49 PM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Why are we not more angry?

Probably because we're already depressed and exhausted and can't muster the additional mental energy to be outraged about yet another fucking thing that we can't change.
posted by MeghanC at 2:50 PM on January 19, 2015 [16 favorites]


I was going to post this as an FPP, before deciding it was just too outragefilter-y, but this really shocked me, and this thread seems like an appropriate place...

Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 2:57 PM on January 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


Big elephant not mentioned is that the Federal Reserve has been printing money for the past, what? Seven years? The idea was to promote lending. Well, it didn't work out that way, and given the experience of Japan in the late '90s and early aughts, there was no reason to imagine it would. (I vividly recall bankers at that time saying that "Japan is different".) What we got instead was prudent savers (widows and orphans) getting squat on their passbook savings while the non-risk averse and the sophisticated 1% have been able to borrow this money at zero interest and plow it into the usual fripperies (at least yachts employ yacht makers), art, London real estate, and whatever other asset bubbles came along.

Add to this the global race to the bottom are far as wages are concerned, the notion that you can increase immigration without pushing wages down even further (while increasing pressure on housing and all the other niceties of life) and none of this should come as any surprise.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:03 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


But, I could decide to move to Tracy or something, and yeah now I'm hanging out with my 5BR house and two luxury cars or whatever.

This kind of thinking blows my mind a little. Your money gets you the ability to live in a decent part of San Jose. You are living like a king because of where you live, who cares about five bedrooms.


The smug satisfaction of living San Jose doesn't buy me a lot at the grocery store, unfortunately.
posted by sideshow at 3:08 PM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


We've had 30 years of cutting taxes. Why aren't we richer ?

Because you've had 30 years of cutting taxes. You say yourself that you'd feel rich if you weren't just "a medical emergency away from ruin". That's the kind of insane luxury that is only afforded to, well, basically everyone living in the developed world with the exception of the USA.
posted by howfar at 3:25 PM on January 19, 2015 [19 favorites]


It's about the net worth, not the income that matters... Particularly if you are concerned about security.
posted by Stu-Pendous at 3:25 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


This kind of thinking blows my mind a little. Your money gets you the ability to live in a decent part of San Jose. You are living like a king because of where you live, who cares about five bedrooms.

Have you been to San Jose?
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:26 PM on January 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


Big elephant not mentioned is that the Federal Reserve has been printing money for the past, what?

huh? why hasn't inflation gone up?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 3:26 PM on January 19, 2015


"Why are we not more angry?"

*sigh* Where to start:

- I was angry initially when W. Bush got elected... again in 2004
- I was angry at first when most (not all) of my classmates didn't give a shit despite being advised to give one, and continued their studies as normal, while the economy was preparing for it's extreme, far from normal dive that would occur 4 years later.
- I was initially angry about gasoline's rise to $4, nearly $5 a gallon, and my anger was fueled by information that 'speculators' were part to blame for the rise.
- I was angry about people I had run into not making decisions that had a reasonable chance of leading to a prosperous/OK life, if not blatantly choosing a path that had greater chances of not being prosperous/OK at all (prosperous may not be the word... I'm avoiding successful... maybe fulfilling???).

and then...

I learn in my college years about the limits of earth, how, aside from loading the atmosphere up with CO2, we're draining the earth clean of petroleum for our economy, and we have to dig so deep that we had a well deep in the Gulf of Mexico and have to pump chemicals in to crack open more in other wells.

I learned we had information, as a society, about these limits prior to 1970 (Hubbert), when the US would peak in its production of petro. I learned we pissed off some nations by trying to draw more petro from them instead of cut our consumption here.

We had so much shortly after WW2, we could've used what we had to build societies and a culture of robust value and widely distributed wealth.

We instead, literally, vaporized it, later summoning Reagan, Bush, W. Bush with sidekick Cheney who, sadly in painful fashion, started pulling plugs.

There's really no point in being angry. People in my generation (I'm less than a month away from turning 26) got handed a massive, hungry beast, and we have to somehow carefully guide it to its final resting place.

We still can, and are in the process of building that culture of robust value and widely distributed wealth. It's going to be slow in the face of everything unsustainable. One thing I have to say is, outside of battles over minutae, progress in feminist work and white privilege checking is great and so vital to beginning to close the wealth gap.

TL;DR: I'm not angry because it's hard to get angry in the face of what needs to happen within the next century. I'm focused on sustainability, every day. Proper wealth distribution that will benefit the most people will come with that, eventually, I hope.

This was probably ranty, but ironically I get angry when someone notes that people aren't angry enough over the wealth gap. It's a helluva lot more complicated...
posted by JoeXIII007 at 3:27 PM on January 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


more complicated than what? the rich are stealing our money, and poor people are getting poorer. talking about 'peak oil' doesn't obviate that fact.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 3:31 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


privilege checking is great and so vital to beginning to close the wealth gap

Check your privilege, bourgeoise!

Nope, didn't work.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 3:35 PM on January 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


Have you been to San Jose?

Do you know the way to get there? I've been away so long, I might go wrong and lose my way.
posted by hippybear at 3:39 PM on January 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


Is it realistic for everyone to expect to own their own three-bedroom home and two cars? If everyone lived like that, we'd need at least five Earths.

I completely agree with the outrage about economic inequality, both at a national and a global scale, and I do think it's important to draw a distinction between the 1% and the 0.1%. But saying stuff like "it's about wealth, not income" is not particularly comforting or convincing to people who only make a tiny fraction of your income, and your struggles are different in kind from someone working three jobs to afford rent. The efforts of some upper-middle-class people here to convince everyone that they're actually disadvantaged because they can't afford everything they want, or they aren't perfectly protected from all crises, are kind of problematic and more than a little tone-deaf.
posted by dialetheia at 3:39 PM on January 19, 2015 [15 favorites]


Why are we not more angry? We (Western Europe, North America, N.Z. and Australia) have never had so much for so little. We are not angry because we are in many ways saturated with the goods of capitalism, free enterprise and wealth inequality. Even the poorest of us are better off than 50% to 60% of the worlds population. We treat TVs and appliances as disposable commodities because of cheap global labor and high technology, struggle with obesity rather than traditional malnutrition, complain about the cost of healthcare rather than the total absence of health care, use fossil fuels like there was no tomorrow, have virtually unlimited access to entertainment 24/7, alcohol and drugs are cheap and legal--and the list goes on. I abhor the wealth inequality in our countries ( US and UK particularly) and am committed to doing what i can politically to change it. I have also lived during the period of substantial wealth equality--and trust me black and white TV instead of color, The world Book Encyclopedia instead of Wikipedia, Ford flat head in line sixes instead of 24 valve OHC Hyundais, crowded hospital wards instead of private/semi private rooms, Xrays of your feet instead of MRIs and CT scans just do not add up. Most of us, even the poorest in the west, have more than the rest o the world and more than the poor ever had. If you think Medicare and Medicaid have not been miracles of social justice and equality--think again. That a poor Medicaid recipient and wealthy Medicare recipient can be next to each other in an intensive care unit is, in fact, mind boggling-Same for healthcare in Europe and Canada. Wealth inequality is not fair, it is an injustice, it needs to be changed within countries and within the world. But for most of us reading this it is not a matter of revolution and anger--it is a matter of perceived and experienced unfairness, some whining, indignation but not the substance of revolution. As to why the poor are not angry--they are but this is clouded by feelings of failure, limited perspectives, a basic social safety net, recognition of their own misjudgements and hope--a hope that perhaps it will change.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:41 PM on January 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


Here we see another of those crises of Capitalism. Because Capitalism can't regulate itself, it can't plan for the future, and it can't even maintain the interests of the capitalist class. We dragged ourselves out of the Gilded Age, at least in part, because the ruling classes in the West were willing to make concessions to the working class out of fear of revolution. We are going to need that fear again, if things are going to get better for the average person.

Of course, resource exhaustion and poisoning our environment add an extra layer of pressure on the system.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:54 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


this really shocked me,

That was your first clue that you should fact check it.
posted by jpe at 4:01 PM on January 19, 2015


Because Capitalism can't regulate itself

This is hardly a bug that's unique to Capitalism. In the long run, NO institution can regulate itself. Nor can any collection of institutions regulate each other in perpetual peace and harmony. Not as long as they are run by people who each think they're better than the next guy, who seek to game the system in their favor, who are willing to use force to get their way, and who can persuade the desperate, gullible and self-loathing rest that they'd be better off if only they'd fall-in behind the superior vision of the Anointed One(s). In other words, people.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:06 PM on January 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't really know if it's on to comment on one's own OP, since I usually post over on the Green (and whoa, obviously this is a topic people have lots of feelings about!) I should note that I only focused this on the US because as a USian I feel really uncomfortable trying to articulate a FPP about economies and political situations with which I'm not as familiar. No brushing aside the situations of other countries intended.

But I want to note, clockzero and others, that I think the "why aren't we more angry?" thing IS useful to ask. The book I linked to is coming out in a couple months from a labor historian/scholar who is looking at why the contours of class-based political expression seem different this time around than during the last Gilded Age. I think other commenters have hit on the reasons why, but the degree to which organized labor has been demonized and marginalized should not be underestimated.
posted by mostly vowels at 4:16 PM on January 19, 2015


more complicated than what? the rich are stealing our money, and poor people are getting poorer. talking about 'peak oil' doesn't obviate that fact.

No, it doesn't. You're right. Trying to reverse rich getting richer and poor getting poorer probably starts with re-evaluating the infrastructure we want to initially raise the poor out of poverty on. Otherwise our attempt to raise will amount to nothing but a billion dollar toss.

This thread from today seems all too relevant.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:17 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is hardly a bug that's unique to Capitalism. In the long run, NO institution can regulate itself.

Depends on how "institution" is defined... but aren't there plenty of examples within the world of nature (thinking specifically plant life) where a giant organism reaches some state of equilibrium with its environment, where if it continues to expand it will ruin the ecosystem that sustains it, all the while sustaining other ecosystem-required organisms off its waste products or through other means (shelter, food, etc), creating a sustainable, self-regulating system in which all involved will thrive?
posted by hippybear at 4:23 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]




This is hardly a bug that's unique to Capitalism.

But it's an extreme feature of Capitalism. There is no equilibrium in Capitalism. The Capitalist is always looking for the advantage -- the next exploit -- that will give them the edge until all the rest of them jump on the idea and the bubble collapses or the universal application of the exploit renders it unvaluable. Human nature may be slanted toward devouring one's neighbors, but the Capitalism must do this constantly or be devoured themselves. There's a good reason Adam Smith thought Government should keep Capitalists on a tight leash, and he liked them.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:27 PM on January 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


Big elephant not mentioned is that the Federal Reserve has been printing money for the past, what?

huh? why hasn't inflation gone up?

posted by MisantropicPainforest


The layman's answer as I understand it is that Quantitative Easing is "kind of" printing money, but not really. Some of it is from the idea that the government's pool of assets is separate from the rest of the economy: hypothetically, if the government printed a trillion dollars and kept it in a vault, no inflation would happen.

To go into more detail - the government creates $50 billion dollars, then goes into the open market and buys $50 billion dollars worth of bonds from the banks. What has happened in the market is that $50 billion dollars of bonds disappear, being replaced by $50 billion dollars worth of cash. So the change in assets in market circulation is net zero.

What has changed is the type of asset available in the market. Bonds just sit there. You can't lend a bond to someone to buy a house or start a business. If the banks had $50 billion dollars instead of $50 billion in bonds, it could lend them to people to start businesses and jumpstart the economy, or so the thinking goes.

So some analysts are saying that (1) since total amount of wealth hasn't increased in the market inflation can't happen, and some are saying that (2) giving the banks all that extra liquidity - cash instead of bonds - doesn't do anything if they don't lend it out because the economy is still bad, it sits in their balance sheets just the same as the bonds would have.
posted by xdvesper at 4:27 PM on January 19, 2015


He also noted that Oxfam had chosen to use figures which showed the disparity between the 1% and the rest of the world in the worst light.

As opposed to what? The figures which would make the disparity look keen? Well-deserved? The result of sweat and ingenuity?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:29 PM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm having trouble what that specific portion of that quote is supposed to convey.

The attitude that says: "why are you complaining about 'economic inequality'? What are you, some kind of commie?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:31 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


The BBC's head of statistics, Anthony Reuben, said in order to be part of the wealthiest 1% of the world's population, an individual would need to be worth just over half a million pounds [currently approx. US$754,490].

Two thoughts: 1) that only outlines how truly poor most of the world actually is (something difficult for people living in Westernized first-world countries to even fathom, how people survive at poverty levels endemic to most of the planet), and 2) being an individual who is WORTH $X is not the same as earning $X every year. Many people earn money that does not count toward their net worth, because it is spent quickly with no effect on how their estate holdings might be measured. Paying for food, babysitters, vacations, media subscriptions, rent, etc... none of that makes you actually count as being worth more. Being someone who has holdings that are worth $750,000 is actually quite an accomplishment.
posted by hippybear at 4:31 PM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Have you been to San Jose?

Do you know the way to get there? I've been away so long, I might go wrong and lose my way.


LA is a great big free-way ...
Put a hundred down and buy a carrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
posted by freecellwizard at 4:47 PM on January 19, 2015


We've had 30 years of cutting taxes. Why aren't we richer ?

Because you've had 30 years of cutting taxes. You say yourself that you'd feel rich if you weren't just "a medical emergency away from ruin". That's the kind of insane luxury that is only afforded to, well, basically everyone living in the developed world with the exception of the USA.


Yes. I live in the USA, and I've lived elsewhere, and my US income would make me feel secure and well-off in other societies that provide security for their members (healthcare, etc), but here in the US, there is a lot of insecurity, and the best defense against those howling winds just outside the door is having a lot of wealth (a *LOT* of wealth) to buttress with. I notice that I struggle to be generous with what I have because a part of me thinks that for all my current good circumstance I might end up needing it more. There are a bunch of psychological effects in play, and if anything they seem to be worse in people who grew up in this society, having their compasses and norms defined by it. I don't think there is a way to really understand and contrast the countless thousands of ways that fundamental baseline security filters into every aspect of life, other than to have lived in a contrast for a decade or more. (Almost all Americans I've talked to understand the concept of universal healthcare (for example) only at a superficial theoretical level (if at that), the full ramifications are just absent.) Of course, compared to many places, the USA offers noticeably more security. Those contrasting places don't tend to be the western developed nations though.
posted by anonymisc at 5:01 PM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


We're in the top 5% or so in the US apparently and we feel like we've got it good right now. I don't really care about earning more for more stuff or a bigger house. But I would say the two things that keep me from feeling like I can totally relax are:

1) Health care - I paid like $10k at least out of pocket last year for one minor surgery and various other stuff. I can absorb that but if someone gets, say, cancer all bets are off because the costs of dealing with that are near-infinite. Some cancer meds can cost the patient five figures a month.

2) Education - I have two elementary school age kids and I have not saved anything for their college. Part of that is that we haven't always been doing that well; a few years ago both my wife and I had tens of thousands in debt from our prior marriages and zero savings. The other part is that the costs of college are getting so high that it seems pointless to bother saving up. Two kids each paying $40k a year for a fancy school would erase everything we've got in like, a year, and we have 27 years left on the mortgage.

In the US if we solved those two problems by single payer and subsidized college, I think a lot of people would feel less nervous. I would be *more* than happy to pay more taxes to allow those things to happen.

I am very aware I am lucky. I do try to give a good amount to charity and I vote against my economic self-interest pretty much all the time, but I am not doing much to help restructure the system. I think about that a lot.
posted by freecellwizard at 5:11 PM on January 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


Income itself does not mean that much. You can make 80k in one city and make 40k in another and have the exact same standard of living and disposable income. We live in Montreal and can't afford to move to Toronto because a house there would cost 2 or 3 times the cost of where we live now. And rent would cost as much as our mortgage anyways. So even if our household income would go up a bit as Toronto has better salaries, overall our standard of living would be lower.
posted by Hazelsmrf at 5:37 PM on January 19, 2015


To add another dimension to this, among the US individuals my single, living alone self is in the 89th percent. Among income-earning US men I'd be in the 85th percent, but as an income-earning US woman, I'm in the 94th percent.

They've got my ninety cents to the dollar, inverted, right there.

(And if I had started life in the US, instead of being a post-college immigrant, I would be somewhere significantly lower because the student loans would have been of the sort best described with sound effects.)

(Also since mine is the only income, that's put me in the 74th percent of households; I just wanted to highlight the individual income percentile because of the 0.90 to 1.0 thing.)
posted by seyirci at 6:25 PM on January 19, 2015


Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty

This really shocked me.

That was your first clue that you should fact check it.

The Southern Education Foundation based their report on data from the Department of Education about the number of kids who receive free or reduced-price lunches. I'm a non-expert, but that sounds fairly legit.
posted by box at 6:28 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


It makes sense. People from lower socioeconomic status are having more kids.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:33 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


No kidding about "one medical disaster away from homelessness". I went from top 3% (US) in my 30s to homeless on SSDI in my 40s.

My dad was the VP of a company he founded with his best friend from grade school that did high end design and landscape architecture. They built Steve Ballmers property up, among other things. Most of their clients were really wealthy in tech/real estate/etc or famous. People you'd see on the news or read about in the paper, sort of thing.

After various personal and medical/mental health crises, he went from having a ton of savings and probably being close to retirement, or at least handing over most of the reigns and just working at a leisurely pace/level for something to do, to living in his car.

There's a difference between having money and being wealthy. People who have money buy their kid the new nintendo game the day it comes out without fail, and always have a stocked fridge. Wealthy people could be paralyzed from the neck down, never work again, and never have a problem. Probably for generations worth of time.

The other guy, who was more of a business-type and had been the CEO followed a similar trajectory by the way. This guy had banked millions over the years. Now he lives in his elderly(possibly deceased, now?) dads house and is likely busy drinking himself to death. It's not like he partied himself out of a house and home either. A divorce, and various crises pretty much led to that.

When no one you know, even people who were making over that 150k or whatever is safe, how the fuck are you supposed to feel safe or like you're really in that percentile the chart shows you to be?

Hell, i know a guy who was pulling in over 220k a year running a software dev shop part time while having a full time job, and then his house burned down. It took over a year to fight it out with insurance and even get remediation and construction on site, and he had to front a lot of money to move the process along. Now his house is rebuilt, but not 100% finished, and he's broke and shelling out every dollar that comes in to try and deal with the aftermath. Everything was in theory fully insured, but in reality it's a nightmare. Lawyers aren't free, and he lost everything he owned.

I mean boo fuckity hoo, he can just go stay in a hotel(and rented an apartment while he was figuring it out), but the one thing life has shown me is that everyone is one big disaster away from having no money or being homeless. Even the people who are "rich".

The only people who can truly avoid this are actually in the 1%.
posted by emptythought at 6:42 PM on January 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


There's really no true rich Scotsman.
posted by the jam at 7:15 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Piketty vs. the Classical Economic Reformers

Excerpt below, but entire article is worth a read, as well as the entire series of reviews in which this article is a part:

Piketty sought to explain the ebb and flow of polarization by suggesting a basic mathematical law: When wealth is unequally distributed and returns to capital (interest, dividends and capital gains) exceed the rise in overall income (as measured by GDP), economies polarize in favor of capital owners. Unlike the classical economists he does not focus on rentier gains by real estate owners, their bankers, corporate raiders and financiers, privatizers and other rent seekers.

Piketty is limited by the available statistical sources, because any accounting format reflects the economic theory that defines its categories. Neither the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) nor the Internal Revenue Service’s Statistics on Income in the United States define the specific form that the wealth buildup takes. Most textbook models focus on tangible investment in means of production (plant and equipment, research and development). But industrial profits on such investment have fallen relative to more passive gains from asset-price inflation (rising debt-fueled prices for real estate, stocks and bonds), financial speculation (arbitrage, derivatives trading and credit default insurance), and land rent, natural resource rent (oil and gas, minerals), monopoly rent (including patent rights), and legal privileges topped by the ability of banks to create interest-bearing credit.

A byproduct of this value-free view of wealth is that Piketty suggests an equally value-free remedy for inequality: a global estate tax with a progressive wealth and income tax. Not only is this almost impossible to enforce politically, but a general tax on wealth or income does not discriminate between what is earned “productively” and what is squeezed out by rent extraction or obtained by capital gains.

The advantage of classical economic theory’s focus on rent extraction, financialization and debt-leveraged asset-price (“capital”) gains is that each form of “unearned” wealth and income has a different set of remedies. But to Picketty’s sources – and hence to his analysis – wealth is wealth, income is income, and that is that. He is obliged to make his solution as general as his statistics that define the problem.

posted by CincyBlues at 7:22 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Whoops. I left off the last paragraph which I wished to copy/paste:

Taxing all forms of income or wealth at the same rate does not favor industrial investment over financial engineering. It does not reverse today’s fiscal subsidy treating interest as tax-deductible. This tax preference for buying companies on credit – using their earnings to pay interest to bondholders and bankers – enables the 1% to obtain a much higher payout in the form of interest than by dividends on equity financing. The tax collector loses in favor of creditors – and taxes consumers and wage earners to make up the shortfall. Meanwhile, low taxes on capital gains encourage corporate managers to use earnings for stock buybacks to bid up their prices. Piketty’s book does not address these tax preferences and distortions favoring the 1%.
posted by CincyBlues at 7:27 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


the number of kids who receive free or reduced-price lunches

Receiving free or reduced-price lunches doesn't mean "poverty". According to The New York Times:

Children who are eligible for such lunches do not necessarily live in poverty. Subsidized lunches are available to children from families that earn up to $43,568, for a family of four, which is about 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

The number of children eligible for subsidized lunches has probably increased in part because the federal Agriculture Department now allows schools with a majority of low-income students to offer free lunches to all students, regardless of whether they qualify on an individual basis or not.


Finally, there's no real checking or auditing of the system; it's not like you have to show your 1040 to get free lunches. And school administrators are going to encourage parents to sign up because it means more qualification for other grants.
posted by Hatashran at 7:31 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Consider that on a global scale, you might actually be part of that 1 %. Here is a site which will calculate your global percentile for you. On this scale, my personal yearly income is apparently at a 99.9 percentile level.

It depends on how you measure poverty. If you measure it in absolute terms (which is what the US does), then you can say things like, Person X in the US receives $Y in income per year, which is in the top 1% of global incomes. If you measure poverty in terms of the person's ability to participate in the society they live in (which is the more common way to measure it, and how most European countries measure it), then you'll get a different picture.

If you're in the top 1% of incomes globally, but your access to food is insecure, your housing is insecure, you can't afford services/goods that are "normal" within your society/culture (like furniture or transportation or to go to social events), you can't afford to participate in events/practices that are "normal" within your society/culture (something that comes up in the US a lot ime is not being able to afford to celebrate birthdays or Christmas) -- then you're not living in poverty *as measured in absolute terms,* but in my personal opinion and in terms of how poverty is calculated more commonly, you are still living in poverty.

Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty

IIrc, in the US, poverty is measured as a family's cash income before benefits but after taxes. Families with children are most likely to be receiving benefits that won't get counted (like Medicaid), and probably don't receive a lot of cash aide nowadays (like TANF). They're "overrepresented" in poverty counts because of that (though the poverty line is so low that it's laughable to say that they shouldn't be counted in any case -- which is one of the many reasons why they still are). On the other hand, the elderly are likely to receive a relatively large portion of their benefits as cash (through social security, for example), and are therefore "underrepresented" in poverty counts.

In the US, the truth is that if you can't work, you're up shit creek without a paddle. So if you're too young or too old or have too many financially uncompensated obligations on you or your health makes it impossible for you to work for money -- you're in trouble. The amount of money you'd have to horde as an individual to ensure that you're not vulnerable even if those things happen to you (i.e., even if you get old) is so vast that it really is more sensible for there to be a *communal safety net.* Right now, it's like everyone is trying to build his own personal transportation system rather than just chipping in for one big comprehensive transportation system that everyone can then take advantage of. It honestly makes no sense to me just because it's so ludicrously inefficient, but for many of the politicians and businesspeople who keep pushing the US in that direction, it's ideologically (rather than practically) motivated, so what can ya do.

Probably because we're already depressed and exhausted and can't muster the additional mental energy to be outraged about yet another fucking thing that we can't change.

When it comes to questions about "why aren't we angry?," I tend to wonder about the devaluation of the arts. Art (including music, literature, etc) is the way that people traditionally spread ideas, but right now there's a two-pronged attack on it: 1. it's unaffordable to spend much time or energy creating art, because it's been devalued in terms of what people will pay for it. 2. it's culturally devalued. Snobbery expressed as anti-intellectualism (and disdain for the arts in particular) is a major issue imo.
posted by rue72 at 8:33 PM on January 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


people confuse the 1% with the .1%

"Here, courtesy of economists Emmanual Saez and Gabriel Zucman, is a famous graph of the wealth share of the top 1 percent, 0.1 percent and 0.01 percent of U.S. households..."
posted by kliuless at 8:42 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


IMO, a lot of people here are so reluctant to define themselves as rich (even when their income, education, etc. clearly indicate otherwise) is because they're politically progressive and they don't want to see themselves as part of the problem, part of the oppressor class. But I say, if you're rich, man, own it!

Other people here have touched on this as well, but I'll note that as someone with a household income just into the top ten percent, that doesn't equate to having a ton left over every month. There's not a lot of "Own it, man!" that you can do when a solid medical bill can put you in the red for a month or even a year.

The top 0.1 percent are almost unthinkably more wealthy, whereas the distance between the bottom 20 percent and the people lower in the top 20 percent just isn't that enormous. Wealth is so concentrated that the rest of us are just playing at variations on a theme -- maybe you drive a newer Lexus, maybe you are driving a 12 year old Corolla, or maybe you are riding the bus, but none of us are owning a yacht.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:43 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


as someone with a household income just into the top ten percent, that doesn't equate to having a ton left over every month.

That's what, around $90k or so?

There is a man living within a few miles of you, who has the same number of kids as you, who earns and gets by on $30k / year.

If you were to simply emulate his lifestyle, you'd have five thousand dollars (before taxes) left over every month.
posted by Hatashran at 8:47 PM on January 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


No kidding about "one medical disaster away from homelessness". I went from top 3% (US) in my 30s to homeless on SSDI in my 40s.

My situation is also a reflection of what happens when even well-to-do families cut off their queer offspring, who also experience discrimination socially and economically. I went to the right schools, knew the right people, and was slotted into the (more or less) correct jobs.
But I didn't have access to family assets when I could no longer care for myself, in spite of all my modest financial success and planning. That I have a place to live at all is due to chosen family.
And I'm one of the *lucky* ones.
posted by Dreidl at 9:24 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you were to simply emulate his lifestyle, you'd have five thousand dollars (before taxes) left over every month.

"But watch out, he might take your cookie."
posted by JackFlash at 10:32 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


It seems like there should be a better way to incorporate risk into these calculations. Say I'm earning 70K but have a 50% chance of losing my job over the next 5 years and having to take a lower-wage replacement at 30K; I also have a 5% chance over those years of getting seriously ill or in an accident with an effective wage of 0 (or negative, really). So in that case, my real income is:

.05*0 + 0.95(0.5*70+0.5*30) = 47.5K

So nominally I'm in the 80th percentile, but actually I'm in the 63rd percentile. Of course, many other people in the US are in similarly risky situations, particularly the older or unhealthy, so that downshifts everyone along with me. But that's not the case everywhere or for everyone. A stable job with health care, or living in a country with health care and better job security (eg, where labor actually has some political sway) means that a nominally lower income can actually be effectively much higher, even apart from cost- or quality-of-life considerations. Instability is real cost, and everyone who has real worries about losing their job or their health has in actuality a much lower real income, even if they get lucky and these things happen not to happen.
posted by chortly at 11:32 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Now I'm picturing a dystopian fiction story where consumption is now an automated process and robots get custom products tailored directly to them.

This book, it has already been written.
posted by evil otto at 12:45 AM on January 20, 2015


"The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: 'if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?' There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.”

God that line. "Brutal" ... is what came to my mind and what I ended up saying out aloud.

The public conversation trails the reality. Private conversations made public would make for far more interesting reading.
posted by vicx at 6:46 AM on January 20, 2015


We already "figured out [how to avoid] a society with only 75%, 50%, 25% employment", T.D. Strange. We employ Keynesian economics to invent bullshit at all times, instead of saving up some useful work for a recession, like Keynes naively imagined.

We've learned that doing a completely pointless job makes people unhappy, so we must now figure out how to uninvent all the pointless jobs, enjoy our lives, and push less work onto the third world.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:22 AM on January 20, 2015


Most Americans, regardless of personal or family wealth, are trained to say that they're "middle class", because that's synonymous with "being an ideal American" and belonging.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:46 PM on January 20, 2015


It makes sense. People from lower socioeconomic status are having more kids.

I suspect the bigger factor is that families with higher socioeconomic status are more likely to put their kids in private schools; hence, larger proportion of poor kids in public schools.
posted by psoas at 2:20 PM on January 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


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