One objective of this blog is to encourage productive discussion and debate within the "comments" forum. Leaving comments has been made easier. No registration is required. Comments can be left anonymously. A Hassle free and easy forum to leave a comment. However, any inappropriate comments will be deleted by blog administrators. Thank you for commenting so your voice can be heard.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Wealth Disparity - Damn The Middle Class - Plutocracy Reborn

I often get asked to name some of the issues about which I am passionate.  Certainly one of those, and one about which I have frequently written, is the growing wealth disparity in the United States.  Why is this so important?

Henry George wrote that:
“What has destroyed every previous civilization has been the tendency to the unequal distribution of wealth and power”
Destruction of civilization?  Is it really that severe?  The United States is a consumer based economy; however, the middle class is basically being destroyed right in front of our very eyes. Consumption economies die when the consumers have no money to consume!

 But wealth disparity may also lead to political corruption or even rebellion.  Witness what is happening now in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.  And it could happen here.  In a report by the United Nations report on the urban environment it states that growing inequality in U.S. cities could lead to widespread social unrest and increased mortality.

Is it really that bad?  The gap between the top 1% and everyone else hasn't been this bad since the Roaring Twenties and we know how that ended.

The San Francisco Sentinel reported that in a survey of 120 major cities New York was found to be the ninth most unequal in the world and Atlanta, Georgia, New Orleans, Louisiana, Washington, D.C., and Miami, Florida, had similar inequality levels to those of Nairobi, Kenya and Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Many were above an internationally recognized acceptable “alert” line used to warn governments.

Nairobi, Kenya and Abidjan, Ivory Coast - is that where you want us, the United States, to rank?  Should the middle class and poor in the United States have the same standard of living as those in Nairobi, Kenya and Abidjan, Ivory Coast?  If you think that sounds okay, then you are probably one of the lucky rich.

The poor are getting poorer, wages are falling behind inflation, and social mobility is at an all-time low.  Real average earnings have not increased in 50 years.  So the average American is getting poorer and poorer.  But do Americans care?

Seeking Alpha thinks that it is a deliberate plot.  According to them, socialism and economic justice are dirty words because Americans have been brainwashed into a sheeplike stupidity by their economic overlords.

During last night's Real Time, Bill Maher decried shows like Secret Millionaire—which he claims "try and put a happy ending on America's enormous wealth disparity"—in a rant against the glamorization/idolization of the rich by the poor.

Maher's rant came during the show-ending "New Rules" segment; he introduced the topic by saying, "Television networks have to stop making shows that try and put a happy ending on America's enormous wealth disparity, and instead make a show called Shine My Shoes, Fuckface!" and continuing with, "Come on! This is America, where the top 400 people have more money than the bottom 150 million combined."

Shine My Shoes, Fuckface!"  Catchy name for a show.

But Dan Ariely might have a better explanation in that Americans misunderstand what is really happening (or as some might say, Americans are being deliberately mislead).  In his study, Dan Ariely found that Americans "rather badly estimated the current state of wealth disparity!"  We just don't know it is that bad.

But in what I think is actually more important, Dan found that Americans offered an ideal wealth distribution reflecting a more equal distribution of wealth and strongly desire a more equitable society.

And in a really interesting twist, Dan found that the differences between people who make more money and less money, republicans and democrats, men and women — were relatively small in magnitude. 

In other words, it is not a Republican/Democrat issue.  It is a rich versus the rest of us issue.  And in general people who fall into these different categories (Republican/Democrat - male/female) seem to agree about the ideal wealth distribution.

Mind you, wealth disparity is not a new issue.  In many societies, attempts have been made, through property redistribution, taxation, or regulation, to redistribute wealth, sometimes in support of the upper class, and sometimes to diminish extreme inequality.  Examples of this practice go back at least to the Roman republic in the third century B.C., when laws were passed limiting the amount of wealth or land that could be owned by any one family.

During the Age of Reason, Francis Bacon wrote:
"Above all things good policy is to be used so that the treasures and monies in a state be not gathered into a few hands... Money is like muck, not good except it be spread."

I am not offering any solution other than better information.  We need to be discussing wealth disparity.  We need to be aware of its consequences.  And there has to be a way to achieve a more equitable distribution for all Americans.

Why?  As so eloquently said by William Arthur Ward:
“Each of us will one day be judged by our standard of life -- not by our standard of living; by our measure of giving -- not by our measure of wealth; by our simple goodness -- not by our seeming greatness.”


  1. Sean, didn't you have a reality show you were pitching years ago about every day people being put for 60 days on to the streets to live as homeless people like the " Secret Millionaires" the new reality show which Bill Maher spoke about? Great article though.

    Paul K.

  2. Excellent analysis! This growing disparity calls for reforming the tax code and keeping the estate tax high enough so the nation's wealth doesn't get concentrated in the hands of the few as our founding fathers feared it would.

  3. I did not like Slumdog Millionaire, which I found incredibly depressing and false. Only the lives of two people changed for the better.
    I don't like fairy tales mixed with human misery.

  4. As to the first comment, yes I did have a reality show about people living on the streets: however, the nexus of the show was to humanize the homeless and have the participants and the audience realize that the homeless have needs, wants and desires just like us. The idea was to show how anyone could end up on the street and have the audience, through the participants, interact and find out about how and why people end up homeless. And it was certainly not to glorify the rich and make them into these miraculous saviors.

    By focusing on these "millionaire" saviors, it only further demoralizes the plight of the homeless and takes away from their stories.

    The purpose of my show was to make us realize we could be there and to show the hardship and suffering which they much endure on a daily basis.

  5. Margaret Bill Maher references "Secret Millionaire" not "Slum Dog Millionaire." LOL