Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The wealthiest of the wealthy cannibalize the world


A cartoon from the time of the original Gilded Age showing monopolistic Robber Barons tormenting the 'workman.'
The second paragraph in Bob Hebert's column yesterday in the New York Times:
Americans are not being honest with themselves about the structural changes in the economy that have bestowed fabulous wealth on a tiny sliver at the top, while undermining the living standards of the middle class and absolutely crushing the poor. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have a viable strategy for reversing this dreadful state of affairs. (There is no evidence the G.O.P. even wants to.)
Yep.  A central element of what's wrong in this country nowadays is that we are in a new Gilded Age.  Before the turn of the century, a hundred and ten-plus years ago, it was the original Gilded Age, a time when Robber Barons, like John Rockefeller, were on the loose and the structure of the economy was in many ways similar to today. Fairness was old hat. A very few were stinkingly rich and the rest struggled to get by.

A circumstance like that is ruinous for a nation.  Thankfully, eventually, Teddy Roosevelt rose to power and put in place many correctives.  Subsequently (after a bad four years with Taft as President), Woodrow Wilson became the Pres, and some more good things happened, interspersed with the awful First World War.

While I love President Obama, believing that he desires to do all the right things, he has proved to not have the drive, originality and chutzpah of Teddy Roosevelt, and thus he hasn't had quite enough success steering us out of the pickle the country's in.  And the political scene in Washington DC is nowhere near what it needs to be to straighten out the underlying problem, the overall disparities in income.

Hebert's column tells us this about America's income disparities:
… analysts … have tracked the increasing share of national income that has gone to the top 1 percent of earners since the 1970s, when their share was 8 percent to 9 percent. In the 1980s, it rose to 10 percent to 14 percent. In the late-’90s, it was 15 percent to 19 percent. In 2005, it passed 21 percent. By 2007, the last year for which complete data are available, the richest 1 percent were taking more than 23 percent of all income.

The richest one-tenth of 1 percent, representing just 13,000 households, took in more than 11 percent of total income in 2007.
While I applaud Hebert's column, one matter Hebert doesn't get into is the problem of globalization that creates an international race to the bottom to court the stinking rich.  Every nation wants to retain and lure rich people who can fund job creation.  In the competition that undermines everybody, ultimately, the whole of the planet's economy gets corrupted.

This race to the bottom is truly Diabolical.  The only cure is, perhaps, a strict international agreement to prevent wholesale caving in to the interests of the obscenely wealthy.  But to make such an agreement work, it would probably require some kind of way-way-too-powerful International Government.  And then — yipes! — a world-ruling totalitarian freedom-disallowing dictatorship that we could never get rid of, short of the Second Coming of Jesus, could rather easily come to power.  Except for a very few, all of mankind would then become slaves.  And worse, without any freedom, we'd be slaves without knowing we were slaves.  It would be ultimate misery, squared. We'd be automatons living in an Orwellian dystopia.

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