Skeleton in the Closet: America's Great Divide
A few days ago, the US Census Bureau reported that nearly 12.7% of all Americans currently live below the poverty line. That figure was higher for the fifth consecutive year in a row. Meanwhile, according to Forbes magazine in 2004, "the combined net worth of the nation's wealthiest [400 people] climbed to $1 trillion, up $45 billion in 12 months." Of the richest 400 Americans, there were 313 billionaires, a record number!
"How many yachts can you waterski behind? How much is enough?" -- Bud Fox (played by Charlie Sheen)in Oliver Stone's classic movie Wall Street.Using the last major US Census Bureau statistics from 1998, the richest 1% of households own 38 percent of all wealth. The richest 5% own more than half of all the wealth. To put it another way, the top 5% maintain more wealth than the remaining 95% percent of the population, collectively.
To put the 'Great American Divide' in context, assume there are 100 people who have $100 to split up amongst them. Although nobody expects the money to be shared evenly at $1.00 per person, everybody expects that some basic fairness may be applied in the process.
But suppose the $100 gets divided as follows:
1 person gets $38.10
4 people get $5.32 each
5 people get $2.30 each
10 people get $1.25 each
20 people get $.60 each
20 people get $.23 each
40 people get 1/2 cent each
That is how the money is divided in America. As the one person who now makes $38.10 begins to take even a greater share as time goes by, the divide gets wider. Eventually, you have a situation where the people become quite upset with the situation, perhaps feeling that the system is skewed a bit unfairly.
According to the economic measure called the Gini coefficient (which measures the concentration of wealth as an index that goes from zero to one, one being the most unequal), wealth inequality in the United States, as of 1998, has a Gini coefficient of .82. According to some economists, .82 is "pretty close to the maximum level of inequality you can have".
Speaking to a congressional panel in June of 2005, conservative icon and boy toy, Alan Greenspan, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, showed remarkable concern for the growing wealth divide.
"As I've often said, this is not the type of thing which a democratic society - a capitalist democratic society - can really accept without addressing." (Christian Science Monitor, June 14, 2005)Yes, that's right, the divide is so great that even Alan "Fucking" Greenspan starts sounding like a liberal!
""He is the conventional wisdom," says Jared Bernstein, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. "When I'm arguing with people, I say, 'Even Alan Greenspan....' " " (Christian Science Monitor, June 14, 2005)So, what are our leaders doing about this divide? Abso-fucking-lutely nothing! Unless, of course, you consider repealing the Estate Tax, shielding corporations from liability, giving tax cuts to the upper class, and blowing up major segments of our nation's bankruptcy laws helpful to the situation. You see, rather than bridge the gap, it seems as if our "leaders" are only making it worse. More than that, they are instituting measures that, for all intents and purposes, concretize the current class divide for future generations. The ultra-rich are guaranteed their familial dynasties for generations to come.
"We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price of paper clips. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everyone sits around wondering how the hell we did it." -- Gorden Gekko (played by Michael Douglas)in Oliver Stone's classic movie Wall StreetBut what can we do about it? First off, we need to realize that there are more of 'us', than there are 'them'. Second, we need to stop coddling the aristocracy, including politicians from our own political party. Using party politics of "Democrats" and "Republicans", the ruling class always gets to play us off against one another in a football game of sorts. As we senselessly beat the crap out of one another in this football game, they are robbing us blind. That needs to stop. Lately, as Thomas Frank, editor of The Baffler said, we have "a French Revolution in reverse -- one in which the sans-culottes pour down the streets demanding more power to the aristocracy."
Brainwashed by television programming and pop culture, most Americans don't even recognize that they work four months out of the year for a government that basically serves at the pleasure of the most wealthy. Some Americans actually give their lives fighting in wars catered to the profit of the most wealthy. It's sheer insanity. And when national disasters happen, like Hurricane Katrina, that same government who has catered to the whims of the richest, has nothing left to give to the ones who suffer the most. Instead, it calls upon the generosity of the ones with the least to pitch in and help. The people need to wake up!
Although it might not happen anytime soon, you never know. If things get bad enough, it could happen sooner rather than later. After all, football gets quite unimportant when gas starts costing $5.00 a gallon and the mortgage cannot be paid. (Perhaps this is why uber-conservative Alan Greenspan is smart enough to recognize the danger of a Great Divide -- because eventually, the 'have nots' are going to rise up.)
Lastly, we need to fight. I'm not advocating violence here, I'm advocating spirit. We need a fighting spirit. We need to recognize bullshit when we see it and we need to call it out.
"A little boy and his father go to the circus. The little boy sees a full-grown elephant with a rope tied around his leg. At the other end of the rope is a wooden stake driven into the ground. The little boy is amazed that the big elephant doesn't break the rope and pull the stake out of the ground.Well, this elephant is ready to tug again!
The father explains that when the elephant was a baby, his trainers tied a heavy chain around his leg. The other end was tied into an iron stake driven deep into the ground. The baby elephant pulled and tugged many, many times and was finally conditioned to believe he couldn't get away. Now they keep a rope tied to his leg to remind him, and when he feels resistance he stops trying.
If the elephant gave it 100% one more time, he would be free and gone." -- Positive Mental Imagery