Monday, June 4, 2012

Admit It, America


Earlier this year, an interviewer asked Mitt Romney to clarify a remark about public resentment regarding Wall Street conduct and inequality. He had said that such talk was driven by “envy.” He had also stated that a public debate about inequitable wealth distribution in this country was not necessary.

The interviewer asked him:
I’m curious about the word envy. Did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country, is envious? Is it about jealousy, or fairness?
His arrogant response was off-the-cuff and, as with so many things Romney says without long consultations with his handlers, he revealed his real mentality and put his foot in it.
You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent, you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.
Given the weak state of the economy and the candidate's extreme wealth (a personal fortune reportedly around $250 million) it was a strange thing for any person running for office to say.

According to one source, over the last 20 years, America has had the highest or nearly highest poverty rates for individual adults, families and children among 31 developed countries. Meanwhile, the super-rich get just getting richer. According to the Aug. 23, 2010 New Yorker reported that between 2002 and 2007, the top one percent of rich Americans have seen their share of the national income double. 
In the decades after World War II, the wealthiest Americans were heavily taxed, with marginal rates over 90 percent on income above $400,000 (Bennett, 2010). Massive government investments in infrastructure, education, technology, and knowledge-based enterprises spread those tax dollars around, redistributing the nation’s wealth and creating “social value” (Alperovitz, 2009, p. 88) that was available to all citizens.
All that changed when Reagan became president and began a series of tax cuts which largely benefited the wealthiest Americans. One effect of these cuts has been a dwindling flow of revenue to spend on the infrastructure and for social investment.
(S)ince the late 1970s, wages have lost ground for the average worker while executive compensation has soared (Noblet, 2006). In 1979, the top one percent of Americans earned 33.1 times what the bottom 20 percent earned, but by 2000, this multiplier had more than doubled to 88.5 (Hogan, 2005).
Wealth distribution is even more skewed, with the top 20 percent of Americans owning 84 percent of all national wealth, while the bottom 20 percent own a mere 0.1 percent (Bennett, 2010). The United States has not seen this level of wealth inequality since the Roaring Twenties (Noblet, 2006; Tyson, 2004).
Had there been any one area of the economy that the conservative Republicans could point to and claim success, then an argument could be made. However, by following these policies, (and by launching two poorly conducted wars and allowing Wall Street to become an unregulated casino) these kind of wealth distribution has brought to nation to the brink of financial ruin.

And yet, according to Romney, nothing is amiss except the imagined jealousy of the 99%.
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