In May 14 IssueBy John Thompson, Columnist
A rising tide raises all boats. Milton Friedman argued that yes, the rich may make disproportionately more than the rest, and that in an economic expansion they may increase their profits much more than the rest; but he contended that that is not the measure to take, but the fact that the rest rose at all.
So, when the bottom 99 percent had their income rise 2.7 percent from 1993 to 2000, or even the measly 1.3 percent from 2002 to 2007, we should all be grateful that there was any rise at all. Of course forget that that 1.3 percent went entirely to the top part of that 99 percent, but more even, and the poor got poorer. Lost ground in fact.
But what else happened between 2002 and 2007? It was a time of what we thought was economic expansion. What happened was that the top 1 percent gained 2/3rds of all economic growth!
So it seems here's what we're supposed to accept. In economically great times, the rich outpace the rest. Not in absolute dollars, but in percentage growth; and that's the important thing. If the rich grow 3 percent and the poor grow 3 percent is one thing, but if the rich grow 5 percent and the poor gain 1 percent it's another. Fundamentally it is not good for the country. Any number of studies will show that, and it's been said forever, even in ancient times:
"An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics."-Plutarch, ancient Greek biographer (c. 46 - 120 CE)
There is a measure of income inequality that is the standard the world over called the Gini Index. Even the CIA uses this measure in its analysis. The United States now ranks alongside Uganda in inequality. Believe it or not, we have worse equality than Pakistan or even the brutal Ivory Coast. But this is the price of freedom, we are told; the freedom to have massive inequality. Freedom for a child to eat Ramen Noodles on one block while a few blocks away someone is thinking of buying their fourth mansion or second yacht for when the other's in the shop.
They justify it; "This is Freedom!" they exhort. To take from one and give to another is the lack of freedom.
Our country is broke all right, but not in the financial sense, but in the societal structure sense; in the political sense; in the true moral sense; and ultimately, in the survival sense.
Yes, ultimately we are going to have to get kinder, not meaner to survive. We are going to have to face responsibility and not blame others; and we are going to have to set a few rules, rules that we may subjectively understand we may not want to follow, such as, hey, if I made a million a year, I would rather not pay any, or as little as possible in taxes also. But that is why I shouldn't be allowed individually to make the rules.
"The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly. The rich have always objected to being governed at all." -G. K. Chesterton, noted intellectual and writer on diverse subjects
And that's what we now have; one particular special interest makes the rules. The super rich higher the lobbyists to shove the money into the politicians pockets; they hire the lawyers and policy experts to write the bills that "our" congress then passes, and of course they're written in the favor of business.
And if you talk about the unfairness of it? Well you're anti-business. You're playing the game of class warfare. Why penalize the rich for making so much money? Well why penalize the poor for not making enough money? We all have to eat. We all have to have shelter and clothing and it's a crime that we all don't have basic medical care.
In what is truly the quintessential dog and pony show, oil executives are appearing today on Capital Hill to receive a flogging from the Senate Finance Committee.
Oh, don't think it means anything. It's our politicians pandering to us by 'beating up' on the oil executives for obscene profits. A well deserved dressing down, considering the oil execs say that if the United States takes away their tax breaks, then the U.S. is going to lose thousands and thousands of jobs. Sound familiar? Extortion. Cut into the tens of billions, the wealthiest corporations with the biggest profits in the history of the world, and they threaten to further punish us.
No one at the top is willing to concede a dollar of their empire. Some might say "well why should they?" but I say that the continual demand for more money for the few at the expense of the many, of society, is a sickness.
"We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." -Louis Brandeis, U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1856-1941).
Another charge, as ridiculous as it is, is to claim that liberals are looking for a financial equality "utopia," and that all efforts to try to get some semblance of sanity of the distribution of wealth in the country is an attempt to make sure everyone has equal amounts of money. Poppycock! Absurdly ridiculous. Though I am glad to see that a group of people are learning the word utopia, I just wish it wasn't being defined by those who have such an anti-human agenda.
No one is calling for pure equality; we're saying that those who work hard are getting less of the fruits of their labor, while those who own the machinery, or company receive not only the lions share, but the vast lion's share.
"The form of law which I propose would be as follows: In a state which is desirous of being saved from the greatest of all plagues-not faction, but rather distraction-there should exist among the citizens neither extreme poverty nor, again, excessive wealth, for both are productive of great evil . . . Now the legislator should determine what is to be the limit of poverty or of wealth." - Plato, Greek philosopher (427-347 B.C.)
The condition of labor has become so bad that indeed, government subsidies do seem like an appealing alternative to some. Oh sure, you may have to lose your pride in getting on the dole, but pride is in short supply anyway, as beaten down as many have become. And it's not only the poor. All professions that were once the elite are now increasingly controlled, unless you're at the very top.
I would like to end this column with a few quotes. How about we start with Adam Smith? If you don't know who Adam Smith is, he wrote the Bible on capitalism, "The Wealth of Nations." He is the economist credited with laying out the framework of our capitalistic society. He is also widely misinterpreted and falsely used to justify the most heinous inequalities in our society as being the measure of "freedom" we possess. Here's the first quote by this man hailed by laissez-faire, free market, deregulation capitalists:
"The disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition is the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments." -Adam Smith, Scottish political economist (1723-1790).
And the last quote. A rallying call from those 'dirty hippies' of the 1960's who were also sick of the oppression… until they thought they got their piece of the pie.
"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!" student leader Mario Savio, before a Free Speech Sit-In in 1964.