Posts tagged Working class
Posts tagged Working class
Truth. They’re not. I’d expand that to politicians in general.
The richest 1% of US Americans earn nearly a quarter of the country’s income and control an astonishing 40% of its wealth. Inequality in the US is more extreme than it’s been in almost a century — and the gap between the super rich and the poor and middle class people has widened drastically over the last 30 years.
Meanwhile, in Washington, a bitter partisan debate over how to cut deficit spending and reduce the US’ 14.3 trillion dollar debt is underway. As low and middle class wages stagnate and unemployment remains above 9%, Republicans and Democrats are tussling over whether to slash funding for the medical and retirement programs that are the backbone of the US’s social safety net, and whether to raise taxes — or to cut them further.
The budget debate and the economy are the battleground on which the 2012 presidential election race will be fought. And the United States has never seemed so divided — both politically and economically.
How did the gap grow so wide, and so quickly? And how are the convictions, campaign contributions and charitable donations of the top 1% impacting the other 99% of Americans? Fault Lines investigates the gap between the rich and the rest.
This episode of Fault Lines first aired on Al Jazeera English on August 2, 2011 at 0930 GMT.
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Image: Protests in Wisconsin (Eric Thayer / Getty Images)
"For out of this modern civilization economic royalists carved new dynasties… Through new uses of corporations, banks and securities, new machinery of industry and agriculture, of labor and capital - all undreamed of by the [Founding] Fathers - the whole structure of modern life was impressed into this royal service. There was no place among this royalty for our many thousands of small-businessmen and merchants who sought to make a worthy use of the American system of initiative and profit…
It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. In its service, new mercenaries sought to regiment the people, their labor, and their property. And as a result the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man.
The hours men and women worked, the wages they received, the conditions of their labor - these had passed beyond the control of the people, and were imposed by this new industrial dictatorship. The savings of the average family, the capital of the small-businessmen, the investments set aside for old age - other people’s money - these were tools which the new economic royalty used to dig itself in.
Image: Protests in Ohio (Jay LaPrete / AP Photo)
Those who tilled the soil no longer reaped the rewards which were their right. The small measure of their gains was decreed by men in distant cities. Throughout the nation, opportunity was limited by monopoly. Individual initiative was crushed in the cogs of a great machine. The field open for free business was more and more restricted. Private enterprise, indeed, became too private. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise. Liberty requires opportunity to make a living - a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.
For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality. A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor - other people’s lives. For too many of us life was no longer free, liberty no longer real, men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.
Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of government. The collapse of 1929 showed up the despotism for what it was… The royalists of the economic order have conceded that political freedom was the business of the government, but they have maintained that economic slavery was nobody’s business. They granted that the government could protect the citizen in his right to vote, but they denied that the government could do anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right to live.
Today we stand committed to the proposition that freedom is no half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he must have equal opportunity in the market place. These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike.
Indiana protests (Image: Alan Petersime, The Star / AP Photo)
The defeats and victories of these years have given to us as a people a new understanding of our government and of ourselves… We do not see faith, hope, and charity as unattainable ideals, but we use them as stout supports of a nation fighting the fight for freedom in a modern civilization.
We are poor indeed if this nation cannot afford to lift from every recess of American life the dread fear of the unemployed that they are not needed in the world. We cannot afford to accumulate a deficit in the books of human fortitude. In the place of the palace of privilege we seek to build a temple out of faith and hope and charity… Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.
There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”
Image: Protests in Washington State (Steve Bloom, The Olympian / Steve Bloom)
2011 begins with a bang, this is a highly quotable read.
I second that.
Along with the staggering theft in broad daylight of Americans’ assets that has occurred in the course of the ongoing financial crisis, as taxpayers funded multi-trillion bank bailouts and banks stole homes through foreclosures with the help of fraudulent paperwork, American companies have also been picking the pockets of workers more directly.
This second round of paycheck theft has come in the form of stolen productivity gains.
Historically, the relatively high and rising standard of living of American workers—both blue and white-collar—which once gave the US one of the highest standards of living in the world, has come courtesy of rising productivity, which has allowed US companies to produce more goods with less labor, and to then pass some of the enhanced profits on to workers in the form of higher wages, without having to raise prices. That has been important because, when higher wages are financed by higher prices, it tends to be a kind of zero-sum game: higher wages cancelled out by inflation.
But beginning in 2000, the old system already creaky, broke down. (It must be noted that this system was never the result of the capitalists’ largesse, but rather was because of a tighter labor market and, critically, a powerful labor movement.)
The corporate onslaught against trade unions and against the minimum wage, which began with the Nixon administration in 1968, combined with so-called “free-trade” deals that allowed US companies to shift production overseas and then to freely import the products of their overseas production facilities back for sale to Americans at home, by weakening the power of workers to demand higher wages, has led to a situation where companies can just pocket all the profits from productivity gains, leaving wages stagnant, or even driving them down.
The crippling of the working class has been an insidious consequence of organized labor’s back-breaking.
Now that the Bush tax cuts are targeted for extension via a
strongarming compromise by the GOP, here’s a little perspective:
Every 34th wage earner in America in 2008 went all of 2009 without earning a single dollar, new data from the Social Security Administration show. Total wages, median wages, and average wages all declined, but at the very top, salaries grew more than fivefold…
The number of Americans making $50 million or more, the top income category in the data, fell from 131 in 2008 to 74 last year. But that’s only part of the story.
The average wage in this top category increased from $91.2 million in 2008 to an astonishing $518.8 million in 2009. That’s nearly $10 million in weekly pay!
You read that right. In the Great Recession year of 2009 (officially just the first half of the year), the average pay of the very highest-income Americans was more than five times their average wages and bonuses in 2008. And even though their numbers shrank by 43 percent, this group’s total compensation was 3.2 times larger in 2009 than in 2008, accounting for 0.6 percent of all pay. These 74 people made as much as the 19 million lowest-paid people in America, who constitute one in every eight workers.
Back in 1994, when the top category the government reported on was $20 million or more of compensation, only 25 people were in that rarefied atmosphere, and their average earnings came to just under $45 million in 2009 dollars.
What does this all mean? It is the latest, and in this case quite dramatic, evidence that our economic policies in Washington are undermining the nation as a whole. We have created a tax system that changes continually as politicians manipulate it to extract campaign donations. We have enabled ‘‘free trade’’ that is nothing of the sort, but rather tax-subsidized mechanisms that encourage American manufacturers to close their domestic factories, fire workers, and then use cheap labor in China for products they send right back to the United States. This has created enormous downward pressure on wages, and not just for factory workers.
So, when are we going to stop accepting this? When are we going to see the fundamental economic inequality that’s killing us as a nation? I fear it’s too late.