Eat The Rich! New Media and Politics

There are days when I get so angry with the current state of the economy, with people like Steve Moore whom Paddy over at the Political Carnival linked to earlier advocating increased taxes on the poor in the US - the lack of readily available and decent paying jobs that have helped to shrink the middle-class over the past 30 years or so - that I sometimes joke on the radio program that I'm looking forward to a time when "Eat the rich," is no longer a bit of graffiti scrawled on a wall but a menu option. I'm gonna' sit down and order me one extra-large republican braised over a spit for two or three days in a tangy lemon-ginger sauce. I'm only kidding of course - not really all that fond of lemon-ginger. I prefer garlic sweet and sour.

Over at the Nation, Robert Reich writes about how Wall Street's banditry is essentially the event responsible for the recession but not the ultimate cause. That fault lies with all of us and what we have allowed governments to do in our names. He points to some eye-opening numbers about the redistribution of wealth to the rich that has taken place in recent years. It's not just our imaginations or bitterness at the lack of real opportunity that makes us blame and resent the wealthy: 1928 the richest 1 percent of Americans received 23.9 percent of the nation's total income. After that, the share going to the richest 1 percent steadily declined. New Deal reforms, followed by World War II, the GI Bill and the Great Society expanded the circle of prosperity. By the late 1970s the top 1 percent raked in only 8 to 9 percent of America's total annual income. But after that, inequality began to widen again, and income reconcentrated at the top. By 2007 the richest 1 percent were back to where they were in 1928—with 23.5 percent of the total.

It's not just a tale of out of control greed on the part of the wealthy though. It's also a story about missed opportunities and complacency on all our parts: Big, profitable companies could have been barred from laying off a large number of workers all at once, and could have been required to pay severance—say, a year of wages—to anyone they let go. Corporations whose research was subsidized by taxpayers could have been required to create jobs in the United States. The minimum wage could have been linked to inflation. America's trading partners, he points out, also could have been coerced to take similar actions and that, at the very least, would have prevented the massive outsourcing we have all been witness to.

Governments we have elected have deregulated industries and privatized everything in sight - under the auspices of the free market does everything better - and that has left us all increasingly vulnerable to the vagaries and whims of corporations. The cost of public higher education has been increased. Safety nets have been shredded. Tax rates for the wealthy of 70–90 percent that existed during the 1950s and '60s have dropped to 28–40 percent - with the attendant loss in government revenues. The nation's wealthy get to treat their income as capital gains subject to no more than 15 percent tax and escape inheritance taxes altogether. America also boosted sales and payroll taxes, both of which have taken a bigger chunk out of the pay of the middle class and the poor than of the rich.

He concludes with some dire warnings about the direction the current state of rancorous politics could lead to and notes that, None of us can thrive in a nation divided between a small number of people receiving an ever larger share of the nation's income and wealth, and everyone else receiving a declining share. The lopsidedness not only diminishes economic growth but also tears at the social fabric of our society.

That applies here in Canada too.