When the Other Half Becomes the 1 Percent
“We’re the only ones not fighting the class war.” –heard on KPFK radio in a discussion on recent collective bargaining bills introduced in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states.
American Debt Project is both a micro-blog and macro-blog, looking at personal progress on debt and finances, as well as the bigger picture of what goes on around us that might be affecting those personal accounts. I’m not making excuses. My boyfriend says everyone talks about the Economy like it’s their cousin. He has a point. Have you ever heard:
“I didn’t have a very good year last year. You know, with the Economy as bad as it was.”
“Nobody knows what’s going on with this Economy. We can’t really believe anything anymore, you know?”
“The Economy promised to pay me back that $200 he borrowed last year, so I think it’s really turning around.”
You get the point. I don’t want to make broad-sweeping generalizations of what the “Economy” is doing, but instead analyze some of the trends, statistics and information we all hear. One of the most disturbing trends that has finally started getting some attention is inequality in income and wealth. In the United States, those statistics have changed over the past 50 years, and there’s a great article on AlterNet that tells you all about it.
According to the article, the top 1% of the US population earns just less than one-fourth of the nation’s income annually, and holds 40% of the household wealth in the US. One percent of the US population is just over 3 million people. In other words, there are 3 million people in the US who own $21.7 trillion in total wealth. Does anyone else think that’s crazy? And don’t think that the other 60% of wealth (usually the sum of all assets minus liabilities like loans and mortgages) is evenly distributed. The wealthiest 25% of US households hold 87% of that total wealth (including that 40% for the top 1%), leaving the other three-quarters of the population, or 230 MILLION people, holding the bag.
Vanity Fair’s Joseph Stiglitz points out in “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%”, “Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth.” Our political system is convenient and accessible to this portion of the population:
“The Supreme Court, in its recent Citizens United case, has enshrined the right of corporations to buy government, by removing limitations on campaign spending. The personal and the political are today in perfect alignment. Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift—through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price—it should not come as cause for wonder. It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.”
It’s a depressing thought, to be sure. But I know if at least some of the “bottom 99%” are reading articles like the ones above and taking control of their debt and income, then some of the power of that 1% is being reclaimed. It’s easy to use the Economy as an excuse to do nothing, but as the first quote of this post points out, the other half (which became the 1% while no one was looking) is in action and has no plans to slow down. Maybe it’s time to take a lesson from them.