This colorful little graphic shows what is the core of most of the trouble in the United States today.
The gist of what it means is simple. The top 20% of Americans control over 80% of the wealth. Most Americans don’t know this. They think—as the second graph shows—the top 20% controls almost 60% of the wealth, and they’re not real happy about that, as the third graph shows they think the top 20% should control about 30%. I’m not even going to discuss what the bottom 20% get. This is depressing enough. (For a set of graphs that explores this in more detail, see the article in Mother Jones.)
The rich have always controlled a disproportionate amount of the economy. That’s what makes them rich. There was a time when they had the smarts—or class—to keep it to themselves. Flaunting it in everyone else’s faces was considered to be poor form. We’ve all heard stories of families who had money during The Depression keeping their shades drawn much of the time so those less fortunate wouldn’t see the disparity. That could be hubris or sensitivity, depending on the family, but it’s not happening now.
People making $400,000 are distraught because they don’t make $600,000. They see their income figures and think they should be rich—and they are—then look at the guy across the way who makes a couple of million and feel deprived. Few look in the other direction and feel grateful for what they have.
And it’s still not enough. Tax cuts are proposed for the rich, though their rates have plummeted since the Eisenhower years. (See Mother Jones.) Union busting activity is worse than it’s ever been. True, there are armed confrontations, but now the government is actively against the unions. Witness Scott Walker’s power grab in Wisconsin, where he doesn’t just want to be the governor who busted the unions, he wants to be king. How else can you describe a governor who has promoted a bill that will allow him to sell off state property without soliciting bids, to whomever an official appointed by him deems worthy?
Public sector workers are being demonized to out of work private sector workers, when the people who are really hosing them make more in a year than any of them will make in their lives. The true enemy of an employed worker is not an employed government worker; it’s any unemployed worker, who is now competition for the job he needs.
This is bad, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better soon. Both parties share in the blame. Republicans for their ruthlessness, and Democrats for their fecklessness in ceding the battlefield. The real problem now is that, even if the pendulum swings back, it will take years to undo the damage that was done in a couple of elections, and there don’t appear to be enough people on the horizon willing to do much more than talk about it.