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View Diary: They Are the 1% - A Really Scary Follow Up (95 comments)

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  •  It's interesting that George Washington, (1+ / 0-)
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    Nulwee

    probably along with most of the other Founders, was in the top 1% (if not the top 0.1%).

    •  No, it's not . . . (13+ / 0-)

      . . .  it is, in fact, extremely unintersting.  It is, actually, exactly what one would expect to see in a society where political, economic and social power was based on an aristocratic class and a "landed gentry" class.

      What makes Washington and the other Founders interesting is that they believed they were not the only people who should have a say in their government.  Almost all of the original 50 + wealthy white men that we today revere as "the Founding Fathers" could have been content to live the rest of their lives fairly well off under the then current British system.

      They were, as you point out, doing quite well under that system.

      But they wanted more.  And -- here's the real genius -- they understood that they were entitled to take more only if they acknowledged that wealth, privilege and power should not be the only arbiters of a person's fate.

      When they decided to throw off the shackles of British Rule they did so because they perceived that British Rule was subjugating them unjustly and that - as people - they were entitled to more than that.

      But the real revolution was not the war, but the ideology that was embraced when they decided to fight for individual rights.  Because - limited as those rights may have been when the country was founded - the ideas behind them could not be kept so circumspect.

      Which is why the history of the  United States is one of a faltering but unfailing path toward greater enfranchisement for all the people our country embraces.  It began with indentured servants, was expanded (after a terrible, terrible bloody conflict) to the African-Americans who arrived here before even the pilgrims (look it up - Jamestown), to women and Native Americans, to immigrants . . .

      The story of America is the story of a vast enfranchisement, set in motion by Washington and Jefferson and Madison and Hamilton and Franklin and  Adams and all the rest, whose ideas of justice never would have countenanced the idea that the only people who should have a voice in this, our country, would be people just like them.  

      That, certainly, is not the vision for which they fought.

      Politics is the neverending story we tell ourselves about who we are as a people.

      by swellsman on Sun Oct 09, 2011 at 10:32:05 PM PDT

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      •  It's interesting in at least two ways (5+ / 0-)

        First because of the obvious contrast between the civic outlook of the Founders in comparison with the civic outlook of many of today's wealthy. I'm sure there were quite a few of Washington et al.'s contemporary peers who did not support a revolution and wanted to protect and augment their riches. We hear far less about them today, of course (they probably went back to England or up to Canada or to another English colony). It's clear today that the less typical 1%ers such as Washington and others were the historically important ones. Perhaps that will end up being true today, too: who knows?

        Second, because it demonstrates that it's not being in the 1% or the 99% that matters. It's a completely witless way to divvy people up. Instead, what matters is how one acts in terms of civic responsibility. I'm sure the proportion of 99%ers who think of themselves before their country and their fellow citizens is very high, perhaps equally or more high than that of the 1%ers. Remember, we have seen fairly clear examples of civically responsible 1%ers in the recent past. Is it reasonable to lump them into their greedy, selfish peers? Obviously, the impact of a greedy 1%er is greater than that of s similarly greedy 99%er, but there are probably around 99 times more of the latter, so it evens things out.

        I don't know of any figures on this nor even any way to determine them responsibly and accurately, but it seems to me that if we wanted to divide people up in terms of something truly relevant to today's situation, it would be in terms of some kind of greed/empathy/civic-mindedness scale. Wealth alone is a mere approximation, and not that great of one.

        Take Romney for example: he's either one of the 1% or very close to it. He was born to wealth and has become wealthier during his lifetime. But he has always tithed right off the top of his income (it's a Mormon obligation). That's many millions of dollars just given away to charity. He also put his extremely lucrative corporate career on hold to run for office, which is about as civically responsible as it gets. You can dislike his pandering, egocentric personality (I do) and you can reject his big-corporation approach to governing (I really do), but do we really want to condemn him for the way he has lived his life in terms of social responsibility? I don't. I wish all of the 1% were as socially responsible as he is: and quite a few of them are. They fact that they mostly turn out to be Republicans is on a different dimension from that of civic responsibility.

        All I'm saying is that the 1% 99% is much too arbitrary and simplistic a way to divide the nation. The Founders are an interesting illustration of that fact.

        •  I don't think I can agree . . . (9+ / 0-)

          . . . with your proposed method for "divvying up" the American people, not when the problem under discussion is income disparity and the high concentration of wealth in only a few hands.  I personally don't care if the 1% are all saints, or even angels merely wearing the form of man, the problem is that (unlike when the middle-class was being created) we've since enacted policies that funnel more money to the wealthy few and less to the average person.

          There are a lot of ways we've been doing that.  For example, we've stopped imposing progressive income taxes, we've eliminated the estate tax -- specifically designed to prevent too large an accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few families, we've eliminated private sector unions as counterparts to the high concentration of capital, we've seen an organized attack on things like the minimum wage, etc., etc., etc.  One doesn't have to believe that all this was done as part of some deeply evil, nefarious plot, one just has to recognize the effects of these (relatively) new policies benefiting the 1%.

          Wealth concentration and high income disparity is a problem in and of itself because, as Yglesias's chart indicates, that increase in wealth for the few comes directly at the expense of the many.  From WWII until about 1975 income growth for the average American closely tracked the productivity growth of the U.S. as a whole; in other words, as the United States got richer, everybody got richer:  the poor, the middleclass, and the wealthy.  But about 30-odd years or so that stopped happening and, instead, nearly all the increase in U.S. productivity stopped being shared and instead was directed to a very few.  The poor and the middleclass were simply not permitted to share in the country's wealth.

          This is also a problem because as more and more wealth is concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, it stops being distributed.  If money doesn't circulate, the economy as a whole doesn't grow.  So an increasing concentration of income growth means there is a decreasing investment in the economy as a growing concern.  Wealth concentration is itself an ailment of the economic body.

          Technically, it isn't necessary to believe the 1% are all evil in order to recognize that the 1% are getting all the money -- we just need to recognize that the 1% are getting all the money.  This, by definition, reflects a failure of the economic system, a failure that needs to be corrected.  Because wealth concentration and high income disparity is itself the problem that needs to be addressed, the criterion for distinguishing b/w the individuals involved is obviously their wealth and income -- not their civic-mindedness or greed or empathy.

          Far from being "arbitrary and simplistic" it is the only criterion directly applicable to the problem at issue.

          Politics is the neverending story we tell ourselves about who we are as a people.

          by swellsman on Mon Oct 10, 2011 at 07:41:33 AM PDT

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          •  I agree that the problem is economic injustice (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            swellsman, Killer of Sacred Cows

            Where I think we may differ is regarding solutions (and assignment of blame).

            The problems were caused, in my opinion, by a number of factors including globalization, but most importantly and most cogently by our dismantling of the economic safeguards imposed in response to the Great Depression. This took many decades. It wasn't only the 1% who is responsible: the Reagan Revolution was more about people who wanted to become rich than about actual rich people. Surely many of the economic 1% understand that the current state of affairs is untenable in the long run. But emotions are involved. They don't think they've done anything wrong (and really, have they?) and they resent being blamed for everything. Many in the 99% are almost the converse: they think they've done everything right, and they resent how they keep getting poorer and less powerful. Emotions motivate but they also distract and mislead.

            I love the fact the people are demonstrating against economic injustice, and the 1%/99% rhetoric is OK as a start. I wouldn't want it to go on much longer, though. The solution is to pass better laws to place limits and safeguards on the economy. We need a rhetoric that is a better match to the underlying problems and their solutions. It's easy to mock the Tea for their bumper-sticker ideology, but it's not easy to ignore the effectiveness of sloganeering and branding to cohere a movement to achieve a common purpose.

            •  Oh, yeah, I agree with you on that. (3+ / 0-)

              That is sort of what I was trying to get at when I was saying that the moral culpability of the 1% doesn't really concern me.  I'm not even really interested in assigning blame to individuals so much as I am interested in trying to figure out what social policies need to be enacted in order to limit the growing income inequality we've been experiencing over the past coupla decades.

              Now, personally, I do believe that there are some in the 1% who quite obviously are deliberately plotting to exacerbate the situation.  Just as one example, I remember a coupla years ago reading a short article that listed the people responsible for something like 98% of the money spent lobbying to completely eliminate the estate tax.  There weren't that many individuals, and even fewer families represented.  I remember that the Walton family contributed the most but, then, they have to most to gain.

              But I also agree that there are a lot of misguided people in the 99% who also want to eliminate the estate tax out of some misunderstanding that it impacts them or simply because they don't understand the worthwhile economic compression it is intended to (and does) effect.  

              The policy outcome is the same regardless of who is lobbying for it or what that person's motives are - it is much more important to prevent that outcome than it is to demonize the people attempting to achieve it, no argument.

              Politics is the neverending story we tell ourselves about who we are as a people.

              by swellsman on Mon Oct 10, 2011 at 10:13:28 AM PDT

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        •  Uhm, that civic minded thing... (2+ / 0-)
          He also put his extremely lucrative corporate career on hold to run for office, which is about as civically responsible as it gets.

          While it was entirely possible that in the day of the citizen legislator a person's career might suffer because of the time and distraction of holding office, in this day and age of professional politicians I think the opposite is true.

          Election to national office or staff appointment to a powerful politician is almost a guarantee of wealth to come. Look at the incomes of past presidents and congresspersons. Millions of dollars a year because people want to hear them speak. Books that will sell either to the public or whichever super PAC most likes you. Very lucrative consultancies with This Institute or That Foundation or just a plain old job with whatever megacorporation or law firm they most pleased.

          Not to mention just about every senator now retires with his or her own nonprofit corporation which has its coffers loaded primarily by Big Money interests. (the senate forbids the senate auditor from examining their nonprofits, btw)

          Given the financial return both during and after leaving office having it described as a sacrifice just doesn't seem right. Especially when they buy that job and all that comes with it with other people's money.

          Improvement is change. Not all change is improvement.

          by ricklewsive on Mon Oct 10, 2011 at 11:02:17 AM PDT

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          •  Don't get me wrong (0+ / 0-)

            I'm not trying to build up Romney. I'm 100% an Obama man. But although he is pandering to them now 24/7, Romney is no teabagger. He's much more like a traditional Republican, you know, the ones we used to be able to work with. Obviously no one can predict how he would act if elected (shudder) after all this pandering, but at least in the past, he was successful in working with Democrats and actually accomplished some positive things while governor of Massachusetts.

            •  No issues with what you just said. (0+ / 0-)

              I just don't think most go to Washington now out of sense of civic commitment. It's a very lucrative career for many who would otherwise be snake oil salespersons. A few are decent and sincere, but the system as we have evolved it tends to favor the scoundrels.

              I agree that Romney is probably much more traditional than he is having to behave to get along with the crazies in his party. It's almost painful to watch him do crazy. His heart doesn't really seem into it.

              Improvement is change. Not all change is improvement.

              by ricklewsive on Mon Oct 10, 2011 at 02:13:57 PM PDT

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    •  They were mere gentry by English standards (6+ / 0-)

      Mostly land rich and only occasionally cash rich (in a good year). Hint: When Jefferson sold his library to create the Library of Congress, he needed the money. I think he got $5,000 for it.

      Help us to save free conscience from the paw Of hireling wolves whose gospel is their maw. ~John Donne

      by ohiolibrarian on Mon Oct 10, 2011 at 10:12:14 AM PDT

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