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View Diary: Fiscal inequality: Godzilla vs. Ants (179 comments)

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    •  It is really great. (6+ / 0-)

      These kinds of charts and graphic representations do drive home the inequities inherent in our so-called "ownership society."

      But at the same time, some of these charts may also provide the clue to why more people aren't incensed about the state of wealth inequality.

      For example, while we may see people in the 80-90 wealth percentile to be unfathomably rich, many of those people do not necessarily experience themselves as rich.

      The reason for that is that -- in the manner befitting all members of an aspirational economic system -- they look up, rather than down.

      They're focused not on the mammoth gulf separating any one of their number from the economic straits of the bottom 80%. They're focused instead on the gulf separating them from the next 5-10% above them.

      This leads them to make financial and lifestyle decisions more befitting someone in the next rank up than in themselves. If the top 10% are able to send their kids to private school, make contributions to tax-sheltered retirement savings plans, put away equity in an expensive home (or homes), buy expensive cars, hire help, attend expensive therapists, and still have enough left at the end of the month to dine at expensive restaurants and buy incidentals ("incidentals" here being the Burberry scarf, the Gucci handbag), then they (the 80-90%) should be able to do that, too. Or so they think.

      So despite their massive wealth, they may experience their income on a month-to-month basis as barely eking by, because in order to sustain their life of privilege -- and the status and social decorum that they have been accustomed to -- they may have to spend down their entire budget on items that have been redefined as "necessities." Despite the existence of adequate public schools, reasonably-priced, sensible cars, rental properties, and the like, these options come to seem like unacceptable compromises to those bent on establishing themselves within a particular horizon of economic status.

      So the affluent professional that spends down their entire monthly budget of gold-plated expenses comes to see themselves as "scrimping" in a manner not too different from your average $40,000-a-year Jane or Joe.

      We can get angry about this -- indeed, we can get enraged about this -- but it doesn't change the fact that for many within a higher income bracket, this is how they experience themselves as financial beings. The 80-90 percentile look upwards with envy to the top 10%; the next 5 to the top 5%; and the next 4% to the top 1%. And as the diarst notes, there are even gross inequities within that top 1% sliver of the populace, with the bottom of the 1% coveting the wealth of the top of the 1%, and seeing their own enormous wealth as somehow inadequate.

      And as a consequence, perhaps fewer of them are willing to see themselves as examples of gluttonous excess, Godzillas trampling on the little people below. Instead, they may see themselves as virtuous exemplars of fiscal prudence, socking every penny of their monthly earnings away for their gold-plated retirement accounts, health plans, private school tuitions and the like. In that context, it becomes difficult to appeal to their sense of guilt about their own considerable class privilege.

      Every member of an unequal,  aspirational society imagines themselves as potentially belonging to the top 1%. In that situation, it is difficult to get people to align themselves with their own economic stratum: such a move seems too much like a capitulation.

      Nothing requires a greater effort of thought than arguments to justify the rule of non-thought. -- Milan Kundera

      by Dale on Sun Nov 20, 2011 at 08:00:42 AM PST

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      •  Very well stated. (5+ / 0-)

        I know people who are doing just that and they perceive the OWS protests as being attacks on THEM, when in fact they are probably in the 90% bracket and "just getting by" for all the reasons you mentioned.

        This morning I just watched The Story of Stuff which graphically illustrates this issue.

        "Let us not look back to the past with anger, nor towards the future with fear, but look around with awareness." James Thurber

        by annan on Sun Nov 20, 2011 at 10:23:35 AM PST

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      •  This is exactly right, but consider further . . . (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        There is really one, and only one, dividing line between the truly wealthy and everyone else.

        Yes, it's great being in a high income bracket, having some savings put away in a 401(k), owning a house, and not having to worry (financially) if someone gets sick or the car breaks down.  It's a lot better than being in the bottom 80%.  But it's not truly wealthy, because even these guys depend on their income and have to work for a living.  If they lost their job, they wouldn't immediately starve, but they'd be hurting pretty quickly.  

        The truly wealthy are those who have sufficient capital that they don't have to work for a living.  They can live off the interest on their savings, or the dividends on their stock, or the trust fund their daddy left them.  That is the true dividing line.    

        "[W]e shall see the reign of witches pass over . . . and the people, recovering their true spirit, restore their government to its true principles." Jefferson

        by RenMin on Sun Nov 20, 2011 at 11:03:47 AM PST

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        •  according to IRS figures the wealthiest 0.01% (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mumtaznepal, splashy, kurt

          have incomes above $10 million per year, and make only 19% of that from job or salary income.  That means that if they all became unemployed tomorrow, the poor little dears would have to limp by on a mere $8.1 million a year at minimum.

          I think they can manage, though they may have to sell one of the gold-plated toilet seats. Life sucks.

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