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View Diary: Three in four Americans living paycheck to paycheck while CEO-to-peons pay ratio now at 273-to-1 (142 comments)

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  •  Sometimes I have a weird perspective on this (16+ / 0-)

    I've been studying history in college for more than five years now, particularly focusing on history around the world in the past two or so centuries. America seems to have been formed at that turning point in history when power structures were going from kingdoms to nation-states. As such, we have this ethos in America of individuality that is actually fairly unique in the world in how far we often take it.

    Yet it's also quite disingenuous. For much of American history, pretty much everyone was poor except for the lucky few. We had a real progressive movement, full of so many flaws, which tried to change all that about a century ago. Got stalled after WWI, but came charging back during the Great Depression. And then WWII paradoxically made things even better.

    In reality, times were only good for about three decades in this country. And even then, it was largely only for white people.

    I have encountered many truly wonderful voices on the internet talking about various social issues. What I have not found is a group of people looking at this story of income inequality as something that is just part and parcel of who we have generally been as Americans.

    I feel like I am writing on shaky ground here because I genuinely don't see folks writing much about this anywhere. I have begun to suspect that much of the real power and money in this country was controlled by the elite, they were gradually forced to give some of it up during the Great Depression and after WWII, but then found a way to take it all back when the federal government ordered that government benefits must be given to folks of color in the 1960s as well, and not just white folks.

    Our public education system teaches history as a progressing arrow that only goes forward. I think that that has informed how we discuss income equality. We just talk about how things used to be better rather than talking about how, in reality, things weren't good for that long at all.

    Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their authors' minds ages ago. - Samuel Smiles

    by moviemeister76 on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 12:48:53 PM PDT

    •  I think your analysis is absolutely accurate (10+ / 0-)

      and not in the least resting on shaky ground.

      The real and good progress we made in the middle of the last century was always under assault from monied interests. When we did the next good things after giving labor a meaningful place at the table, by giving minorities equal rights, giving assistance to the poor so they'd have some equality of opportunity, we gave those interests the ammo they needed.

      Racism and resentment have been milked to greater than ever effect in our politics since the 1960s.

      Greed and envy are powerful forces, and the right has never been afraid to use them. We don't have an effective enough left in this country to oppose that manipulation. As long as politicians have the opportunity to cash in, they'll serve the monied interests first and foremost (with too few notable exceptions.) No matter how reasonable and fact-based opposition to the status quo might be, it'll always be considered "fringe" and "radical," not to mention hopelessly naive.

      "I've had all I can stands, and I can't stands no more." - Popeye the Sailor Man

      by congenitalefty on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 01:13:01 PM PDT

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      •  It felt shaky to me (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        congenitalefty, Youffraita

        But only in that most of the time when I talk about stuff here at DKos in terms of history, I am basing it on dozens and dozens of textbooks, biographies, autobiographies and other books and articles written by experts in anthropology, history and sociology that I have read. I haven't actually read anything about some of what I wrote this time. It's much more comfortable to say something when you know so many other people already agree with you.

        Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their authors' minds ages ago. - Samuel Smiles

        by moviemeister76 on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 01:51:44 PM PDT

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        •  Income inequality through history (10+ / 0-)

          There are plenty of statistics and books out there covering the topic.  One thing I would suggest is that you broaden your examination beyond America alone.  If you consider Western history after 1000 or so, the story has always been the same.  
          (I have seen charts that show it, and can try to track one down for you if you like).  

          The top 1% have always, always controlled the bulk of the wealth of the world.  With the industrial revolution and the advent of global capitalism (beginning in roughly 1700) wealth for all sectors grew.  Through all of it, the top 1% always maintained control over the bulk of global wealth, reaping most of the benefits.  The gap between the top and the bottom shrunk slightly, but not that much.  

          So the whole pie grew a lot, and after 1700 the poorest 99% was much better off.  But the slightly narrowed but still huge wealth gap was still there.  

          As for recent American history, New Deal programs under FDR caused the gap to narrow greatly from 1940-1975.  When those programs were maintained (and America's post-World War II manufacturing and financial dominance lasted), the middle classes had a bigger foothold.  The 1% still had control of most of the wealth, but the gap was much smaller than ever before.

          In the mid-70s, American global economic dominance began to fade.  This fade coincided with a push by the elite to repeal FDR-era New Deal programs and re-assert themselves in their former position.  They succeeded.  The gap between the 99% and the 1% widened back to what it had been in the 1920s.

          That's the quick and dirty version, anyhow...

          •  That was kind of what I meant (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            congenitalefty, unfangus, Youffraita

            I have actually studied more history covering areas outside the US than in it, and most of my US history knowledge lies firmly in the South. The story in what we now call countries was always that 98% of the people were really poor, 1% were kinda in the middle, and 1% controlled everything. The story of a strong middle class is so very short. And yet the way it gets framed in discussions about income inequality by most people is that we used to have good things, remaining silent about what came before. I feel like when it's framed that way then far too many people just expect that it will just obviously get better because it used to be that way. It makes it seem like we aren't in for the fight of our lives.

            And I would appreciate charts!! Love data!

            Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their authors' minds ages ago. - Samuel Smiles

            by moviemeister76 on Thu Jun 27, 2013 at 02:39:09 PM PDT

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            •  I think you've got it (5+ / 0-)

              Unfortunately, knowing history often involves gently disabusing your fellows of comfortable notions that encourage inertia.

              We've got thousands of years of control of most of the wealth by the 1%.  "Any middle class" to speak of as you note was always statistically insignificant (but historically very significant for many reasons not germane to this discussion)...

              The American experience of 1945-75 was just a relatively tiny blip in a longer story of supreme control exhibited by the global 1%.  And it wasn't as dramatic a shift as some might make it sound.  But it was enough to foster the illusions you allude to: a golden age of a huge middle class with unending prosperity at hand for most, if not all (never mind that non-whites, for one, were totally excluded from the picture).  

              So the American "middle class" was never all that "strong".  But for those 30 years, they were far better situated than they are today.  And, instead of continuing that grudging progress, the roof caved in and everything went back to the drudgery of income inequality as it had always been before.  

              To be clear, we should restate that capitalism did and does produce tremendous wealth.  The average poor person is far better off than in 1850 or 1750 or 1550.  The issue at hand though is not to contest the worth of the growth of wealth -- it did tremendous service to humanity in many ways.  It is to contest the distribution of wealth which has stubbornly followed the same old mold of the vast majority of riches to a tiny elite while everyone else fights over the crumbs they leave us....

    •  Totally agree: (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tardis10, moviemeister76
      they were gradually forced to give some of it up during the Great Depression and after WWII, but then found a way to take it all back

      Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

      by Youffraita on Fri Jun 28, 2013 at 01:44:16 AM PDT

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