The good old USA is looking quite pear-shaped, economically, of late: not much on top, maybe even less in the middle, and a giant bottom…an enormous bottom. And though juicy with gritty American ingenuity, it is also full of those hard grainy things that could break your teeth, because it’s kind of rotten. It was picked too early, at the whim of the greedy ones calling the shots in this game we all have to play. Just like Monopoly, only the rules are even more cut-throat. Just ask anyone trying to survive on minimum wage, or find a job, or even an apartment.
This pear-shape represents the imbalanced flow of capital gains toward the top, which means that our amazing increases in production since the almighty computer landed in our offices have all pretty much been snagged out of our nets by entitled capitalists. Sadly, In 2007, the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the nation’s wealth while the bottom 80% of the population owned a mere 15%. (Click HERE for more information on the distribution of wealth.)
Guess what? They didn’t “earn” all that 80% by themselves. They just took a chunk from everyone else by not paying their fair share of taxes, not paying fair wages, raising rates, attaching fees, monopolizing, and deregulating industrial standards meant to keep us safe and the market fair.
This affects everyone. Even if you’re in the middle or upper class, we are all expected to play our little role to enrich the already obscenely rich. Even if we don’t want to, we are often condemned to using the programs of Microsoft, paying credit card fees to do business efficiently, paying oil companies so we can get to work, or buying sub-par food made from chemical by-products because it’s all we could find. These are just a few examples of how life in corporate-owned America sucks down the little guy, eats the big guy, and in the end, leaves everybody dry.
It wasn’t always like this. In the 1950’s our evenly-distributed income was touted as a rebuke of Carl Marx’s dire prediction that capitalism would result in wealth flowing to fewer and fewer hands. Turns out he was, unfortunately, correct. Back then, however, when the economy was more in the shape of an apple pie, they actually ran PSA’s about the dangers of income inequality.
Yet, considering that in 1928, just before the Great Depression, the top 0.01% owned 892 times the wealth of the rest of the country, and in 2006, the top 0.01% owned 972 times the wealth of everyone else in America, it seems like this system has always been rigged. Perhaps the 1950’s were just a fluke, or a lull in the capitalist yo-yo economic cycle. Most likely, this post-war economic boom was the result of rocketing technological discoveries, the rise of industrial manufacturing, increased exports, and trade agreements that made sense.
Understanding our recent economic history is like trying to solve an overly complicated word problem:
You are in the lower class tax bracket. Your goal is to rise to the upper class. If the minimum wage of 1979 was $9.67 an hour (in 2013 dollars), and by 1990, it had dropped to $6.84, while at the same time, the earnings of CEOs rose 300% and tuition costs rose over 1000%, what are your chances of success today compared to 1979?
*Hints: today’s minimum wage is $7.25. Top-paid executives like the CEOs of Oracle and Coca Cola earn between 96.2 and $21 million per year.
Most people are just scraping by, and are constantly fed images of “success” tied to status symbols (or basic needs like decent education) which they can’t afford. Meanwhile, criminals in white collars aren’t held accountable as they make off with billions of our tax dollars. It is quite stunning that we haven’t had some kind of Stock Party, where we march into Wall Street Inc. and throw all their important papery holdings into the nearest body of water. Except that mostly their holdings are probably digitally represented in some server in the Cayman Islands or somewhere (at least those same people are so far in denial about climate change that their precious tax-shelters will probably be under water before they decide to do something about it).
In a sea of “WTF journalism,” the current socioeconomic factors at play will of course be overshadowed by the sensational issues of pop-star politics, celebrity boners and whispering-eyes. In day-to-day life, we are inundated with priorities and to-do lists, time-sucking diversions and market-driven obsessions. As we navigate this economic minefield, keep in mind that we are all in this together.
No matter your class, the poverty we never talk about is all around you, entrapping individuals and families, who need what we all need. Resources abound in this land, yet the distribution of them, via the monetary trade system, does not work for everyone. Food rots and clothes get trashed rather than feed or clothe people, simply because they couldn’t afford it. Entire buildings are wasted space, when they could be housing people. This is madness. Yet some companies do make an effort to help, such as the bread company Panera, which gives away un-purchased bread at the end of the day. People can change the way companies do business.
It is up to us level the playground and seek out the over-looked opportunities to enrich ourselves, or at the very least, to stop contributing to the delinquency of billionaires. Their sociopathic hoarding of money is literally killing people (poverty causes about as many deaths per year as heart disease and strokes). Yes, in the land of the free, true freedom is something you’ve really got to work hard for, by informing yourself, keeping up morale and trying not to let the bastards get you down.
We can use the freedoms we still have to fight for economic sanity. By banding together, we have fought and won the 8-hour day, the 40-hour work week, freedom from sexploitation, and the right to take time off to care for our sick and grieve for our loved ones who’ve done gone on. We still struggle to keep these rights, and the corporate law machine keeps trying to erode them. It’s a constant battle, yet one well worth fighting. Our main weapons are our voices and our spending choices. Keep it vocal, keep it local, and let’s see if the rich can eat their gold when everyone refuses to serve them.
For more information, check out these amazing infographics below!