- Important: All passwords were reset on 06/15/11. Old passwords will no longer work. Click here to retrieve your password.
- Subscribe to Our Free Dewsletter
We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
The 99 Percent Spring
The people aren’t powerless in the face of extreme inequality.
At the root of this discontent are the extreme inequalities of income, wealth, and opportunity that have emerged over the last four decades.
The richest 1 percent now owns over 36 percent of all the wealth in the United States. That’s more than the net worth of the bottom 95 percent combined. This 1 percent has pocketed almost all of the wealth gains of the last decade.
In 2010, the 1 percent earned 21 percent of all income, up from only 8 percent in mid-1970s. The 400 wealthiest individuals on the Forbes 400 list have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans.
These trends among the 1 percent are bad for the rest of us. Concentrated wealth translates into political clout — the power to use campaign contributions to rent politicians and tilt the rules of the economy in their favor.
Websites dramatizing the “We are the 99 percent” movement are full of personal stories of young people who are saddled with debt and no futures, and middle class families that have seen the American Dream collapse around them, losing jobs, homes, and hopes for the future.
“I used to dream about becoming the first woman president,” one woman wrote. “Now I dream about getting a job with health insurance.”
Reading these stories, I’m struck that the underlying conditions that have squeezed millions of Americans aren’t going away. The current political system, captured by large corporations and the wealthy, is incapable of responding to their needs.
The “99 to 1″ dichotomy may strike some folks as polarizing and inaccurate. Yet it’s a powerful lens for understanding what’s happened to our society and economy over the last several decades. The rules guiding our economy have been skewed to benefit the 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent. These rules include tax policies, global trade agreements, and government actions that benefit asset owners at the expense of wage earners.
Who is the “1 percent”? Primarily it consists of households with annual incomes that top $500,000 and wealth exceeding $5 million. The 1 percent isn’t a monolithic interest group. Plenty of people within this group have devoted their lives to building a healthy economy that works for everyone. But there’s a small segment within the 1 percent — the “rule riggers” — who use their power and wealth to influence the political game so that they and their corporations get more power and wealth.
Just as individuals in the 1 percent are diverse actors, the 1 percent of corporations is also not unified. There are several thousand multinational corporations — the Wall Street inequality machine — that are the drivers of rule changes. But they are the minority. There are millions of other built-to-last corporations and Main Street businesses that strengthen our communities and have a stake in an economy that works for everyone.
We must defend ourselves from the bad actors — the built-to-loot companies whose business model is focused on shifting costs onto society, shedding jobs, and extracting wealth from our communities and the healthy economy.
This spring, watch for millions of people in motion, participating in protests at banks, outside lawmakers’ offices, and in the streets. They’ll be pressing for an economy that works for the 100 percent, not just the 1 percent. This is a healthy sign for our nation because it dramatizes that the people aren’t powerless in the face of extreme inequality.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
One night about three years ago when Jake was five, I was settling him to sleep with a book about Chicken Licken. I hadn’t met her before but Jake knew her well. When we got to the end of the book and he asked for another story, I was too tired to fetch another book, and didn’t want to disturb his sleepy state, so I made up a variation on this theme. We lay with our eyes closed, imagining. Taking the character’s name in vain, we casually began to invent life situations and adventures for Chicken Licken. “Chicken Licken goes to school” Read on →
I knew I liked him early on by the way he told a joke. He had timing and delivery and the punch line was not telegraphed. Whenever I get off my mountain, I’m alert to serendipitous opportunities to meet such people and to get a peek into their lives. So on a recent trip to Atlanta for a couple of woodworking classes, I had the pleasure of spending a few nights with a dear friend in Asheville, one of the world’s finest and most civilized of cities. My friend is also a fine lady and like her adopted city, most civ Read on →
I recently had the pleasure of roaming about the grounds of the Carter Center in Atlanta. It was an early Sunday morning before any of the buildings were open and I had the place pretty much to myself except for one lady who volunteers there and was fidgeting around in one of the small side gardens. I didn’t tromp over the entire thirty-five acres, but I covered enough to be impressed with the design and the number of large Oaks that provided much needed shade from the bright sunshine and heat. The visit took me back in time to when I w Read on →
Last month I was on assignment in a remote place, the kind of place where you see trucks and tractors but few cars. Farm territory. I parked along a weedy, poorly maintained road and as I stepped from the car I saw a sight from childhood. A tangled thicket of briars with succulent, shiny blackberries glistening like onyx pendants. Red berries, hard and yet to ripen, waited their turn for sunshine to do its magic. Seeing this explosion of blackberries brought back childhood memories. Pickin’ berries was great fun, a tradition. You’d reach into the briars and pluck a big berry, pop Read on →