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
This evening I popped out to the corner store for milk. A woman was there with an older man. He was walking up and down the aisles as she trailed behind him – sighing and huffing and saying things like “Dammit, Dad! You dragged me out to get something with you and now you can’t remember what you need?” Her words seemed to fall like blows on his shoulders. He began picking up items in a random fashion and knocked over several cans of soup. I bent to retrieve them up and when I straightened I looked into his face. There it was: Read on →
We couldn’t put it off any longer. Last night Dede and I told Ruthie we were getting a divorce. Since we’ve enjoyed what can only be termed a highly successful marriage for 37 years, the news was unexpected. “You’re what?” “We’re getting out,” I offered, not very helpfully. “It’s time. We really don’t have any choice.” “What are you talking about? You all are perfect together.” “That’s not the point,” Dede tried to explain. “What is the point?” Ruthie cried. I put it as succinctly as I could. “Gay marriage.” “What?” “They’ve been warning us for years, darling, but we never listened. Gay marriage threatens traditional marriage. We were so doggone happy we weren’t paying attention Read on →
Now that the Board of Regents have decided to merge Georgia State University with Georgia Perimeter College, GSU will soon total more than 50,000 students, and will be the largest unit of the University System of Georgia. Not only that, but it is an urban university, as well as a research university, bringing in $58 million in 2011 in grants for study. It has conferred 192,785 degrees since its founding. TIMELINE Ga. State University formation1913: Began as Evening School of Georgia Tech Commerce School, with 44 enrollees.1917: Women admitted because of decline in male students in WWI.1920: Enrollment up to 364. 1932: Director George Read on →
Back when states were planting institutions of higher learning, these universities were not always located in what became the state's major city. As a result, problems have arisen between forces in the major city wanting a state university and the major university located in a smaller town wanting to enhance their school's prestige. It's that same old story of jealously, while seeking to keep the state's university as the major campus of the state. TIMELINE Ga. State University formation1913: Began as Evening School of Georgia Tech Commerce School, with 44 enrollees.1917: Women admitted because of decline in male students in WWI.1920: Enrollment up Read on →