WEALTH/POVERTY: a study of indifference

“The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Cliché, sure, but it’s also more true than at any time since the Gilded Age.

The poor are getting poorer, wages are falling behind inflation, and social mobility is at an all-time low.

If you’re in that top 1%, life is grand.” *

That quote represents a prevalent attitude among those watching the economy in the United States.  There are many resources to go to, some conservative/some liberal, but they all point to the same phenomenon.  The gap between those with wealth and those with nothing is increasing at an out-of-control pace.  The economic plights of the past few years have cut a distressing number of households from the middle class and dropped them into the category of poverty.  At the same time, a significant number of households have made the opposite move, from middle class to that of the wealthy.   The victim, it would appear, is the shrinking middle class.

So why is this happening?

From my perspective, the increasing willingness of the federal and state legislatures to protect and enhance the status of the wealthy is central.   When Congress and the President agreed to continue the Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, despite overwhelming opinion that it was damaging to the rest of the nation, it was a sign to me of the indifference of government to face the reality of economic trends.   Instead, fictional justifications about the wealthy using their money to grow the economy, increase employment, and enhance the GNP dominated.  Led by Republican assertions that to restore the taxes of wealthier Americans to levels prior to the tax break would jeopardize growth, not allowing wealthy Americans who own corporations to invest in their companies to benefit workers, Congress and the President capitulated.  The tax break for wealthy Americans prevailed … and you have seen the massive shift of money to those purposes!  You haven’t?

I have to ask myself what losses the wealthiest people in America faced with the possibility of the rescinding of the tax break.  If one’s wealth is measured in millions of dollars of income per year (not at all uncommon in America today) how close does that come to worrying about buying milk or bread for a family of four?  Does it really come down to shopping for the gas station with the cheapest gas for a luxury car?  Will shopping be restricted to budget stores rather than high-end clothing stores?  I suspect that the damage to one’s life style by the return of the previous tax rates would be minimal compared to the 99% of Americans below the wealthy level.

Will the corporation owners (either direct owners or shareholders) really breathe a sigh of relief and divert millions of dollars into new jobs, new equipment, new locations (within this country?)  It doesn’t appear to be the case.  I return to a conversation previously reported on this blog site, in which a management person of a growing international corporation told me that there was plenty of money to expand in the coffers.  However, his corporation wasn’t going to spend it on expansion until they had a clearer picture of “where things are going.”   Who is driving this ship?  I thought it was the corporations that were going to lead the way, given the income protection provided them by the government’s tax policies.  (The complaint of Republicans that the Government was too big and too involved in private enterprise doesn’t match up with the party’s continual plea that it wants the Government to take the lead on restoring the economy.)

The indifference of which I spoke earlier in this piece is the continual action on the part of fiscal conservatives in the governments of the nation and the states to eliminate programs to assist the poorer people in our country and those who are struggling to avoid the drift into that category.  Cuts to assistance in education, welfare, health care, housing and unemployment are spoken about as if they are “money down a rat hole,” benefiting those who are out to drain the coffers of the government.  People on the weaker end of the economy are cast as shiftless, not contributing to the benefit of the country.  By innuendo and direct quotes they are cast as the dredges of society, despite the reality that many, if not most, of the people who are drifting into poverty are well-meaning, hard-working people who have no power to hold onto jobs, keep factories from closing, or preventing corruption which enhances only those at the top of the ladder.  They just want a job, even if it is one which denies their capabilities and even their credentials.  They are at the hands of people who either don’t understand their plight or don’t care.  Moving a company to China or India is an act which is based upon the bottom line, not a concern for those who depend upon a job to survive.

  • There are exceptions to this portrayal of the wealthy corporation owners.  They are not in the majority, however.
  • There are legitimate examples of flaws in the programs of assistance to the poor and those who are struggling.
  • There are legislators on both sides of the aisle who care at both federal and state levels.

But the direction of legislation, especially at the national level, is designed to coddle, protect, and enhance the banks (who are doing just fine these days,) Wall Street (which is soaring,) and the corporations (that are reporting huge quarterly increases.)  But I’m not seeing the expansion or re-opening of closed industries.  I’m not reading about massive re-employment (unless you want to talk about McDonald’s.) There are occasional stories about a company that hires back a small part of the force that they let go, but it’s unusual to hear of anything with large numbers involved.   Hospitals are closing, teachers are being fired in large numbers as schools are closed, and small businesses which feed off the larger industries are going belly-up.

Meanwhile, the people on the low end of the spectrum find their days becoming increasingly difficult.  The inequity is not invisible.  Just stop at a stop sign or a stop light near your local WalMart.  There will be a man or woman with a sign staring at you asking for help to buy food or pay the rent.

[Tomorrow: what can be done to turn this around?]

* http://www.businessinsider.com/15-charts-about-wealth-and-inequality-in-america-2010-4#ixzz1KiXY

Photo Credit: same location
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