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It's a Mugging: Our National Wealth Is Getting Handed Over to the Bloated Rich

Inequality expert Chuck Collins argues we're in America's second Gilded Age.
Tax responsibilities have shifted off of large wealth holders and onto wage earners, off corporations and onto individuals, off the progressive federal tax system and onto state and local tax systems, which tend to be more regressive. Tax cuts for the rich have shrunk federal services -- and shifted responsibilities to states for health, anti-poverty, transportation and more. That's the shaft part. …

We're in America's "Second Gilded Age."

-- Chuck Collins, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good.

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On April 15, the Mad Hatters of the Teabagging Party protested that the extreme income redistribution over the last 30 years continue unabated so that the super-rich become even richer as America's middle class sinks into oblivion.

There's been a class war going on since Ronald Reagan was elected, and it's been a war on the working class as the average wage earner got mugged by the largest shift of wealth to the rich in American history. BuzzFlash interviewed Chuck Collins on the income redistribution scam that has been pulled off in full view of the American public, fattening the wallets of the already financially engorged fat cats.

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Mark Karlin: Can you explain what the Working Group on Extreme Inequality is and its relationship to the Institute for Policy Studies?

Chuck Collins: The Working Group was formed by a group of labor, religious and civic leaders with the goal of advancing the discussion about the dangers of extreme inequality to our economy, health, democracy and civic life. The institute helps staff the Working Group through the Program on Inequality and the Common Good. Our original work was to dramatize that "inequality matters" -- that these inequalities have undermined the quality of life for everyone.

With the economic meltdown, we've all gotten a "crash course" in how extreme inequality is bad for the economy. With wages stagnant for three decades, most working families have survived by working more hours and borrowing on credit cards and against home values, if they are fortunate enough to own one. The consumption of the bottom 70 percent of U.S. households has been based on debt -- not on real wage growth.

Meanwhile, wealth has dramatically concentrated at the top of the pyramid. The super rich in the top 1 percent put massive amounts of this wealth into the speculative casino economy -- which helped wreck the economy. In our view, extreme inequalities contributed to the economic collapse.

MK: You have a section on your Web site Extreme Inequality titled "How Unequal are We?" Well, how economically unequal have we become?

CC: We've become dangerously unequal as wealth has concentrated in very few hands. The top 1 percent has over 34 percent of all private wealth -- more than the bottom 95 percent of the population combined. In the mid-1970s, this wealthiest 1 percent had less than 20 percent of private wealth. This is a dramatic shift in a short time. We're in America's "Second Gilded Age."

This matters because wealth is power -- the power to shape the culture, to distort elections and shape government policy. A plutocracy is a rule by wealth -- and more and more, the priorities of the society are shaped by the interests of organized wealth.

We have a downloadable chart pack that has very up-to-date materials on income, wage and wealth inequality.

Better yet, we did a short video called The Sound of Inequality, which is an audio illustration of the wealth gap using black beans in a soup pot.

MK: Does your blood boil when the right-wing corporatists use "redistribution of income" as a pejorative associated with "socialism" when they have been redistributing income to the wealthy for decades?

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