10 Things You Can Do to Starve the Wall St. Beast and Grab Yourself a Piece of the Pie
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Dialogue on the economic crisis has focused on symptoms: bailouts, corruption on Wall Street, collapse in housing prices, intractable unemployment, Federal Reserve monetary policy. Most people have been socialized to silence on the topic of the disease itself: debilitating wealth concentration. We hear little on the overwhelming argument that wealth concentration is the root cause of the lingering crisis because within milliseconds of the words escaping into the public arena, screams of “Socialist! Socialist!” proliferate; an army of right wing talk radio buffoons fill the airwaves with dire warnings of the growing communist threat of wealth redistribution; Rick Santelli spazzes out on CNBC; and the Tea Partiers figuratively (or literally) stomp on us.
The people who scream the loudest aren’t the super rich who control the wealth; they’re part of a labyrinthine network of hired hands who function as high pitch bodyguards for the wealth hoarders. The actual super rich are the folks who appear on the Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans; people like Charles and David Koch, each worth $21.5 billion, who create multi layers of front groups, like Americans for Prosperity, to make it not only socially acceptable to hoard wealth but social nirvana. The Kochs hold secret confabs with their wealthy friends once a year, fingering their worry beads and plotting to keep the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest, lest they become number 6 on the Forbes list of billionaires instead of number 5. This, while 43 million of their fellow Americans live beneath the poverty level; including one in every 5 children.
David Barber, Associate Professor of American History at the University of Tennessee, is not afraid of the cacophony from the wealth hoarders’ cabal, writing bluntly about the dangers of wealth concentration. In response to an email query last week, Dr. Barber said:
American society’s fantastically skewed distribution of wealth stands as one of the main structural fault lines underpinning the Crash. America’s richest one percent of the population own over forty percent of America’s wealth — exclusive of home ownership — in this, the most opulent society history has ever known. On the other hand, the bottom sixty percent of Americans own approximately one percent of all of America’s wealth. Maintaining the Bush tax cuts for the rich only perpetuates a part of the contradiction which brought on the present phase of the world economic crisis.
Dr. Barber’s statistics come from a study conducted by Edward N. Wolff for the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College in March 2010. Other findings from that study include the following:
The richest 1 percent received over one-third of the total gain in marketable wealth over the period from 1983 to 2007. The next 4 percent also received about a third of the total gain and the next 15 percent about a fifth, so that the top quintile collectively accounted for 89 percent of the total growth in wealth, while the bottom 80 percent accounted for 11 percent.
In 2007, the top 1 percent of households owned 38 percent of all stocks; the top 5 percent owned 69 percent; the top 10 percent held 81 percent.
Debt was the most evenly distributed component of household wealth, with the bottom 90 percent of households responsible for 73 percent of total indebtedness.
Wealth concentration in too few hands while the general populace is saddled with too much debt to buy the goods and services produced by the corporations, in whom the wealthiest hold 81 percent of the stock, is a replay of the conditions leading to the crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression. (The Social Security system was borne out of that debacle. This time around, the wealthiest hope to use the funds from the bottom 90 percent flowing into the Social Security trust to prop up stock prices for the benefit of the top 10 percent. Any action today which postpones the inevitable process of more equitable wealth distribution, such as privatizing Social Security or retaining the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest, will simply hasten the onset of more economic pain which will broaden out to devour the wealth of the upper quintiles through deflation.)