by Beverly Bandler
The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests are calling us “99 percent” to wake up, face it and act. It is the devolution of the United States into America, Inc., a “tightly structured society with hierarchies of control in which public policy is subordinated to corporate interests.”
The issue is not only about the heated charge of “class warfare” in a supposedly classless United States. The idea that America remains “the land of upward mobility” can be seriously challenged. Without a first rate public educational system available to all Americans, enough fair paying jobs and adequate safety nets, the ideal of equal opportunity is myth, not reality. “We are indeed becoming a class society,” states Jeff Madrick, a stratified one in which “birth determines your future.” That is not an American ideal. “Morning in America” has been revealed as a fraud.
What is it all about? Not just inequality, but gross inequality in a second Gilded Age when the nation is confronted with a minimum of 14 million Americans out of work, over 50 million without health insurance, and over 46 million in poverty—the highest in the developed world. A recent Gallup poll found that 20 percent of U.S. households rate their financial situation as “poor” (Berman “Income Distribution”). It is about the oligarchic, corporate rule that has been and is wrecking the U.S. economy and dividing its people. Zaid Jilani puts it clearly: “Talking about income inequality isn’t dividing America, actual income inequality is.”
It is about the anti-democratic conservative right-wing concept that only a small portion of the more than 300 million U.S. citizens are “Americans”—that Americans should be divided into the “deserving and undeserving.” It is about the crucial question of whether the American public is going to allow the continuation of the political inequality that results from economic inequality and America, Inc. U.S. democracy itself is at issue. It is about the deliberate campaign to destroy the government and the protections designed to protect Americans from tyranny.
Economic and social inequality are crucial issues for any society. A stable society depends on having a healthy balance. Two thirds of the American public would appear to understand this, as they recently demonstrated in a poll in which they confirmed their belief that the nation’s wealth should be distributed more evenly.
Andrew J. Bacevich has said that “Americans have yet to realize that they have forfeited command of their own destiny”—that the corporate coup is well along. It may not be too late, but time is of the essence. Please, support the OWS and the national campaign to abolish corporate “personhood” and correct the attack on our democracy by the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC.
- On August 23, 1971, Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., a Richmond, Virginia attorney, drafted a confidential memorandum for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that describes a strategy for the corporate takeover of the dominant public institutions of American society. (Source: Greenpeace)
- There has been an unprecedented rise in wealth in the U.S., a doubling or tripling of the number of wealthy households since the late 1980s, which economist Robert H. Frank characterizes as the development of a “new country” larger than Belgium and Denmark that he dubs Richistan. This country within a country has a net worth of three levels: Lower Richistan: $1-$10 million in 7.5 million households; Middle Richistan: $10-100 million range in over 2 million households; Upper Richistan: $100 million-1 billion in the thousands. The billionaires are estimated to be more than 400. (Source: Frank)
- 46.2 million Americans or about 15.3 percent of the U.S. population had income below their respective poverty threshold in 2010, the highest rate since 1993. (Source: Bishaw)
- In the U.S. today, the “Gini coefficient”—a measure of the distance separating rich and poor—is comparable to that of China. (Source: Judt)
- The top one percent make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent: $31,244. (Source: Gilson & Perot)
- The top one-percent’s share of the national income more than doubled between 1979 and 2007, and their real after-tax income burgeoned 275 percent. The share of income belonging to the top 1 percent of earners in the U.S. again more than doubled between 1982 and 2008. (Sources: Kavoussi, Congressional Budget Office, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post)
- The richest 1 percent of Americans take home 24 percent of the nation’s income, a 281 percent growth since 1976, when they took in 9 percent. The bottom 99 percent saw an income gain of only 16 percent during the same period. (Sources: Jilani, Veracity Stew)
- The hourly wage of a typical worker grew from $14.73 in 1973 to $15.96 in 2009, a raise in real terms (after accounting for inflation) of $1.23 over 36 years, an 8.4 percent increase over the last 36 years. (Source: Pereyra)
- Between 1947 and 1979 real median family income grew at an annual rate of 2.4 percent, which amounts to a doubling of real income over this period. Since 1979, however, the growth of family income has become increasingly disconnected from the broader growth of U.S. economic output and productivity. The U.S. median income declined 7 percent in the past decade, according to the U.S. Census. That marks the worst 10-year performance in records going back to 1967. The median income dropped in 2010 for the second year in a row to $26,364. (Sources: Berman “U.S. Median,” Huffington Post, Kavoussi)
- Between 1979 and 2005 the inflation-adjusted income of families in the middle of the income distribution rose 21 percent. (There was a 100 percent rise in median income over a generation following World War II.) Over the same period, the income of the very rich, the top 100th of 1 percent of the income distribution, rose by 480 percent. In 2005 dollars, the average annual income of that group rose from $4 million to $24.3 million. (Source: Krugman)
- Only 2.3 percent of the top 1 percent are entrepreneurs. Much of the top 1 percent come from the medical, technology, and banking sectors, all of which are highly subsidized (corporate welfare) and/or protected from free market competition by the government. (Sources: Jilani, Gilson & Perot)
- The richest 10% controls 2/3 of America’s net worth. In 2008 the top 0.01 percent of earners controlled 5 percent of the nation’s wealth. Worldwide, those making more than $1 million control nearly 40 percent of global wealth. (Sources: Gilson & Perot, Mulbrandon, Huffington Post)
- Two thirds of the American public believe that wealth should be more evenly distributed in the country. (Sources: Kavoussi, New York Times)
- One-fourth of those with incomes of more than $1 million a year pay income and payroll taxes of 12.6 percent of their income or less, putting their tax burden below that of many in the middle class. (Source: Krugman)
- The U.S. has mass long-term unemployment for the first time since the 1930s. The official unemployment rate was 9.1 percent (14 million persons) at the end of September 2011. Some have estimated the unofficial rate to be closer to 19 percent or more. (Source: U.S. Department of Labor)
- In 1965, CEOs made 24 times more than the average production workers. In 2009, they made 185 times more. In 2010, CEOs earned 343 times more than typical workers. (Sources: Liberto, Stanford University)
- Median CEO compensation rose 27 percent in 2010. Worker pay increased only 2.1 percent. The highest paid CEO (United Health Group) was paid $101.96 million. (Sources: Bradford, Forbes)
- Private company profits per employee were a cumulative $15,278 through August 22, 2011, not adjusted for inflation—22% higher than the total for 2010. Profits per employee in 2011 are so far 12% higher than the total in 2007. (Sources: Doherty)
- Twelve major corporations made $171 billion in profits from 2008 to 2010, yet had a negative income tax rate of 1.5 percent. (Source: Citizens for Tax Justice)
- In the 1940s, corporations paid 43 percent of all the federal income taxes collected in this country; in the 1950s: 39 percent; in the 1990s: 18.9 percent. (Source: Stanford University)
Occupy Wall Street is the unofficial de facto online resource for the ongoing protests happening on Wall Street. Other useful websites include: Move to Amend; People For the American Way; Campaign For America’s Future; Think Progress: The Progress Report; Inequality.org; and The Stanford Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality.
Sources and Suggested Reading
Bacevich, Andrew J. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. Holt, 2006.
Bageant, Joe. Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War. Broadway, 2008.
Bartels, Larry M. Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. Princeton University Press, 2010.
Berman, Jillian. “Americans’ Access To Basic Needs Hits Recession Lows As Income Growth Slows.” The Huffington Post, October 14, 2011.
Berman, Jillian. “Income Distribution: Poor, Rich, and Richest.” The Huffington Post, October 25, 2011.
Berman, Jillian. “U.S. Median Income Falls to $26,364 As Pessimism Reaches 10-Year High.” The Huffington Post, October 20, 2011.
Bishaw, Alemayehu. “Poverty: 2009 and 2010: American Community Survey Briefs.” Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, October 2011.
Bradford, Harry. “CEOs Compensated Correctly, Vast Majority Of Shareholders Say.” The Huffington Post, October 24, 2011.
Chang, Ha-Joon. 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. Bloomsbury Press, 2011.
Citizens for Tax Justice. “Analysis: 12 Corporations Pay Effective Tax Rate of Negative 1.5% on $171 Billion in Profits; Reap $62.4 Billion in Tax Subsidies.” June 2, 2011.
Congressional Budget Office. “Trends in the Distribution of Household Income Between 1979 and 2007.” October 2011.
Dean, John. Conservatives Without Conscience. Penguin, 2007.
Dean, John. “The Tea Party: Same Old Authoritarian Conservatives With a New Label.” Justia.com, July 29, 2011.
Doherty, Conor. “Private Companies See Record Profits.” Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2011.
The Economist. “High Gini Is Loosed Upon Asia.” August 11, 2007.
Edwards, Rebecca. New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905. Oxford University Press, 2005.
Forbes. “America’s Highest Paid Chief Executives.” Accessed October 31, 2011.
Frank, Robert H. Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich. Three Rivers Press, 2008.
Gilson, Dave. “Charts: Who Are the 1 Percent?” Mother Jones, October 10, 2011.
Gilson, Dave and Carolyn Perot.“It’s the Inequality, Stupid.” Mother Jones, March/April 2011.
Giroux, Henry A. “Got Class Warfare? Occupy Wall Street Now!” Truthout,
October 6, 2011.
Giroux, Henry A. “Living in the Age of Imposed Amnesia: The Eclipse of Democratic Formative Culture.” TruthOut, November 16, 2010.
Giroux, Henry A. “Occupy Wall Street’s Battle Against American-Style Authoritarianism.” TruthOut, October 26, 2011.
Greenpeace. “The Lewis Powell Memo. The Lewis Powell Memo – Corporate
Blueprint to Dominate Democracy.” Blogpost by Charlie Cray – August 23,
Greider, William. “A Scary Corporate Coup Is Under Way—We’ve Got to Stop It.” AlterNet, March 31, 2009.
Greider, William. Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of
Our Country. Rodale Books, 2010.
HalfinTen. Restoring Shared Prosperity: Strategies to Cut Poverty and Expand Economic Growth. A Report of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Coalition of Human Needs, and the Leadership Conference, October 2011.
Hartmann. Thom. Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class—And What We Can Do About It. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2007.
Holland, Joshua. “Paul Krugman Is Right About Our ‘Low, Low Taxes,’ but There’s More to the Story.” AlterNet, April 22, 2011.
Huffington Post. “Income Distribution: Poor, Rich, and Richest.” October 25, 2011.
Jilani, Zaid. “Paul Ryan Is Wrong: Talking About Income Inequality Isn’t Dividing America, Actual Income Inequality Is.” ThinkProgress, October 26, 2011.
Judt, Tony. “What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy?” The New York Review of Books, December 17, 2009.
Kavoussi, Bonnie. “Two-Thirds Of Americans Say Wealth Should be Distributed More Evenly: Poll.” The Huffington Post, October 26, 2011.
Krugman, Paul. “Rich Are Waging Class Warfare against the Poor.” Chron.com (Houston Chronicle), September 23, 2011.
Lapham, Lewis H. “Democracy 101: Mark Twain’s Farewell Address.” Harper’s, April 2011.
Liberto, Jennifer. “CEOs Earn 343 Times More Than Typical Workers.” CNN Money, April 20, 2011.
Madrick, Jeff. Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present. Knopf, 2011.
Mendes,Elizabeth. “Americans’ Access to Basic Necessities at Recession Level: More Americans Struggling to Access Healthcare, Food, and Shelter.” Gallup, October 13, 2011.
Mulbrandon, Catherine. “The Top 0.01% and Top 1%’s Income Share: 2008.” Visualizing Economics, October 25, 2011.
New York Times. “New York Times/CBS News Poll: Oct. 19-Oct. 24.” October 25, 2011.
Pereira, Eva. “Malcolm Gladwell On Why Income Inequality is the Next Big Issue Facing America.” Forbes blog, February 16, 2011.
Pereyra, Laura. “Chart: Typical Hourly Wage Went Up Just $1.23 In The Last 36 Years.” ThinkProgress, October 27, 2011.
Phillips, Kevin. After the Fall: The Inexcusable Failure of American Finance: An Update to Bad Money. Penguin, 2009.
Phillips, Kevin. Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism. Viking, 2008.
Phillips, Kevin. Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich. Broadway, 2003.
Phillips-Fein, Kim. “Fighting the New Deal All Over Again.” The Huffington Post, February 13, 2009.
Phillips-Fein, Kim. Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal. W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.
Pierson, Paul and Jacob S. Hacker. Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class. Simon & Schuster, 2010.
Prins, Nomi. It Takes a Pillage: An Epic Tale of Power, Deceit, and Untold Trillions. Wiley, 2010.
Rushkoff, Douglass. “Think Occupy Wall St. Is a Phase? You Don’t Get It.” CNN.com, October 5, 2011.
Scheer, Robert. The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street. Nation Books, 2010.
Stanford University. “20 Facts About U.S. Inequality That Everyone Should Know.” The Stanford Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality.
Taibbi, Matt. Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History. Spiegel & Grau, 2011.
Taibbi, Matt. “The Real Housewives of Wall Street.” RollingStone, April 12, 2011.
Trachtenberg, Alan. The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age. Hill and Wang, 2007.
Twain, Mark and Charles Dudley Warner. The Gilded Age (1873).
U.S. Census Bureau. “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United
States: 2009.” September 16, 2010.
U.S. Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics News Release. October 7, 2011.
Veracity Stew. “New Study: Income Inequality No Longer a Myth.” October 26, 2011.
Wechsler, Pat. “Americans Without Health Insurance Rise to 52 Million on Job Loss, Expense.” Bloomberg, March 15, 2011.
Winship, Michael. “How the Rich Won the Class War.” Consortiumnews.com, July 29, 2011.
Zelizer, Julian E. “War on Poverty in 2011?” CNN.com, September 19, 2011.
Beverly Bandler’s public affairs career spans some 40 years. Her credentials include serving as president of the state-level League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands and extensive public education efforts in the Washington, D.C. area for 16 years. Bandler attended Sarah Lawrence College (‘59) and has a master’s degree in Public Administration from George Washington University (‘82). She writes from Mexico.