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Income Inequality: Not An Accident

So I got nothing but grief over this meme that I created several months ago;

Tax Distribution copy

It caused a lot of consternation from people who just didn’t want to believe it, despite the fact that I cited every source I used and explained that when I found differing numbers, I always used the lowest number I could find. I enumerated a list of corporate subsidies I left out because they were either too hard to calculate (since they were buried in hundreds of bills), or because they were subsidies that come out of your state taxes.

I’ve posted hundreds of articles discussing the income inequality in America, complete with data and sources. Some people just don’t want to believe in that data. I’ve posted data (and as always, sources) showing that the six heirs to the Walton (or Walmart) fortune, who have done nothing in their lives, other than to win the birth lottery possess the same wealth as the bottom 40% of Americans. Still, there are some that don’t want to believe.

I have to say that unless your last name is Walton, I find this desire not to believe completely perplexing.

Well, here’s some more data for some to reject out of whole cloth. Oxfam just released a report on global income inequality. That report finds that the richest 85 people in the world, possess half of the world’s wealth. That wasn’t a typo. I didn’t forget to include any zeros or Ks after 85. It’s not 85,000 own half of the wealth. It’s eighty-five people that own half of all of the wealth in the world.

Why did I start the post by referring to my meme? Because that kind of inequality doesn’t happen organically. That kind of inequality happens because the game is rigged. Nobody is blessed with the kind of talent, brains, and good looks that earns them the wealth of the next 8.2 million people. That is not fucking possible, and the burning desire to believe that, is inexplicable. This kind of income inequality is only made possible by what I showed in my meme. You’re not voluntary giving your money to people whose products you want to buy. It’s being taken from you by people you’ve never done business with.

This happens when Bush and Pelosi decide that the best way to mend a failing economy is to give a barrelful of money to the banks, instead of to the homeowners whose property value was intentionally and systematically fictionalized by those banks. And it’s compounded by the "oopsie" that didn’t require those banks to lend that money back to you at a low interest rate. It’s rigged when your city pays to build a new Walmart store, and then lets that story keep the sales tax they collect for several years. You think that the 6 people that possess 40% of the country’s wealth can’t afford to build their own damned stores?  It’s rigged.

Income inequality is not necessarily a bad thing. Some people are more talented than others, and should earn more than others. Nobody is advocating for equality of outcome. Frankly, if you believe that, you’re the kind of willfully ignorant asshole who can’t be reasoned with. But equality of opportunity is essential to the growth of a healthy society. Everybody should have the opportunity to prosper from their intelligence, innovation, and yes good looks. That isn’t what’s happening here. A vast majority of the population will never have that opportunity. Not because they’re not talented, brilliant, or innovative, but because they’re being shut out of the system.

That’s what I’m against. I’m against shutting 40% of Americans out of the prosperity ladder, and you should be too. This kind of income inequality is toxic for a society. I always say that millionaires are great for America, but billionaires aren’t. Millionaires put a healthier percentage of their incomes back into the economy. Billionaires can’t possibly do that. When 40% of Americans can’t buy anything other than food and gas, that hurts all of us. We need a population with more disposable income than we have. Jobs aren’t created in a country where nearly half of the citizens have no purchasing power. It just doesn’t work.

What we’re seeing today is very close to pre-Great Depression era income inequality. It didn’t work then, and it isn’t going to work now. We can, and have to change this trend. From the report;

This dangerous trend can be reversed. The good news is that there are clear examples of success, both historical and current. The US and Europe in the three decades after World War II reduced inequality while growing prosperous. Latin America has
significantly reduced inequality in the last decade through more progressive taxation, public services, social protection and decent work. Central to this progress has been popular politics that represent the majority, instead of being captured by a tiny minority. This has benefited all, both rich and poor.

This is exactly right. Comically, the report gives some recommendations on a pledge they would like the billionaires to take when meeting at Davos for the World Economic Forum. The recommendations are as follows;

  • Not dodge taxes in their own countries or in countries where they invest and operate, by using tax havens;
  • Not use their economic wealth to seek political favors that undermine the democratic will of their fellow citizens;
  • Make public all the investments in companies and trusts for which they are the ultimate beneficial owners;
  • Support progressive taxation on wealth and income;
  • Challenge governments to use their tax revenue to provide universal healthcare, education and social protection for citizens;
  • Demand a living wage in all the companies they own or control;
  • Challenge other economic elites to join them in these pledges

 The idea that the people who have been mercilessly fucking you out of your wealth or any opportunity to get some wealth, will miraculously decide to stop is comical. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for them to grow a conscience. We can do something about it.

If you’re reading this, you’ve seen my relentless pleas to get you to join me at Wolf Pac. I really believe that what Wolf Pac is doing is our last and only resort to fix this. Let me explain what we’re doing and why it’s our only option for fixing this.

Followers of my FB, G+, or Twitter pages understand that I call all politicians out on bullshit when I see it. I’m not a blind partisan or a "team player". I’m a liberal, which is why I find the democratic party increasingly unacceptable. Not totally unacceptable, but increasingly unacceptable. Republicans are totally unacceptable. Not because I don’t agree with them ideologically, but because they no longer have an ideology. There’s no "conserve" left in conservatism. This is no longer a party of small government. Republicans have become a wholly owned subsidiary of the word’s corporations. They don’t believe in anything other than serving their corporate masters anymore. They believe in giant corporate subsidies and giant government in your bedroom and in your home. The last place left where they believe in low taxes, is with corporations and their billionaire executives. For everyone else, it’s layer upon layer of middle class decimating fees (because a fee is somehow better than a tax?) and really damned big government. Democrats are moving in that direction in increasing numbers. That said, democrats still have a handful of legislators that actually advocate for your best interest. I’m not interested in playing a false equivalency game. Both sides aren’t the same, yet.

As I’ve watched democrats fall down the same rabbit hole or corporatism that republicans fell down decades ago, I’ve come to realize that the root of the problem isn’t in the individual people. It’s in the system, which has all the wrong incentive structures built into it. We have a system that incentivizes our politicians to serve the wrong people. They’re forced to serve the people and corporations that can afford to get them elected, and that can keep them in office. In America, the candidate with the most money wins an election 94% of the time. Their ideas don’t matter. Who they are doesn’t matter. Their platforms don’t matter. 94% of the time, the only thing that matters, is how much more money than their opponent they have. This doesn’t exactly inspire or promote creative or progressive governing.

It almost doesn’t matter who you vote for anymore. I say almost, because there are still a handful of issues where who you vote for makes a difference (marriage equality, marijuana legalization, etc) . But on issues that involve large corporations, your vote is meaningless. No president in America will ever deal with the Wall Street situation. No president in America will ever deal with the perpetually increasing waste in our defense spending. No president in America will ever deal with Monsanto’s takeover of our food supply. These are issues where the vast majority of Americans will always lose because the system is designed to put us on the losing end, regardless of who we vote for. Third parties are not the answer as long as the system remains as it is.

So what is Wolf PAC doing? We’re calling for an amendment to the constitution to get money out of politics. We’re not going through congress or the supreme court. We’re working on the state level to introduce a resolution calling for a constitutional convention. We need 34 states to pass our resolution. We have 10 states on the board right now. By "on the board", I mean that they have either already introduced, or are about to introduce our resolution. How did we do this? By working with legislators in our state. Why? For a couple of reasons. First off, we’re finding that democracy actually exists on a state level. When you call your state senator, on average, you can get a meeting with them in 3 calls. Since no one ever calls their local representatives, they seem to mostly be willing to meet with their constituents because they assume that if one constituent took the time to call, hundreds more are concerned with that issue. I personally met with both the assemblyman (woman) and the state senator who introduced our legislation here in New York. In one state (I can’t remember which), a Wolf PAC volunteer called their legislator, who actually personally answered the phone. He met that legislator for coffee later that afternoon, and had the resolution introduced the next day. In 3 states, the legislators introducing our resolution are far right wing republicans. This is a bipartisan issue, and we have a bipartisan group of volunteers.The second reason for doing it this way, is because we don’t trust congress to get it done. There’s way too much money being spent on a federal level, and our odds of crossing the finish line are exponentially higher if we work on a state level. 

When I first heard Cenk (Uygur, from The Young Turks) announce the formation of Wolf PAC, I thought the idea was preposterous. The obstacles to getting an amendment to the constitution seemed insurmountable to me. But after a year of mulling it over, I realized that we don’t have a choice. There’s literally nothing else we can do to fix our problems. I concluded that spinning my wheels in trying to get someone elected, or in getting out the vote was pointless, since that person would have to work within the fucked up system before them. Amending the constitution started to sound far less preposterous a proposition than continuing to do what I’ve been doing.

If you’ve come to the same conclusion I have, you should help us to fix it. Sign up to either volunteer, or donate to Wolf Pac. Whether you want to get money out because your party isn’t conservative anymore, or liberal anymore doesn’t matter. We’re both facing the same issue. Fortunately, it’s an issue that we still have the power to fix. We can make this happen with a few thousand people contributing, and a few thousand people volunteering. This is my primary issue because dealing with this one issue fixes the vast majority of the problems we’re facing. Personally, I’m done with "us versus them" being framed in a way to distract from the real problem. The "us" and the "them" are not republicans and democrats. They’re the 85 people who hold half of the world’s wealth, versus everyone else.         

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4 thoughts on “Income Inequality: Not An Accident

  1. A person can only buy more of one useful thing with a billion dollars than he can buy with ‘only’ a million dollars — political power. I think it was Brandeis who observed a long while ago that we can have the concentration of wealth or we can have a functional democracy, but not both.

  2. a decade ago my boyfriend and i were discussing the career of the loathsome Diane Feinstein at a time when he was doing some contract work for a museum and found himself rubbing shoulders with big donors and professional fundraisers. His conclusion was that with campaigns being so expensive and dependent on fundraising — thanks to media de-regulation and consolidation — the only successful politicians will be those who are masters at raising funds. They will not be policy wonks, intellectuals, organizers or experts in anything — and they will certainly not be leaders. They will be fundraisers, and this is a very bizarre skill set from which to expect competent governance. They will spend a lot of time with the rich, and only the very rich. They will probably be magazine beautiful or at least not ugly. And they will be shallow and basically ignorant with no incentive to change.

  3. Hey, I agree that inequality is a complete mess! I am just wondering how you came to the #’s in your meme above. I went to the sources you listed and did it for my own income and the percentages were way different. Can you explain how you came to the #’s in your meme?

    • Here’s what I did; Believe it or not, the IRS site had a different number than the White House site (and the numbers are lower because the payroll tax holiday was still in place). I spent days getting these numbers together. Where there were differing numbers I ALWAYS took the lowest number (that includes defense AND corporate subsidies).

      This link contains ALL of the corporate subsidies I used; https://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/09/23

      I LEFT OUT ENTIRELY corp subsidies like cleaning up the gulf after BP, LOTS of big ag subsidies, getting drinking water to cities whose water was contaminated by fracking, providing food stamps and medicaid to low wage workers, agricultural subsidies, etc. I fell down a 2 day long rabbit hole on those (especially the agriculture subsidies that are buried in thousands of bills that have nothing to do with agriculture), but ultimately decided NOT to include them.

      Here are some examples of the subsidies that I left out: http://billmoyers.com/2014/01/16/ten-examples-of-welfare-for-corporations-and-the-ultra-rich/

      http://www.walmartsubsidywatch.org/

      That last one is unique to Walmart, but ALL of the big box stores get similar subsidies. I left those out because technically, they come out of your state and municipal taxes, rather than federal taxes.

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