Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Thursday, May 5, 2011

21st century disenchantment?

Income inequality in the U.S. has been rising steadily for 30 years. It is now worse than it has ever been since before the Great Depression. Yet, the strange truth is that public alarm over this situation has only recently become widespread. Why the delayed reaction? During the '80s and '90s, many Americans were reluctant to admit they were unlikely to share in the good fortune of those at the top. Now, more Americans have put aside their rose-colored glasses. Here's an observation from a French economist:

Like cholesterol, there is a "good" and a "bad" kind of inequality, according to Francois Facchini, an economist at the University of Paris.

The "good" kind is aspirational. It encourages people to strive toward success, like Graham's Bill Gates analogy. The "bad" kind fosters disillusionment, a feeling that no matter how hard you work, you cannot win.

Pollster John Zogby sees a growing number of Americans falling into the second category. He calls them the "Dreamless Dead," those who no longer believe in the existence of the American Dream of hard work begetting success.

Those who work hard but fail to get ahead lose faith in the dream, he said. Beginning in the 1990s, Zogby noticed an increase in the percentage of people who said they were working in jobs that paid less than previous positions.

"That's when I started to zero in on the American Dream because my assumption was it was going up in smoke," he said.

In the early 1990s, 14 percent of those polled by Zogby said they were making less money than they had before. After the recession, the percentage had more than doubled.

Janet Townsend, who has worked at General Motors for 34 years, is one of those faced with the prospect of a drastic pay cut. She was told she'd have to take a 50 percent wage reduction because GM wanted to sell the Indianapolis plant where she works to a private investor. Union workers opposed the deal. The plant will be shut next year.

"I haven't seen any auto executives or Wall Street bankers taking a paycut, in fact their pay seems to keep going up," she said. "This country is built on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

"But when a corporation tries to make me take a 50 percent pay cut, then you're taking away my right to pursue happiness while enhancing your own."

Any politician who has failed to notice this shift in attitude may be in for a rude awakening. Americans are still far too tolerant of social and economic injustice. Some Americans, however, are starting to recognize the sheer obscenity of a system in which the 400 richest individuals control more wealth than the bottom half of the U.S. population. We've started to notice that these plutocrats are not really "job creators" in the U.S. All of the flags we wave on the 4th of July are "Made in China." Maybe what's good for Wall Street, isn't what Main Street needs after all?


cranstonista said...

Obscenity is right, Ulysses. The billionaires seem to have no interest in creating jobs, except in China and Bangladesh.

Underground Politics said...

"It's called the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it."
~George Carlin

Ulysses said...

I really miss George Carlin!