Saturday, May 30, 2009

They Destroy Our Society to Make it Unequal

Worse than the well-known and extreme economic inequality in the United States (which I describe below in some detail), is the anti-democratic, anti-solidarity and anti-human nature of our society that results from it being dominated by a corporate and government elite (with family names like Rockefeller, Gates, Buffett, Soros, Walton, Bloomberg, Bush and Kennedy) who want it to be very unequal. Most ordinary people want society to be more equal and democratic and try to make it so in lots of different ways, which is precisely why the elite do the following socially destructive and despicable things to control the American public and prevent them from succeeding:
  • They wage Orwellian wars of social control based on lies, for two horrible purposes: 1) to pit Americans against foreign people by making Americans think it is their patriotic duty to support their government as it commits war crimes murdering innocent civilians in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and to support the Israeli government's ethnic cleansing and war crimes; 2) to make Americans consent to a military-industrial complex funneling billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the pockets of people like Dick Cheney.****
  • They tell the majority of Americans who want a single-payer universal health care system, that would make good health care a right for all, to forget about it, because they know that keeping Americans insecure about important things like health care makes them easier to control.
  • They pit young and old workers against each other with "two tier" wage scales that prevent younger workers from ever earning as much as older ones and thereby foment resentment; and they are abolishing pensions for older retired workers, thus destroying the bond between generations and making all workers insecure.
  • Despite the objections of parents and teachers and students, they use high-stakes standardized testing in public elementary and secondary schools to make children feel insecure about their worthiness to deserve a decent job and life when they leave school.
  • They pit white and black Americans against each other, in the name of "Affirmative Action," by labeling people as "racist" if they think that the qualifying score on an exam to get a firefighter job or admission to a school should be the same for everybody regardless of their race; the elite do this to destroy the solidarity between blacks and whites that had developed in the earlier 1960's Civil Rights movement when the focus was ending racial discrimination and achieving equality--a value working class people of all races hold.
  • They promote landlessness and unemployment, in countries like Mexico and Guatemala, that forces poor people to migrate to the United States to find employment to survive; but they deny these immigrants legal entry in an effort to make them so fearful of deportation that they will not demand decent pay and working conditions on the job, and they pit Americans against "illegal immigrants" to destroy working class solidarity.
  • They conduct a deliberately divisive debate about same-sex marriage: they label as "bigots" those who object to same-sex marriage even though their objection is not bigotry but concern for children who suffer emotional pain from not knowing and being raised by both of their biological parents, as is always the unfortunate case when same-sex couples produce a child "of their own" (which is precisely what a marriage license gives couples formal social approval to do) with donated sperm or egg. The elite-controlled mass media use this issue to pit middle class and college-educated people who predominantly support same-sex marriage against working class people who predominantly oppose it, by making each view the other as having contemptible values.
  • They use technology and automation, not to enable people to enjoy more leisure time, but to make people insecure about losing their job and hence more controllable.
  • They make virtually everybody, even those who are relatively well-off, serve an economy that is driven by profit--not the needs and desires of human beings. They make people view each other not as fellow human beings with whom to work for shared and genuine goals, but rather as customers whose value is determined only by how much money they have and how easily they can be made to part with it in exchange for something produced for no other reason than to get somebody to buy it, no matter how worthless, inane or even harmful it may actually be.
This is the kind of society in which all Americans live. In countless ways beyond the few listed above, it is an inhuman society shaped by the few at the top who fear the loss of their immense wealth, privilege and power that would occur if ordinary people, left to themselves, created bonds of friendship, cooperation and equality to make life better for everybody.

A society based on equality would be fundamentally different from our present one. It would be a society in which people help one another instead of being pitted against each other, in which people are free from elite domination and control and thus able to create real democracy, in which everybody has economic security and technology is used to make life better for all instead of increasing unemployment and insecurity, and in which people have an opportunity to do something with their lives that they feel proud of. To make such a society we need a revolution.

But what would equality look like, in terms of dollars and cents, for an American family? How different would things be economically? Let us see.

The Material Effect of Inequality

The material effect of inequality can be seen by comparing two imaginary families, the Smiths and the Joneses, in terms of their wealth and income. The Smiths represent what the middle half of all Americans actually experienced economically, on average, in 2004*, while the Joneses represent what all Americans could have experienced that same year if we had enjoyed full equality. Each family consists of two parents and their two children.

The Smiths have a total family income** of $76,600 per year, and they own a net wealth (all assets minus all debts, including mortgage) of $180,000.

The Joneses, in contrast, have a total family income** of $103,000 per year, and they own a net wealth of $695,000.

The numbers for the Smiths come from taking the arithmetic mean of income and wealth of the middle 50% of Americans in 2004, in other words Americans who owned more wealth than the poorest 25% but less wealth than the wealthiest 25%.***

The numbers for the Joneses come from taking the arithmetic mean of income and wealth of all Americans in 2004; in other words if complete economic equality in wealth and income had prevailed among all people in the United States in 2004, then all American families of four that year would have looked, economically, like the Joneses.

The median price of a home in 2004 was $221,000, so the Smiths, with a net wealth of $180,000 clearly cannot own their median-priced home free and clear. Their state and federal taxes come to about $6,900 per year leaving them a take-home annual income of $69,700, which is exactly what it takes to live the very modest lifestyle the budget for which is described in detail here. This budget, unfortunately for the Smiths, does not allow for paying off their large student loans or saving money for their children's college tuition. A major medical expense if uncovered by their insurance company would bankrupt the family, and if for any reason they failed to make some mortgage payments and the bank foreclosed on their house, it would be a financial disaster.

The Smiths are not living in abject poverty by any means, but neither are they enjoying anything like real economic security. The Joneses, however, own their home free and clear, have plenty of money for things like paying off their own student loans and college tuition for their children, have a substantial reserve fund for emergencies, and feel quite economically secure and optimistic about life.

Comparing the Smiths and the Joneses is one way to grasp just how great is the material effect of inequality on middle-Americans, never mind the poorest 25% of Americans whose average family of four (let's call them the Browns) in 2004 has a net wealth of zero and an income of $34,000 per year.

Many people believe that there are so few people who are extremely rich that distributing their wealth equally would make little difference, it would be like pouring a bucket of water into the ocean: it wouldn't raise the sea level at all. Not so! The Smiths and the Joneses are hardly at the same level of economic security and comfort, and the difference between the Browns and the Joneses is like night and day.

Some people would say that there needs to be at least some economic inequality or else people wouldn't have any incentive to work. While I disagree with this view, I think that most people who hold it would nonetheless agree that inequality so extreme that it drives half of all Americans as far below the Joneses as the Smiths, and a quarter of Americans as far below the Joneses as the Browns is wrong, especially when one keeps in mind that the Joneses have no more than what all Americans could have if there were full equality. The price we all pay for this inequality is the destruction of our society.

* The most recent year for which the data required for this article are all available

** pre-tax

*** Sources include:

**** The combined profits of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics in 2006 were $8 billion and the combined salary of their CEOs in 2007 was $139 million.


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