U.S. income gap widens, invites political remedy

opinions

February 28, 2011 - 12:00 AM

“Plutocracy Now” is the headline over a current Mother Jones article detailing the growing chasm between the very rich and the rest of us.
The point is made in a series of graphs and charts. One shows that the top one-hundredth of 1 percent now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of the population is $31,244. Both of these are annual incomes.
Stop right there for a bit. Most of us know about Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Few get concerned about their enormous wealth and equally enormous annual incomes. Maybe most feel they are icons of our successful economy. Because of Bill and Warren every American can stand a tad taller.
OK. But it’s that 90 percent that elect presidents and run the country. And the fact that their annual household incomes are pretty low and have been stuck close to can-just-get-by levels for a long, long time may explain what’s going on in U.S. politics these days.
Take a look at some more numbers.
The top one-tenth of 1 percent had incomes averaging $3,238,386 in 2007. The top 1 percent were still rich with average incomes of $1,137,684. Then the hammer hits: American families in percentiles 1 through 10 were still well off at an average income of $164,647, but don’t get invited to dinner by that top 1 percent.
From there on down, average incomes fall. More important, so does the feeling of ownership in the society.
When the richest 10 percent of the population controls two-thirds of the total personal net worth, political power is also skewed. It is no accident that nearly half of the members of Congress are millionaires; that the median net worth of members of Congress is $912,000; that the combined wealth of the top 10 members of Congress is a staggering $2.8 billion, with seven of them worth more than $200 million.
It should come as no surprise that all 10 of them voted to extend the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy.

WHEN AMERICANS are asked how they think the nation’s wealth is actually divided, the survey shows that most of us know that the lower 60 percent of households are hurting but believe that the top 40 percent of the nation’s wealth is much more evenly apportioned among families than is the case. When asked how we think money should be apportioned, we recognize that the poor and the rich are always with us, but wish that the rest of us shared more or less equal income chunks.
What we want differs sharply from what we have.
These are numbers that should push the nation toward top-to-bottom tax reform. It is unacceptable that the nation’s super-rich keep getting richer while 90 percent of the population has been stuck at about the same purchasing-power level for the past 15 years or more  — and the nation struggles to pay its bills because taxes on the rich are so low.
Can the picture be changed? Overnight. It is true that the rich control an obscene percentage of the nation’s wealth. But they do not control our democracy. This is still a one-man, one-vote country. We should decide to govern ourselves with that in mind.

 

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