Thursday, May 03, 2007

Inequality in America

There's a common perception out there that the inequality that's growing in America just involves the top 1% or so growing outrageously wealthy at the expense of everybody else. This really isn't true, but it's no doubt comforting for people who would be caught up in the net if the definition of who's benefiting from increasing inequality was adjusted to reflect the reality of the situation. What's really happening is that the top 20% of American society is seeing their wealth increase, while the middle quintiles, that's what the 20% bands are called, are swiftly losing money and the bottom rung is getting even worse off. In other words, it's not just billionaires who money is transferring to and it's not just billionaires that are the problem--it's much broader. This changes things in unexpected ways, because now when we're talking about a needed redistribution of wealth it's not just picturesque people with outlandish toys who are the ones whose income will have to come down for that of the rest of society, particularly that of the most needy, to go back up, but people who refrain from ostentatious displays of wealth and are more like 'regular people'.

Big displays of wealth are highly unpopular in the United States across all class lines. Unless you live in Beverly Hills the style of Paris Hilton and company is looked down on by much of the rich themselves. It's always nice to construct an other that can be attacked, but would that same enthusiasm be there if it was more doctors, lawyers, business owners, higher up corporate employees, people like software engineers, who were the target? Understand, this has nothing to do with any sort of hostile action except redistributing income. With that out of the way I think that 1) many people who would buy into the opposing the obnoxiously rich wouldn't be so keen on attacking 1/5th of the population of the U.S., and 2) that no matter if they're comfortable with it or not these are indeed the people whose income needs to be redistributed. They're the beneficiaries whether they show their wealth or not. It's called class. Class isn't a tiny group of people at the top controlling everything---that's what's known as a bourgeois concept, which basically means a way of looking at things that doesn't really pay attention to how society is actually structured---class means a broad group of people. And one class replacing another class in terms of power, or one class being demoted in power while the rest of society is uplifted, isn't a matter of a small group of people at the top moving in position but of a large swath of society making the movement.

I keep harping on the not ostentatious theme because I see this as not overly personal, although many many people have been personally hurt by the system in many ways, but rather more like, if you'll excuse the pun, business.

If a large portion of people in the United States are going to be declassed in some way, meaning that some wealth is going to be taken away and that they'll have to live like the rest of society instead, there's going to be a lot of decent, well meaning, nice people included in that. It's not going to be all evil sneering capitalists. That's why I look at it as just being business.

Nothing personal; I'm sure that on a personal level you're really nice, but in order for the rest of society to get back on its feet you're going to have to sacrifice some of your standard of living.

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