Class War


The United States holds the dubious distinction of having the most unequal income distribution of any advanced industrialized nation. While other developed countries face similar challenges from globalization and technological change, none rivals America's singularly poor record for equitably distributing the benefits and burdens of recent economic shifts. In Categorically Unequal, Douglas Massey weaves together history, political economy, and even neuropsychology to provide a comprehensive explanation of how America's culture and political system perpetuates inequalities between different segments of the population (Amazon.com book review of Categorically Unequal, by Douglass Massey).


"Our political leaders are doing everything they can to fortify class inequality...

"...recent research showing that social mobility in the United States (which was never as high as legend had it) has declined considerably over the past few decades... America looks more and more like a class-ridden society...

"Let's talk first about the facts on income distribution. Thirty years ago we were a relatively middle-class nation. It had not always been thus: Gilded Age America was a highly unequal society, and it stayed that way through the 1920s. During the 1930s and '40s, however, America experienced what the economic historians Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo have dubbed the Great Compression: a drastic narrowing of income gaps, probably as a result of New Deal policies. And the new economic order persisted for more than a generation: Strong unions; taxes on inherited wealth, corporate profits and high incomes; close pubolic scrutiny of corporate management -- all helped to keep income gaps relatively small. The economy was hardly egalitarian, but a generation ago the gross inequalities of the 1920s seemed very distant.

"Now they're back... between 1973 and 2000 the average real income of the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers actually fell by 7 percent. Meanwhile... the income of the top 0.01 percent rose 599 percent... The distribution of income in the United States has gone right back to Gilded Age levels of inequality...

America actually is more of a caste society than we like to think...

"...during the first thirty years or so after World War II, the American dream of upward mobility was a real experience for many people.

"Now for the shocker: The Business Week piece cites a new survey of today's adult men, which finds that... over the past generation upward mobility has fallen drastically...

"...current policies will eventually create "a class of rentiers in the U.S., whereby a small group of wealthy but untalented children controls vast segments of the U.S. economy and penniless, talented children simply can't compete:... goodbye, American dream" (Paul Krugman. "The Death of Horation Alger." The Nation, Jan. 5, 2004: 16-17).


"... the nitpicking, anti-social character of the doings of the Bush White House... their chicanery gets minimal attention in the new media...

"The Bush administration's stealth attack on the poor... is camouflaged in "minor" regulatory changes, routine reauthorizations, "voluntary" block grants, budgetary complexities and other arcana.... Place the many pieces on the table together, however, and the breadth and the depth of the attack become startling...

"Head Start, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the school lunch and school breakfast programs, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), successful housing programs, child care, and other programs are all lined up for changes...

"Medicaid is no longer an entitlement program... Since Medicaid is probably the most important -- and certainly the most expensive -- program for the poor, the future suffering is likely to be enormous.

"... all welfare recipients would have to work a full 40-hour week. The common practice of allowing mothers with children under six months old to work part-time would not be allowed.

"...The president's new budget acknowledges that more than 200,000 children will be dropped from child care over the next five years...

"What will ultimately prove the most devastating for the poor, however... [is] the Bush administration's direct assault on the federal budget and the very concept of progressive taxation. The last two years' multitrillion-dollar tax cuts, which go primarily to the wealthy, and the vast increases in the military budget and defense spending, have devastated the federal budget...

"...more and more responsibility for social programs is devolving to the states... since state-run programs will be the main financial losers, the federal government will have managed to absolve itself of responsibility for the catastrophe to come...

"Unless one is permanently disabled, after six months of meager unemployement insurance runs out, there are only food stamps to fall back on. There is no medical coverage, no public assistance, virtually no substance-abuse treatment, no vocational training -- nothing. That part of the war on poverty is already over. The current campaign is to mop up the children and the elderly" ("For Bush -- And Us -- The Devil Is In the Details." Washington Spectator, Jan. 1, 2004: 1-4).


"The top 1 percent now claim more income each year than the bottom 100 million American taken together...

"Democrats have also been cautious because they fear being tagged with charges of waging "class war." The truth is that Bush's policies are class warfare. It is simply time to call his bluff. Boldness, as the Dean campaign also demonstrated, creattes its own energy. It is high time progressives called a spade a spade...

"...corporate tax giveaways... Corporate taxes have declined from 35 percent of federal revenues to 7.4 percent over the past half-century...

"A third, longer-term [answer] would involve wealth taxes at both the state and national levels, as urged by economist Edward Wolff and constitutional expert Bruce Ackerman. Wealth taxes, common throughout Europe and in most other advanced nations, must ultimately become part of a serious tax program here. A US tax based on the modest Swiss system (marginal rate between 0.05 percent and 0.3 percent, after exempting the first $100,000) could yield an estimated $60-$70 billion this year. A tax based on the Swedish system could yield upwards of $600 billion...

"...even more interesting possibilities for adaptation, like the Permanent Fund in Alaska, which owns and invests oil wealth on behalf of the public and provides each citizen of the statewith dividends as a matter of right (almost $10,000 for a couple with three children in 2000)" (Gar Alperovitz. "Taking the Offensive on Wealth." The Nation, Feb. 21, 2005: 20-22).


""Governments appear unable, or unwilling, to prevent the rich employing aggressive strategies to minimize their tax liabilities," said the Observer of Britain. We can emphasize the "unwilling" with this administration.

"The ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay reached 301-to-one in 2003. The average worker takes home $517 a week, while the average CEO earns $155,796, according to Business Week. In 1982 the ratio was 42-to-one" (Molly Ivins. "Energy policy so stupid, it's painful." Progressive Populist, June 1, 2005: 22).


"America is about class. To pretend that it isn't is very ignorant. No society has ever existed without some kind of a ruling class. I ''t care whether you're in Athens in 400 BC or in France in the 1770s or in America in the 1920s. At Yale for 100 years the class rankings were based on the wealth of the student; the richest kid in the class was the first student in the class" (Ruth Conniff. "Lewis Lapham." The Progressive, May, 2006: 31-34).


Articles

Chomsky: Business Elites Are Waging a Brutal Class War in America: The business classes are constantly fighting a bitter class war to improve their power and diminish opposition. by Noam Chomsky. "We '’t use the term “working class” here because it’s a taboo term. You’re supposed to say “middle class,” because it helps diminish the understanding that there’s a class war going on.

"...so the union leadership had for years pursued a policy of making a compact with the corporations, in which their workers, say the autoworkers—would get certain benefits like fairly decent wages, health benefits and so on. But it wouldn’t engage the general class structure. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why Canada has a national health program and the United States doesn’t...

"In the late 19th century there was a major union organization, Knights of Labor, and also a radical populist movement based on farmers. It’s hard to believe, but it was based in Texas, and it was quite radical. They wanted their own banks, their own cooperatives, their own control over sales and commerce. It became a huge movement that spread over major farming areas.

"The Farmers’ Alliance did try to link up with the Knights of Labor, which would have been a major class-based organization if it had succeeded. But the Knights of Labor were crushed by violence, and the Farmers’ Alliance was dismantled in other ways. As a result, one of the major popular democratic forces in American history was essentially dismantled. There are a lot of reasons for it, one of which was that the Civil War has never really ended. One effect of the Civil War was that the political parties that came out of it were sectarian parties, so the slogan was, “You vote where you shoot,” and that remains the case.

"Take a look at the red states and the blue states in the last election: It’s the Civil War. They’ve changed party labels, but other than that, it’s the same: sectarian parties that are not class-based because divisions are along different lines. There are a lot of reasons for it...

"There are major efforts being made to dismantle Social Security, the public schools, the post office—anything that benefits the population has to be dismantled. Efforts against the U.S. Postal Service are particularly surreal. I’m old enough to remember the Great Depression, a time when the country was quite poor but there were still postal deliveries. Today, post offices, Social Security, and public schools all have to be dismantled because they are seen as being based on a principle that is regarded as extremely dangerous.

"If you care about other people, that’s now a very dangerous idea. If you care about other people, you might try to organize to undermine power and authority. That’s not going to happen if you care only about yourself. Maybe you can become rich, but you '’t care whether other people’s kids can go to school, or can afford food to eat, or things like that. In the United States, that’s called “libertarian” for some wild reason. I mean, it’s actually highly authoritarian, but that doctrine is extremely important for power systems as a way of atomizing and undermining the public...

"In the United States, the advertising and public relations industry is huge. Back in the more honest days, they called it propaganda. Now the term doesn’t sound nice, so it’s not used anymore, but it’s basically a huge propaganda system which is designed very extensively for quite specific purposes.

"First of all, it has to undermine markets by trying to create irrational, uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices. That’s what advertising is about, the opposite of what a market is supposed to be, and anybody who turns on a television set can see that for themselves. It has to do with monopolization and product differentiation, all sorts of things, but the point is that you have to drive the population to irrational consumption, which does separate them from one another.

"As I said, consumption is individual, so it’s not 'e as an act of solidarity—so you '’t have ads on television saying, “Let’s get together and build a mass transportation system.” Who’s going to fund that? The other thing they need to do is undermine democracy the same way, so they run campaigns, political campaigns mostly run by PR agents. It’s very clear what they have to do. They have to create uninformed voters who will make irrational decisions, and that’s what the campaigns are about. Billions of dollars go into it, and the idea is to shred democracy, restrict markets to service the rich, and make sure the power gets concentrated, that capital gets concentrated and the people are driven to irrational and self-destructive behavior..."


Colby Glass, MLIS