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 don'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).


Colby Glass, MLIS