Tuesday, March 5, 2013

by Scott Tucker

Even if we take class divisions for granted (as mainstream economists do), then the real picture of material inequality in the United States is staggering. And it has grown much worse in recent decades. Watch the short video below to get a clear picture of just how much wealth the upper 1 percent owns in the United States. By the way, even that 1 percent might be broken out into subcategories, since the upper tenth fraction of that upper 1 percent also has a steeper increase in total wealth.

Watch: The Staggering Extent of Wealth Inequality of America
At a recent meeting of the Socialist Party, I showed an old fashioned fold out printed graph of wealth distribution in the United States in the late 1970s. The middle class was already shrinking fast in those years. In the decades since, class divisions have only deepened at an ever faster rate. The working class has been pauperized, the middle class has been proletarianized, and the ruling class has polarized into a gold-plated gated community.

If we take capitalism for granted as the baseline of the economy (as the economist narrating the video below certainly does), then there is still a divorce between public perception of our class divisions and the brute reality.

Capitalism may be construed “ideally” as a pyramid with a wide working class base in the lower fifth (or twenty percent of total population), a solid middle three-fifths of middle class citizens (or sixty percent of the population), and an upper fifth of the rich (again, twenty percent of population). Each fifth of the population would narrow smoothly upwards to the next higher level of income. Only the very capstone of such a pyramid (the upper fifth of the upper fifth of the population, let us say) would include the richest of the rich.

But that ideal was far removed from the real picture of our economy even by the year 1975. Already the category of the “working poor” and of the unemployed was swelling out of proportion at the base, the middle class was shrinking in the central layers of the class pyramid, and the richest of the rich were skyrocketing into the stratosphere with rapidly accumulating capital. In other words, the “ideal” pyramid of class division looked more like a pancake of social distress at the base, a narrowing middle class tightening the belt in the middle, and a space needle of the ruling class projecting beyond the moon toward Mars.

Democratic socialists favor the extension of democracy into the realm of the economy. And we do not take the recurrent cycles of capitalist boom and bust for granted, accompanied by erosion of civil liberties at home and by imperial adventures abroad. When you watch the video, you will notice that socialism is implicitly removed from the realm of possibility. Only the reform of existing class divisions is marked as the outer limits of human hope.

Nevertheless, watch the video because it is a graphic explanation of the difference between public perception of capitalism, and the present reality of class divisions.

Scott Tucker

1 comment:

  1. I almost feel like you're a little too quick to throw Capitalism as a whole under the bus here. What you say is true, our current capitalistic system is destroying the Working Class not just in the size our their wallet and their conditions of living but also in their minds convincing them that they themselves are the problem, not the system. Though some tenets of the basic principles of Capitalism (at least as I understood them) like an innovator can make a profit off of his ideas even if that gives him a bit more capital than his neighbor (provided his neighbor isn't inhibited in any way of course). The notion of "From each according to his means, and to each according to his contribution" always made sense to me. Of course the definition of contribution may need to be harshly examined to make sure labor is far more rewarded than it is today.