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How can we talk about the growing inequality in wealth without risking class warfare?
Wealth inequality grew huge during the Gilded Age of the Robber Barons. By 1929, the wealthiest 1% of Americans owned 40% of the nation’s financial wealth, leaving just 60% to divide up among the other 99%. The Great Depression brought terrible misery, but it also corrected the previously growing disparity, leaving the wealthiest 1% with a healthy 25% of the nation’s wealth, but opening up room for a strong middle class to emerge in the Post War Boom between 1945 and 1980, which lifted poor, middle class and wealthy alike.
Then the country decided to go back to taxation and deregulation policies like those that brought us to the Great Depression. The wealthiest 1% now hold 43% of the nation’s wealth, leaving just 57% to be divided among the other 99%. The top 1% owns 50% of all the stocks, bonds and investment vehicles in America. The bottom 50% owns less than 1% of the financial instruments. Income for the upper middle class has stalled, and the bottom 60% has lost ground over the past 3 decades, while income for the top 1% has gone up by 265%. And we fell into the Great Recession beginning in 2007. Unemployment from that dip remains high, and if it turns into a double-dip recession; it will rightly be called the third Great Depression.
In the face of all this, one party is determined to slash taxes for millionaires and billionaires even more and only partially pay for the revenue loss by starving investment in education, healthcare, infrastructure and social programs. This when the 400 largest income tax returns were taxed at an effective rate of 17% while the upper middle-class wage earner pays an effective rate about double that of the most wealthy.
Any resistance to policies that will further increase economic inequality is labeled as “Class Warfare.” And to be quite fair, there is an element of class warfare in pitting the 99% against the 1%. There is a 1% in any society, regardless of how egalitarian. It would take a Herculean effort to make all citizens exactly financially equal, and doing so would remove all incentive to excel, to innovate.
John Edwards had coined a succinct slogan, “Two Americas.” Unfortunately, his fall from grace took the wind out of those sales, and the OWS slogan of “We are the 99%.” seems to be the only thing going right now to call attention to the continued growth of inequality.
I realize that the current cries of “class warfare” are projection from the right-wing. It is the Greedy Oligarch Pigs who set the direction for the full GOP who are waging class warfare. They seem determined to corner control of all the nation’s wealth through manipulation of political power. Clearly, just 43% is nowhere near enough for this small faction of the 1%. How do you fight that tide without unleashing the class hatred that banana republic types of income disparity create? Any ideas for talking about income and wealth disparity without leading the more volatile among the 99% into thoughts of actual class warfare?