Egads. We've learned that it's closer to 40% of the wealth that lies in the hands of the top 1%. This growing disparity between the uber rich and the expanding poor isn't just an inconvenience for those slipping economically backward every month. The end of the middle class may mark the beginning of the revolution.
"Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists."
― Franklin D. Roosevelt
As a society, we depend on one another. You have something I want or need. I have something you want or need. So, we figure out how to trade, or distribute what's needed and wanted. There are only four ways to distribute goods and services: Government, charity, crime and business. There is a place for all four.
At its best, government allows us to pool resources and use them for mutual benefit. It's a good idea to use tax dollars to build roads and provide fire trucks and teach our children how to read and reason.
Charity is part of the equation. We are happy to help each other out. Note how naturally we offer food and shelter to those in need. Informal as well as organized charitable organizations are an essential part of the economy.
And so is crime. There is always a criminal element. People participate in a criminal enterprise when other economic options are bleak. I can relate, can't you?, to the kid who chooses gang life over homelessness. Also, when an economy collapses, a black market emerges. You and I will participate in it should that day come.
And there is business. I am a businessperson. I love business. I believe that honorable business promotes peace and prosperity and freedom across the planet. Freedom expands when people can trade honorable and prosperously with one another. At its best, businesses create stuff that's needed and wanted in such a way that someone will say, "Yes, I want that" and buy it for more than it costs to produce it. Business owners and their team members who do a good job in business deserve to make more money and move up the economic ladder, and use a portion of their profits to build new businesses. This is the American Dream, that through our own initiative, creativity and productive work we can make a better life for ourselves and our families.
Government and business are essential. Charity and crime inevitable. These forces can support a prosperous, free society. Except when it gets weird. And it is weird right now.
Perhaps the most devastating economic play in recent years is the Citizens United ruling which cleared the way for unrestricted political contributions by corporations. Combined with our campaign funding laws, corporations can literally buy elections. Those elected officials will increasingly create and uphold laws that protect corporate profits at all costs.
This bastardization of capitalism is accelerating the wealth accumulation of the very, very rich. If you are waiting for the trickle down, you will wait forever. The deck has been stacked, to allow mega-corporations and their executives to opt out of the free market dynamics that support a healthy and equitable distribution of income.
So, what happens next? History illustrates that people will put up with a lot of stuff. They will work and dream and take their lumps. But they expect some upward mobility based on their production, and their contributions to society. When that slows down, people will take it. Until we totally eliminate their ability to economically support themselves and their families. Then, we hit a tipping point, where once proud, now beaten down, unemployed, and frustrated people are desperate enough to take to the streets with their hands in the air. It would be nice to think that you and I would respond like Ghandi or the Dalai Lama to oppression and injustice. But I can sympathize, can't you?, with the one who just loses it and punches somebody.
"We have it in our power to begin the world over again."
― Thomas Paine
Thus begins the revolution. Revolutions are triggered by repression, and inside every revolution is an economic element. And political revolutions are messy and bloody and don't work out the way we hoped they would and are our last, worst choice.
Perhaps, it's not too late. Perhaps, it's worth at least attempting to right the wrongs of recent years. We could start, at least some of us, by becoming savvier about business and economics. We could start and grow businesses of our own. We can study basic finance and accounting and apply the principles that make people wealthy. We could fix the businesses we work for, at least the parts of them over which we have some influence. The odds are against us, but the opportunities are there. With a better understanding of the game, we could expand small business and improve how we make decisions and how we treat each other. As local business goes, so goes the community, and ultimately, the world. Successful small businesses are our best shot at preserving the American Dream.
We could also improve our understanding of civics and government and politics. We could read about, study, economics and political science. Voting in our best interests is another way to impact positive change. With better political representation and reasonable regulations, some big corporations could fail, and government could help support employees in the transitions. The money could come from a fair tax structure and limited military spending. Small businesses could flourish and provide jobs and meaningful work. We could ultimately reduce the dependence on government to creating those things which make good use of our combined tax dollars: infrastructure, education, health care, regulations and an appropriate military. We may disagree on how we should spend tax dollars, and which services are better privatized. However, a healthy representative, democratic government is our best shot at striking a workable balance.
We can at least try, because that's what we do as American Dreamers. We are optimistic and hard working and have pulled a few rabbits out of our Uncle Sam's hat. We should try to do something to curb the tide of wealth inequality.
Else we hammer plowshares into swords.
"Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime."