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No Pizza, No Peace: The New Poor and the Coming Blowback

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Let's imagine one pizza pie, divided into eight equal slices, shared by eight people. Communism, at least on paper, means each person gets one piece of the pie. In reality, we know that the party elite always got more, so the distribution was more like 1 person getting 2 slices, and 2 people sharing 1, with the middle 5 each having a slice. In theory, this wouldn't have been half-bad, except that communism yields small pies. Without the profit motive, people simply don't produce very efficiently. Under communism most people might be equal, yes, but (mostly) equally poor.

Capitalism involves an acceptance that the pie will not be divided equally, reflecting both a recognition of what makes people work hard and the need to reward enterprise. In the modern age, that's been generally tempered by a political consensus that some of that wealth needs to finance varying versions of the welfare state. In Western Europe, this roughly works out to the richest guy at the table getting 2 slices of pie, the next 2 sharing 3, and the bottom 5 splitting up the 3 slices that are left. (Of course, when a recession hits, everybody's slice gets smaller. Debt piles up in a desperate attempt to maintain the size of pie by borrowing dough from growing economies like China's.)

In the United States, the richest person at the pizza party used to have 3 slices, and the middle class, representing the next 4 down, used to have 4 slices (leaving the poorest 3 to divvy up 1.) Not very fair, but fairly tolerable, as long as the pie kept growing. Then came the Bush tax cuts, transferring trillions to the rich, while the size of the pie stagnated. Now that one guy has 4 slices to himself, leaving the rest of us 7 to divvy the other 4 pieces as best we can. Those in the top half manage to hang on (even 15% unemployment is still 85% employment), but those in the bottom half fight over less and less pie. It's class warfare all right: the rich are waging war on everybody else.

Since corporate America is more interested in hoarding than rehiring, the New Poor are going to be around for awhile. Everyone has been so focused on the froth of the Tea Party that no one seems to be considering the long term political impact of this giant pool of recently disenfranchised Americans. They may have temporarily fallen for all the misdirection about the source of their woes, but over time, the most likely targets of their ire are going to be the most visible beneficiaries of their own lost wealth.

The economy will continue to suck until the fat man at the pizza party gives some of his slices back. And it's in his best interest to do so. Many of the New Poor have lost not only jobs, but their homes and their dreams for the future. They don't have much more to lose. The resulting blowback is going to be a bitch, particularly if the Teapublicans gain power and can no longer blame Obama for everything.

A second American revolution might well be brewing. But watch it come from the opposite direction everyone is expecting.

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