THE BLOG
05/10/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Bargain Days Are Here Again for the Wealthy

One of America's fondest illusions is that Americans are all one people, and that when disaster strikes we are united in suffering--that we're all in the same boat. This is nonsense. For the wealthy, a recession--even a depression--is a happy time. The billionaire J. Paul Getty referred to the deepest pit of the Great Depression as "the bargain days of 1932-33". A recession is a great opportunity for the wealthy. Everything is cheap. They can scoop up real estate, businesses, facilities of all kinds at bargain rates. They can travel in style anywhere and get better service--everyone's anxious to please--and their renowned stingy tips will not be scorned.

Large corporations have it even better. A recent news headline read, "Profit May Rise But Jobs May Not", as if this were some unexpected economic phenomenon, rather than deliberate and predictable corporate policy. When a recession occurs corporations can go on cost-cutting sprees, decimating their work forces, making every worker do what two workers used to do and not complain--happy to still have a job. And by the time the 'economy' improves, this will have become the norm, and corporations will still have fewer workers than they did before the recession.

This is why real wages in America have barely improved in thirty years, while executive salaries have skyrocketed. And why a Scandinavian, recently visiting the United States for the first time, thought it seemed more like Latin America than like Europe--a Third World type of system with a small wealthy class and a large population of people who can't even afford health care.

This is also why conservatives in the media react with horror when anyone suggests, as I have, that the United States is not just one big happy middle-class family with identical economic interests and concerns. To acknowledge the deep class divisions in the United States--which are getting deeper and more caste-like every decade as fewer and fewer Americans can afford to go to college--is 'fomenting class warfare', as if by acknowledging reality we were somehow creating it. It is, of course, only those who seek true equality of opportunity in America who are 'fomenting class warfare'. When the wealthy and powerful exploit the disadvantaged this is not considered class warfare, but the natural order of things.