The old words are on the rebound, the ones that went out in the last century when the very idea of a Gilded Age, and the plutocrats and oligarchy of wealth that went with it, left the scene in the Great Depression. Now, those three classic terms that were never to return (or so it once seemed) are back in our vocabularies. They've been green-lighted by society. (If they're not on SAT tests in the coming years, I'll eat my top hat.)
Of course, an inequality gap has been widening into an abyss for decades now, but when it comes to the present boom in old-fashioned words that once went with being really, really, obscenely wealthy and powerful, give the Occupy movement of 2011 credit. After all, they were the ones who took what should already have been on everyone's lips -- the raging inequality in American society -- out of the closet and made it part of the national conversation. 1%! 99%!
Now, the stats on national and global inequality are everyday fare (and looking worse all the time). Meanwhile, the book of a French (French!) economist about how the U.S. is leading the way when it comes to inequality and possibly creating the basis for a future... yes!... oligarchy of inherited wealth is on the bestseller list and the talk of the town. And if that weren't enough, a new study out of Princeton University suggests that, as Talking Points Memo put it, "Over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power." As the two authors of the study write, "The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."
In an America where, when it comes to the political system, the Supreme Court has now granted the dollar the full right to speak its mind, and ever more of those dollars can be found in the pockets of... well, not to put a fine point on it, plutocrats, we need a new (that is, old) vocabulary to fit our changing circumstances.
In all of this, one thing missing has been the classic American observer, the keen reporter setting out on the road to catch the new look of a land in pain and misery. Today, at TomDispatch.com, Peter Van Buren aims to remedy that. The former State Department whistleblower and author of a new book on American inequality, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, has been traveling the ever-expanding, ever-rustier Rust Belt taking the temperature of a land with a significant fever. So if you want to visit an industrial apocalypse or the dark side of the moon in a hollowing-out nation, check out his new piece "This Land Isn't Your Land, This Land Is Their Land."