In a vitriolic article on CommonDreams.org, Robert Reich lamented the split in the country between the rich and the poor:
"Being rich in today's America means not having to come across anyone who isn't. Exclusive prep schools, elite colleges, private jets, gated communities, tony resorts, symphony halls and opera houses, and vacation homes . . . all insulate them from the rabble."
Another dimension of this wealth gap and what it means is vividly conveyed in Matt Taibbi's hard-hitting The Divide. He encapsulates the current situation in this simple but devastating formula:
"Poverty goes up; crime comes down; prison population doubles."
When you join the author on the pages of this scary book, you, too, will be very angry about the continuing violation of the rights of mostly young black men, the disappearance of the American Dream of improving your lot and status in life, the corruption and unfairness of the criminal justice system in favor of affluent white-collar criminals, and the malevolent abuse of the poor.
With one example after another, Taibbi illustrates the ways in which the rich receive special treatment for their white collar crimes whereas the poor are targeted by police in cities such as New York for their petty crimes. Even worse are the stories about the harassment of welfare recipients by governmental agencies while since 2008 not one high-ranking executive from any financial institution has gone to jail for any of the crimes that "wiped out 40 percent of the world's wealth."
Taibbi is a longtime contributor to Rolling Stone magazine and has left this year to create an online magazine for First Look Media. Hopefully, he will continue his first rate investigative journalism.
The discussion about the catastrophic changes taking place in America as a result of our growing economic inequality continues on the PBS weekly series Moyers & Company. On the show "What the 1% Don't Want Us to Know," Bill Moyers' guest is Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman of The New York Times. They talk about the rise of "Patrimonial capitalism" and the best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century — a 700-page tome by Thomas Piketty, a French economist. Krugman calls it "a tour de force . . . a magnificent sweeping meditation on inequality . . . that will change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics." High words of praise from a famous columnist and blogger.
According to Piketty, when capital has a four to five percent return, economic growth is much slower but if you have a large fortune, you can live like a king and still set aside more which will grow faster than the economy. Both men agree that we are heading for an oligarchy where the political system is owned by the rich and run to meet their needs.
Right now the self-made wealthy individuals are handing on their fortunes to relatives. Moyers points out that at the same time we can't even manage to pay workers a minimum wage of $10.10.
Is there any way we can move away from the drift toward "patrimonial capitalism"? Krugman thinks that Piketty's suggestion of a global tax on wealth might happen eventually, but not until the election of 2024.
At the end of the program Moyers reads a report from the AFL-CIO. Last year the chief executives of 350 corporations were paid 331 times more money than the average U.S. worker. Those executives made an average $11.7 million compared to the average worker who earned $35,239.