THE RISE OF AMERICAN PLUTOCRACY

When Bill Gates, the richest man on earth, was asked a few years ago whether he considered himself rich, he demurred by saying: "I'm clearly not by some definition middle class."

When Bill Gates, the richest man on earth, was asked a few years ago whether he considered himself rich, he demurred by saying: “I’m clearly not by some definition middle class.”

Well, gosh, I guess not! By no definition are you middle class when you’re sitting on a $46.5 billion fortune.

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Still, the Powers That Be keep insisting that America is a “classless” society, and politicians of both parties keep pursuing economic policies that are based on the happy theory that a “rising tide lifts all boats.” They don’t like anyone pointing out that the boats of the privileged few are yachts, while most people are paddling along in leaky rowboats, and too many Americans don’t even have a piece of driftwood to cling to.

That aside, however, it’s simply not true that America’s prosperity is broadly shared. As the old saying goes, “Them that’s got is them that gets”… and “them” keeps getting more and more. Forget poor people and the sinking middle class, let’s look only at the top ten percent of money earners in our country.

A recent study of income gains between 1972 and 2000 shows that if you were in the 90th percentile of income, your wages and salaries increased by 34 percent during this span – about one percent a year. If you were in the 99th percentile, though, your income jumped by 87 percent. But it’s at the 99.9th percentile that the real fun begins – this is the millionaire class, and their income gain was a joyous 181 percent. For true joy, however, go to the 99.99th percentile – these multimillionaires saw their incomes rise by 497 percent.

This is Jim Hightower saying… Bear in mind that this was before George W, whose tax and other economic policies have sent a tidal wave of new riches into those tippy-top percentiles, further widening the gap. The tide is rising, but so is the inequality, dangerously separating the privileged few from the many… and endangering our democratic society.

Sources:
“An Adjective for Cakes, But Not for Bill Gates,” The New York Times, April 30, 2006.
“Graduates verses Oligarchs,” The New York Times, February 27, 2006.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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