Even the pessimists got it wrong, revisited

The perception, the ‘ideal’ and… the reality. If democracy had teeth, the 1% would be quaking in their boots instead of laughing all the way to the bank.

Eight years ago, almost to the day, I reblogged a post by David Robertson that featured the above video, entitled ‘Wealth Inequality in America’. I’ve tried more than once over the years since then to get that post to actually show the video — not just the link to it — but for whatever reason, WordPress just doesn’t want to do it. The ‘reblog’ function seems to be badly borked.

So, to get around that, I’ve decided to do something I rarely do: repost the content. David Robertson’s WordPress blog, though still active, hasn’t been updated for years. I got in touch with him about three years ago and he admitted that he’d moved on to another blog (only that one also seems to be in the doldrums, too).

The video above was uploaded to YouTube on 20Nov2012. Some argue that, as such, it’s dated. Well, yes, it is; but the numbers aren’t irrelevant because of that. In reality, the problem it highlights has only gotten worse. (Much worse.)

Some others would argue “Oh, it’s talking about the USA, and I don’t live in the USA, so those numbers don’t apply to me.” I would argue that, if you think that, you’re in denial. You’re deluding yourself, in much the same way as those who believe that we never landed on the Moon, or those who believe the Earth is flat.

I would urge you to watch the video. But if you do, you have to pay attention, because the crucial point it makes is easily missed. At first glance it appears to be bemoaning wealth inequality, and it’s all too easy to focus on that. However, The important point it makes is not about the extent of the inequality (which is in itself truly shocking); it’s about the perception of the extent of the inequality. The video highlights that while most people accept that the wealthiest get ‘a lot more’, they are totally oblivious to exactly how much more wealthy the wealthiest in society truly are.

As David Robertson says in his original post:

This is one of those “you bunch of bastards” moments.

Moments that the people on the right don’t want you to have.

It’s not that I’m against people having lots of money, or even a disparity in wealth. I get by just fine on what I have. But money is power, and the amount of money in the top 20% – hell, the top 1% – is enough to bend society and democracy and markets and business and media. And that’s dangerous.

About pendantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
This entry was posted in ... wait, what?, balance, Business, Capitalism, Communication, Core thought, Education, illusion, Phlyarology, Reblogs and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Even the pessimists got it wrong, revisited

  1. msjadeli says:

    I’m sure you won’t mind if I reblog this. It is difficult to conceptualize the discrepancy between one end of the chart and the other but I think he does a good job of it. Scary to think it has gotten much worse in the last 8 years!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Even the pessimists got it wrong, revisited — Wibble – Tao Talk

  3. Herb says:

    Do you have a solution? A plan of some sort? Perhaps someone could order something from Amazon on their Microsoft-driven computer to solve it. People buy from the companies and accept jobs from the ones who have the highest-paid CEOs.

    Liked by 4 people

    • pendantry says:

      A solution? A plan? Me? No, not really. If enough people were to get together, maybe we could come up with something. But the first step in any endeavour is recognising that there’s a problem. And it seems to me that the majority are oblivious to the fact that ‘trickle-down economics’ simply doesn’t work. The ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ argument is not only hackneyed, it totally ignores the fact that most folk don’t have boats, and they’re drowning. Worse still, many seem to think that ‘leftist’ views such as those I hold — getting the ultra-wealthy (you know, those who can actually afford to part with some of the money they don’t really need) to contribute to society in some way that would be meaningful to the majority — is somehow bizarre. Personally, I think that homo fatuus brutus is on its way out, but doesn’t yet realise it; it’s a bit too late for ‘solutions’.

      As an aside: Some may think this to be a trivial point, but I think that it’s important to make a distinction between ‘Amazon the rainforest’ (you know, the one that’s under severe threat and that may well disappear in a few short years) and ‘amazon the megacorporation’ (the one that’s sucking the life out of a great many small businesses on the planet, getting rich in the process, and putting bugger-all back).

      Liked by 3 people

      • Margy says:

        Bugger-all-back, huh? The top 5% earn 36.5% of gross income and pay 59.1% of the taxes. (IRS)

        Philanthropic giving is one of the primary pursuits of the wealthy. (CNN Business) The average charitable donation of someone who earns 1-2 million dollars is $44,000. Over 2 million the average donation is $383,000. (IRS).

        All people spend money. The average American household spends $53,708 a year. The Bottom 20% – $25,525. The Highest 20% – $99,639. (BLS)

        While Amazon paid no federal income tax (Congress wrote the tax law so that development costs and past losses would reduce the tax burden on businesses that took chances and survived.) Amazon did pay over a half billion dollars in payroll taxes, and over a billion dollars in local, state and international taxes. (Amazon employs over 1.3 M people world wide.)

        Amazon marketplace: in the 2018 “Small Business Impact Report” Amazon reported 1.9 million U.S. based small and medium-sized businesses (SBMs) generate more than $160 billion by using the Amazon marketplace to sell product.

        Looking at the Amazon Rain forest from an environmentalist perspective: https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2019/08/26/why-everything-they-say-about-the-amazon-including-that-its-the-lungs-of-the-world-is-wrong/?sh=5dc3507b5bde

        Liked by 1 person

        • pendantry says:

          OK, cuffs off. To take it from the top:

          The top 5% earn 36.5% of gross income

          I call BS on that. Reference link, please, not just a bland “IRS”. (Did you even watch the video? I guess not.)

          Philanthropic giving is one of the primary pursuits of the wealthy.

          Yes, indeed. And they love to shout about it. But the truth is that most ‘philanthropic’ giving is a tax dodge. And what isn’t is in pursuit of their own ambitions, which are not coincident with the needs of society at large.

          The average charitable donation of someone who earns 1-2 million dollars is $44,000.

          I fear you are blinded by numbers. The number ‘44,000’ may sound like a lot, but, let’s be gracious and assume that it applies to the lower bound of the ‘1-2’ you quote. 44,000 divided into 1,000,000 is 4.4%. A pittance. I pay almost 15% of my net income to charities each month. Three times as much as (the lower bound of) those folks you apparently idolize.

          Amazon did pay over a half billion dollars in payroll taxes, and over a billion dollars in local, state and international taxes. (Amazon employs over 1.3 M people world wide.)

          Whoopee-effing-doo. Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, Jeff Bezos became the richest man on the planet recently (jockeying with other rich buggers for top spot); his personal net worth is ~$200,000,000,000 — is that enough zeroes for you? His company treats its employees like slaves, and its tax avoidance schemes and scams are legendary. The company amazon (not ‘Amazon’ — that’s a rainforest, one that almost certainly won’t be around for much longer if things continue the way they’re headed) may employ a lot of people ‘world wide’, but I’d like to see the numbers on how many employees it has put out of work by its predatory practices.

          And as for your clearly biased link to that opinion piece about the Amazon rainforest itself: I have no words. I don’t even know why I’m bothering to respond to you, as you clearly believe that the ultra-rich deserve their position at the top of the global pecking order. I, on the other hand, do not.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Margy says:

            Do the words above your comment box say “I’d love to hear what your views are!” Yes.
            Did I tell you what my views are? Yes.
            Did I chastise or criticize you personally for your views and beliefs? No.
            Did you chastise or criticize me for what my views are? Feels that way.
            Perhaps you should change the words above your comment box so they read “I’d love to hear what your views are as long as they agree with my views. All other views are ‘whoopee-effing-doo’ so don’t bother leaving them.”
            Bye.

            Liked by 1 person

          • pendantry says:

            You’re absolutely right, Margy, and I apologise. I am intensely frustrated by the injustices caused by the inequities in our society (especially the massive wealth inequality) and the apparent inability of people to recognise these as being problems that urgently need to be addressed. I should not, however, allow my strong feelings to get the better of me. You are entitled to your opinions, and I am truly interested in what you have to say, because there is always the possibility that my perception of reality could be wrong.

            I have edited my comment above, transparently, to remove my ill-considered words, and hope you will forgive me.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Margy says:

            Apology accepted. I’ll start a new thread below.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Dear Colin and Margy,

          What a long conversation you two have been having here! I shall join you right now in a big way…..

          Thank you for your additional contributions to the discussion on inequality, rendered all the more acute and dire by the rich and powerful.

          Social and economic polarizations can further exacerbate the issues of education and wealth, and such polarizations are increasing for the following reason: The USA is very much plagued in varying degrees by misinformation, disinformation, post-truth politics, demagoguery, plutocracy, oligarchy, ochlocracy, kleptocracy, kakistocracy, narcissistic leadership, neoliberalism and globalization.

          Let’s just take one of them under the microscope. Whilst Pluto has been demoted to a dwarf planet, the planet of America has already ascended to plutocracy.

          According to Wikipedia:

          Plutocracy (Greek: πλοῦτος, ploutos, ‘wealth’ + κράτος, kratos, ‘rule’) or plutarchy, is a form of oligarchy and defines a society ruled or controlled by the small minority of the wealthiest citizens. The first known use of the term was in 1631. Unlike systems such as democracy, capitalism, socialism or anarchism, plutocracy is not rooted in an established political philosophy. The concept of plutocracy may be advocated by the wealthy classes of a society in an indirect or surreptitious fashion, though the term itself is almost always used in a pejorative sense.

          Usage
          The term plutocracy is generally used as a pejorative to describe or warn against an undesirable condition. Throughout history, political thinkers such as Winston Churchill, 19th-century French sociologist and historian Alexis de Tocqueville, 19th-century Spanish monarchist Juan Donoso Cortés and today Noam Chomsky have condemned plutocrats for ignoring their social responsibilities, using their power to serve their own purposes and thereby increasing poverty and nurturing class conflict, corrupting societies with greed and hedonism.

          Examples
          Historic examples of plutocracies include the Roman Empire, some city-states in Ancient Greece, the civilization of Carthage, the Italian city-states/merchant republics of Venice, Florence and Genoa, and the pre-World War II Empire of Japan (the zaibatsu). According to Noam Chomsky and Jimmy Carter, the modern day United States resembles a plutocracy, though with democratic forms.

          More from Wikipedia:

          Effects on democracy and society
          Economists Jared Bernstein and Paul Krugman have attacked the concentration of income as variously “unsustainable” and “incompatible” with real democracy. American political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson quote a warning by Greek-Roman historian Plutarch: “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” Some academic researchers have written that the US political system risks drifting towards a form of oligarchy, through the influence of corporations, the wealthy, and other special interest groups.

          Also from Wikipedia:

          United States
          Further information: Income inequality in the United States § Effects on democracy and society
          See also: American upper class and Wealth inequality in the United States

          Some modern historians, politicians, and economists argue that the United States was effectively plutocratic for at least part of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era periods between the end of the Civil War until the beginning of the Great Depression. President Theodore Roosevelt became known as the “trust-buster” for his aggressive use of United States antitrust law, through which he managed to break up such major combinations as the largest railroad and Standard Oil, the largest oil company. According to historian David Burton, “When it came to domestic political concerns, TR’s Bete Noire was the plutocracy.” In his autobiographical account of taking on monopolistic corporations as president, TR recounted

          …we had come to the stage where for our people what was needed was a real democracy; and of all forms of tyranny the least attractive and the most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth, the tyranny of a plutocracy.

          In any case, it is going to be an arduous task because saving and rehabilitating the USA aside, we also need the political economy of saving the planet. Yet the entrenched and insidious issues of plutocracy have loomed even larger, thus continuing to thwart many efforts mounted to save the nation and the planet. Whilst Pluto has been demoted to a dwarf planet, the planet of America, so to speak, has already ascended to plutocracy. Social and economic polarizations can further exacerbate the issues of wealth, and such polarizations are increasing for the following reason: The USA is very much plagued in varying degrees by misinformation, disinformation, post-truth politics, demagoguery, plutocracy, oligarchy, ochlocracy, kleptocracy, kakistocracy, narcissistic leadership, neoliberalism and globalization.

          The underlying opposition is not so much between the Democrats and the Republicans as between the rich plutocrats and the rest of the population. The Democrats need to (re)form their party to unite the 90% of the people living at an entrenched economic and political disadvantage in order to deal with the Plutocrats. In any case, it is going to be a very tall order for Biden to turn things around. It would have been much easier if some Republican senators had been far more honest and incorruptible, for they have been very greedy, uninspired, cowardly and lack criminal, moral and political accountabilities. It is all quite a big mess in danger of getting bigger still. Even a global pandemic still cannot unite folks in the USA and wake them up. Perhaps it will take an even bigger crisis to do so, such as a series of climate change disasters.

          I have been featuring an exemplar of a politician, statesman and chancellor so upright and unflinching in their integrity and honesty that if any of those senators had even just a fraction of his goodness and decency to perform their duties and to go against the POTUS, the USA would not have sunk to such an intractable, dangerous and protracted quagmire. The upright character of this particular politician, statesman and chancellor has been immortalized in a poem, which is featured and explained in my post entitled Strong Wind Knows Tough Grass” published at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2020/11/11/strong-wind-knows-tough-grass/

          This politician, statesman and chancellor had been fired six times and rehired six times, and still he persisted in his upright approach and upstanding ideal. He even surrendered and dedicated his own lands, real estates and military power! If only many more people in the financial, business and political spheres can learn from the upright character that I feature in my said post. In my own words, this historical figure is the personification of enduring loyalty, integrity, bravery and forthrightness achieved with benevolence and righteousness, but without favouritism and transgression. He was certainly not afraid of being fired half a dozen times. And such a person would certainly speak up and oppose corrupt politicians without any fear of losing their job and reputation.

          Enough from me for the moment. Happy May to both of you and your respective families!

          Like

  4. Russell Brand has some great content about these issues on YouTube. One that really fascinated me lately was his discussion on how the super rich use ostensible charitable donations as a tax shield without ever actually giving any money to charity. Fascinating stuff.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Very interesting post What’s more interesting is just how many people just ignore it

    Laugh Because… Why Not??

    Liked by 2 people

  6. leavergirl says:

    Well, Wibbler, this is a key issue. (Maybe THE key issue. Even the Amish struggle with it.) The left has in the past favored redistributioin via taxes. Problem with that is, this solution is evaded by the 1% through loopholes, fake charity and the like. Their full time job is to be exactly where the money flows are. And the bureaucrats skim off a large piece of the redistribution. I have said for a long time that the solution must be to stop the distribution to the rich in the first place. Nobody gets to “earn” billions. Besides, redistribution reeks of theft.

    People on the right see it too. Some are wont to sound like a broken record about how everybody deserves what they earn. Which of course does not apply to billions. But more and more are seeing it… the whole system is so corrupt, that there will be no solutions even spoken of, because the public channels are clogged with bullshit and divisive rhetoric. If the internet goes down, all we’ll have is wall to wall lies.

    I never thought I’d ever see as blatant a theft of middle class assets as have happened during covid. What’s next? The cull?

    Liked by 3 people

    • leavergirl says:

      Clarification: Nobody EARNS billions. You can inherit it, or you can steal it. There are no other options.

      Liked by 1 person

      • pendantry says:

        I think that you and I are largely on the same page here, leavergirl.

        In your previous post you said “redistribution reeks of theft,” by which I understand you to be suggesting that ‘the 99%’ can’t simply appropriate a large chunk of the wealth of ‘the 1%’ ‘because that would be wrong’.

        If that is indeed what you meant, then my counter is simple: the current system unjustly, inequitably and purely arbitrarily legalises the theft of the entire planet’s resources by ‘the 1%’. To my mind, that ‘distribution’ itself “reeks of theft”; the wealth is, in effect, being stolen from the majority, as indeed you say here. Nobody ‘earns’ billions; that’s utter nonsense. (And as for ‘inheriting’ it, that’s just passing on wealth that earlier generations unjustly stole.)

        A rebalancing is long overdue.

        Liked by 2 people

        • leavergirl says:

          Yes, we are on the same page. Dealing with the source of the problem would be far preferable than run around at the end of the money pipeline, trying to redistribute. That’s what I mean… by “distribution” I mean the way the system is set up to funnel money here and there (and that’s where the theft begins). That part should be fixed, no?

          The elites know. Many (some?) agree. It’s just nobody has come up with a solution. I tend to think of Taiwan, where everything was owned by about 20 families. Changkaishek did not vilify them; he came up with a practical scheme that gave both parties something to work with.

          Liked by 2 people

          • pendantry says:

            The elites know. Many (some?) agree. It’s just nobody has come up with a solution.

            There’s no incentive for the elites to come up with a solution. The current system is working for them perfectly well; if it were modified, they might be obliged to give up one of their yachts, a surplus-to-requirements personal jet, or one of the many mansions/ islands they own….

            Liked by 1 person

          • leavergirl says:

            Sadly, mostly true. Still… they know that a highly unequal society = revolution in the making. And if it comes, they won’t fare well. They think they can hide out, but since they can’t function without their catering classes… not a healthy prospect.

            Liked by 2 people

  7. Margy says:

    Listening to each other and finding the middle ground – or as the Texan Matthew McConaughey put it, people have moved so far left and right that they are driving in the ditch on either side of the road. In the middle is the yellow line and a bunch of armadillos that don’t have to worry anymore about getting run over…

    Liked by 1 person

    • pendantry says:

      “Divide and conquer” is a maxim I learned years ago from playing wargames. It’s very effective; especially so when you can fool everyone into believing that you’re just an armadillo.

      Like

  8. Pingback: Let’s Get Inspired by pendantry of the blog called Wibble – Part 1 of 2 – ThoughtsnLifeBlog

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