Living High On the Hog

The Feral One Percent

Amidst the hoopla and media frenzy surrounding these exciting Occupy social movements, the question arises: how feral is the top one percent? How is it that the hyper-wealthy Americans have gotten so very much richer since 1970, and, in the jobless aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008, no one in our social democracy has protested until now? A deeper question is, why did it take so long for this “American Spring” to launch itself?

A dictionary definition of “feral” reads, “having reverted to the wild state, as from domestication.” I would liken the term “wild state” to a libertarian economist’s dreamy vision of an early “classic” capitalist economy with almost no taxes, no financial regulations, and paltry government services. The libertarian ideologues from the Cato Institute would accept only “the watchman state” where the government simply pays for an army, police, public transportation, and some public health.

The economics editor of the British newspaper, The Guardian, recently wrote that you have to go back over 80 years to find another English decade like this one when living standards failed to rise over a 10-year period. Here in America you have to go back over 50 years. He adds, “It is worth reminding ourselves at this point that those people at the very top – those complaining about the injustice of the [British] 50 percent tax rate – have had more than three decades of living high on the hog.” I am reminding us that our American tax rates are far below this 50 percent rate about which the parasitic British hyper-wealthy whine so loudly. Bush gave the hyper rich a massive tax cut in 2002 even while they supported waging ruinously expensive and idiotic military adventures he hid beneath the 9/11 tragedy. The hyper-wealthy reveled in this, and their slogan might be “all in it together – until the rich want out.”

The Gini coefficient is an international yardstick used to measure the “inequality index” in a country. As historian Tony Judt has shown in his book, Ill Fares The Land, economic inequality in the U.S. was much lower between 1945 and 1970 (meaning money poured into the middle), but began to get much worse from 1970 to 2007. Sometimes clichés make sense: the rich got richer after 1970, and the poor got much poorer while the middle class also lost buying power. In a sea of overpowering statistics of which many readers are aware, here is just one: in 2007, the top one percent of Americans earned 21 percent of the national income, and they owned a ginormous 35 percent of this country’s total wealth, figures far higher than in1970.

Given this startling and growing wealth inequality between Americans, the hyper-wealthy class’s categorical refusal to accept any tax increase has caused the outrage leading to the burgeoning “occupy” movement. The plutocratic Republicans in the House and Senate, who simply serve as bought mouthpieces for the hyper-wealthy, have already begun their campaign to stop the bipartisan Congressional committee on deficit reduction from making any formulations involving revenue increases (taxes). We all know that almost all of our Congressional representatives belong to the one percent.

We need the special “Buffet” tax on the hyper wealthy, a windfall-profits tax on big oil (we have done such a tax before), Obama’s jobs bill, and some kind of cap on the top end of federal entitlements. McConnell, Cantor, and the other Republican crony capitalists working for the feral rich will honor their unholy “no tax increase ever” pledge to a private individual, Grover Norquist, over their sacrosanct loyalty oath to the U.S. Constitution and the prosperity of American working people. The poverty level in the USA has risen to 15.1 percent; neither wealth nor jobs have been “trickling down” to the majority.

Of course our economy requires banks, but in effect the banks have socialized risk but privatized profits, and they refuse to pay higher taxes on their profits as they reward themselves with sickening bonuses. The conservative former editor of UK’s The Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore, wrote honestly that, “It turns out – as the left always claims – that a system purporting to advance the many has been perverted in order to enrich the few.” While Karl Marx’s predictions about the future were way off, his analysis of mid-19th-century capitalism with its horrendous abuses was spot on: without social legislation benefiting the majority of citizens and protecting them from the hyper wealthy, the gap between rich and poor – and hyper rich and the middle class – will widen dramatically. This is what the Gini coefficient shows.

Many of the hyper wealthy, the one percent, are indeed “feral” because they want to revert to unfettered “wild” capitalism and the 19th century. They enjoy flaunting their insanely increasing wealth. Just look to the bankrupt owner of the LA Dodgers who has siphoned off over $185 million from the team in order to fund his profligate lifestyle since 2004. The hyper wealthy one percent truly are un-American because they do not accept restoration of their original 39 percent tax rates of 2001, and they refuse to pay up for failed imperialistic wars they supported. The restoration alone, which is not a tax increase, would help alleviate the national debt, along with a wealth tax that should extend down to the $400,000 range (not Obama’s soft $1 million). Of course some reduction in Medicare costs is inevitable.

It may be that the major question facing middle-class voters is whether they trust Wall Street or the government to provide jobs and reduce wealth inequalities. In 1912, that great Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, when hyper-wealthy Republicans truly loved their country, stated the goal of his new “Progressive Party” this way: “to destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the day.” One hundred years later, the 99 percent realizes this task still stands before us, and we now begin to confront the feral one percent and their libertarian ideologues.


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