Thursday, September 09, 2004

Wealth Inequality in 21st Century Threatens Economy and Democracy

Thanks to Billy'n'Villy for this enlightening article.

PROJECT CENSORED - In the late 1700s, issues of fairness and equality were topics of great debate - equality under the law, equality of opportunity, etc. Considered by the framers of the Constitution to be one of the most important aspects of a democratic system, the word “equality” is featured prominently throughout the document. In the 200+ years since, most industrialized nations have succeeded in decreasing the gap between rich and poor.

However, since the late 1970s wealth inequality, while stabilizing or increasing slightly in other industrialized nations, has increased sharply and dramatically in the United States. While it is no secret that such a trend is taking place, it is rare to see a TV news program announce that the top 1% of the U.S. population now owns about a third of the wealth in the country. Discussion of this trend takes place, for the most part, behind closed doors.

During the short boom of the late 1990s, conservative analysts asserted that, yes, the gap between rich and poor was growing, but that incomes for the poor were still increasing over previous levels. Today most economists, regardless of their political persuasion, agree that the data over the last 25 to 30 years is unequivocal. The top 5% is capturing an increasingly greater portion of the pie while the bottom 95% is clearly losing ground, and the highly touted American middle class is fast disappearing.

According to economic journalist, David Cay Johnston, author of “Perfectly Legal,” this trend is not the result of some naturally occurring, social Darwinist “survival of the fittest.” It is the product of legislative policies carefully crafted and lobbied for by corporations and the super-rich over the past 25 years...

As always, America’s economic trends have a global footprint—and this time, it is a crater. Today the top 400 income earners in the U.S. make as much in a year as the entire population of the 20 poorest countries in Africa (over 300 million people). But in America, national leaders and mainstream media tell us that the only way out of our own economic hole is through increasing and endless growth—fueled by the resources of other countries...

As rich countries strip poorer countries of their natural resources in an attempt to re-stabilize their own, the people of poor countries become increasingly desperate. This deteriorating situation, besides pressuring rich countries to allow increased immigration, further exacerbates already stretched political tensions and threatens global political and economic security.

(more...)

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