STEVEN JONAS MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Recently, Senator Bernie Sanders published the following data set on his website:
In America today, the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of our country's financial wealth. The bottom 60 percent owns 2.3 percent. The increasing wealth inequality in the United States has become the great moral issue of our time.
In America today, one family, the Walton family of Wal-Mart, owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent, and the top 400 individuals have more wealth than the bottom half of our country -- over 150 million people.
In terms of income, the top 1 percent earns more than the bottom 50 percent, while the wealthiest 16,000 Americans, who make more than $10 million a year (the top 0.01 percent), saw their income increase by nearly a third between 2011 and 2012.
According to a recent study, from 2009 to 2012, 95 percent of all new income went to the top 1 percent. Meanwhile, since 1999, median family income declined by more than $5,000 after adjusting for inflation.
Today, a record-breaking 46.5 million people live in poverty in the United States. At 21.8 percent, we have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. One out of four of our kids now lives in a family that receives food stamps.
Poverty among seniors is growing. Over 9 percent of seniors lived in poverty in 2012, higher than in 2009. More American seniors were living in poverty last year than in 1972.
In recent years, while median family income has declined and poverty has increased, the number of millionaires and billionaires has grown at an extraordinary rate. In 1996, there were 121 billionaires in America. Today, there are 442.
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For Senator Sanders, "wealth and income inequality" has indeed "become the great moral issue of our time." Presumably Sen. Sanders believes that the data above light up the word "immorality." But then we must ask, from whose moral perspective are we considering the proposition? For those in the "99%," for those living in poverty, for those whose median family income has declined in recent years, for those who face permanent, or seemingly permanent, un- or underemployment, the answer might be "yes," it's the great moral issue of our time (unless members of those groups are also members of religious-determinist groups which focus exclusively on such issues as abortion and gay marriage rights as the "moral" issues that over-ride anything else). And for the most part, they would say that the reality presented above is immoral (not to mention a whole lot of other economic, productivity, educational, and political wrongs).
But let's look at it from the view of the 1%. Perhaps not all of them, but surely many of them think that what they have is rightfully, in the moral sense, theirs. They they have worked for it (or at least their parents and/or grandparents did). That they morally deserve what they have, that everyone else, morally doesn't, that if someone didn't or doesn't "make it" it's their fault, that they are lazy, members of the "undeserving" poor or at least middle class. That indeed in this great country of ours (all of the class, race, and sex evidence to the contrary notwithstanding) "anyone who really wants to can make it." In addition, of course they have a bought and paid for political system keeps their taxes low and the barriers to any meaningful changes in how they conduct business here and around the globe high, and a set of propaganda organs (Fox"News" is not the only one) which continually promotes, indeed hammers home this view.
Indeed, given the data above, one can come to the conclusion that from the capitalists' perspective, this is indeed the Golden Age of American Capitalism. The one and only goal of the capitalist system is for the capitalists to make money, to make profit from whatever piece of the economic system they have control of at the time: exploitation of natural resources, manufacturing, trade, trading in financial paper, banking, insurance, the military- and prison-industrial complexes, and so on and so forth. Nothing else matters. And profits and top corporate executive salaries go ever-higher. If in earlier times in this country there was some sort of "social safety net" (VERY modest compared to that found in all of other capitalist countries), it was there not because the capitalists set it up out of the goodness of their hearts, but because organised labor and certain other social movements forced it out of them.
Since the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 and the concomitant national "anti-communism," which enabled then, and still does, from time-to-time, the attachment of the negative word (except when applied to the states that vote GOP) "red" to any proposal for social legislation designed to make life easier for the working and middle classes, organized labor and its allies have been under constant assault. The War on the Trade Unions has been successful. The public employee unions, the last bastion of true trade unionism in the US, is under ever-increasing attack (see Wisconsin). Manufacturing has been exported, and indeed one of the most important weapons of any capitalist class, Marx and Engels' "reserve army of labor" or "permanent army of the unemployed" is in the process of being created. This is the magical way to keep both trade union activity low and willingness to stay at work, regardless of the level of wages and benefits (see Wal-Mart, for example), high.
Although technological advancement has been an important feature of industrial capitalism since it started, computerization/robotization has made manual labor in manufacturing increasingly obsolete, at an increasingly rapid rate. And among other things, machines and robots don't join trade unions.
Thus, given the data from Senator Sanders, above, indeed this time must be regarded as the Golden Age of US Capitalism. This is especially true because the current leader of the system, Finance Capital (see Lenin), has the government at its back, so that when it errs and loses even vast sums of money, it is "bailed out," at the expense of everyone, with no payback required. As Paul Krugman asks "But what if the world we've been living in for the past five years is the new normal? What if depression-like conditions are on track to persist, not for another year or two, but for decades?"
What if, indeed? Indeed, if things continue as they are, if the reality as described by Senator Sanders stays with us, but continues to produce those record profits and incomes despite the "depression-like conditions" that Professor Krugman describes, one could indeed say that the U.S. is in its Golden Age of Capitalism. And the capitalists will never give it up, without a fight, and I mean a real fight. And why should they, especially if they think that morality is on their side? Would you?
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for [email protected] he is the Editorial Director of and a Contributing Author to The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy. Dr. Jonas' latest book is The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A futuristic Novel, Brewster, NY, Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, and available on Amazon.