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Waiting for the Revolution

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In the latest recovery, 93 percent of the gains went to the top 1 percent.  How long will it take before the 99 percent realize they're getting shafted?  When will American workers revolt?

From Tahrir Square protests 23 November 2011
Tahrir Square protests 23 November 2011 by IHRC

It's clear to most observers that the American economy has lost its heart and now is being run for the benefit of the rich.  Over the past twenty years, US GDP and productivity increased while average household income was stagnant. 

There's no shortage of insightful commentary on US economic inequality. Nonetheless, American workers don't seem to be distressed about what's happening.  A 2012 Gallup Poll asked, "Do you think the United States benefits from having a class of rich people"?" 63 percent of respondents answered yes.  Gallup asked those who do not consider themselves to be rich if they would like to be rich and the majority answered yes.                                

This Gallup poll reveals two levels of delusion.  The first is the widespread belief that if you're not rich now you may someday be rich.  A recent study by the Federal Reserve found that most Americans stay in the class they were born into.  "If you were born in the bottom 20%, your chances of ending up in the top 20% are about one in 20: 5%."

The second delusion is about the level of economic inequality.  Writing in the Washington Post, Ezra Klein observed that Americans consistently underestimate how skewed income inequality is; it's far worse than they imagine.

Nonetheless, it's too simplistic to blame ignorance or apathy for America's indifference to the growing economic divide.  Each age cohort has its own denial mechanism. 

Millenials (born after 1980) are struggling to make it.   Their unemployment rate is greater than 16 percent and 43 percent are burdened by  student-loan debt, typically more than $100,000.  Millenials are depressed.

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Those in Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) are self-absorbed.  It's a cohort that suffers from a deadening combination of cynicism and narcissism.

The Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) have seen many of their dreams slip away.  Now they're anxious about their retirement and what the future holds for their children. 

Finally, members of the Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945) are despondent.  They wonder what happened to the country they fought for.

Most of the 99 percent are traumatized.  Many deal with this by self-medicating.  Some turn to therapy.  And millions rely on religion.

41 percent of Americans believe the end times are near; they feel Jesus Christ will return by 2050.  If you're of this persuasion, it's unlikely that you're concerned with temporal matters, such as income inequality.  Besides, most Christians who believe in the rapture are Calvinists -- they think the rich are the elected, the chosen ones.  The version of Christianity developed by the sixteenth century French theologian, john Calvin, taught that God has predestined who will be saved. In "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism," German sociologist Max Weber observed that Calvinists see worldly success as a measure of the likelihood of one's salvation. 

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For a variety of reasons, most Americans have chosen to ignore the ever-widening economic divide.  That doesn't mean the 99 percent will stay unconscious forever. But it does mean workers won't spontaneously rise up and cast off their chains.  They have to be mobilized.

From a progressive perspective, it's clear what needs to be done.  Workers need to be paid a living wage; they need to acquire an equitable share of the benefits that have arisen from the economic recovery.  Therefore, CEO salaries should be limited along with CEO-to-worker pay ratios.  Unions must be strengthened.  Taxes should be increased for the 1 percent and estate taxes restored.   We must eliminate corporate tax loopholes and raise corporate taxes.  The government has to breakup big corporations, penalize monopolistic practices, and prosecute corporate fraud. 

The Progressive challenge is accomplishing these objectives in the face of worker inertia and fierce conservative opposition.  Progressives shouldn't expect to outspend plutocrats and corporations.  Progressives have to out organize them -- that's what happened in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. 

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.

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I don't see how progressives out-organized anybody... by Jill Herendeen on Friday, Jun 14, 2013 at 1:28:26 PM
When things get hopeless for the masses, bad stuff... by mmth on Friday, Jun 14, 2013 at 1:42:00 PM
Redistribution of income is making Revolution by d... by Guglielmo Tell on Friday, Jun 14, 2013 at 7:20:35 PM
This myth about Marie Antoinette is not historical... by Cyril North on Saturday, Jun 15, 2013 at 3:20:18 PM
An evolutionary reformation would produce a peacef... by E. J. N. on Friday, Jun 14, 2013 at 2:49:15 PM
The 99% are being screwed by the rich who have bee... by JenniferNY on Friday, Jun 14, 2013 at 2:52:54 PM
The wealthy know what is coming- what they have ca... by JenniferNY on Friday, Jun 14, 2013 at 2:53:17 PM
See my first article click here and my 5 comments ... by Guglielmo Tell on Friday, Jun 14, 2013 at 7:24:38 PM
We're never going to use them anyway.I've been won... by Faith Carr on Saturday, Jun 15, 2013 at 8:22:51 AM
...door.  Even if you don't actually possess ... by Jill Herendeen on Saturday, Jun 15, 2013 at 3:54:50 PM
Your posts reflect a view that has been stated her... by E. J. N. on Saturday, Jun 15, 2013 at 6:11:04 PM
Do you want a revolution that will leave the physi... by Paul Repstock on Friday, Jun 14, 2013 at 9:52:45 PM
The world Economy calls for War: ... by abdullah alfallaj on Saturday, Jun 15, 2013 at 2:13:20 AM
The world Economy calls for War: ... by abdullah alfallaj on Saturday, Jun 15, 2013 at 2:17:20 AM
When I was growing up in the 50's my daddy, a "yel... by Doc McCoy on Saturday, Jun 15, 2013 at 3:01:30 AM
   I came to the conclusion awhile back ... by Bob Gormley on Saturday, Jun 15, 2013 at 7:32:55 AM
However, very few will actually follow though. The... by Paul Repstock on Saturday, Jun 15, 2013 at 8:16:54 AM
Our generation, "...the Baby Boomers - those who g... by Paul Repstock on Saturday, Jun 15, 2013 at 7:53:52 AM
  What you say makes a lot of sense. It alway... by Bob Gormley on Saturday, Jun 15, 2013 at 8:49:07 AM
There's a growing fourth category beyond generatio... by Kyle Gordy on Saturday, Jun 15, 2013 at 6:38:07 AM
Our nation began the fall from prosperity into pov... by Patricia Gray on Saturday, Jun 15, 2013 at 10:43:24 AM
When its revealed in these latter days that its al... by Michael Dewey on Saturday, Jun 15, 2013 at 7:57:22 PM
    Funny..... The other day I was ... by Bob Gormley on Sunday, Jun 16, 2013 at 8:33:07 AM
It may be very hard to believe, but time will reve... by Michael Dewey on Sunday, Jun 16, 2013 at 9:25:10 AM
   Interesting... time will tell.... by Bob Gormley on Sunday, Jun 16, 2013 at 3:14:28 PM
I don't pretend to know what America's future hold... by Philip Pease on Sunday, Jun 16, 2013 at 9:28:12 AM
.....about ending the Fed and returning to a State... by David Smith on Monday, Jun 17, 2013 at 2:02:19 AM