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America's Race To The Bottom

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I sure hope that there is a full and speedy recovery to the massive recession we are all now suffering under.

But, I'll be honest. I doubt that there will be. Most of the upticks following our latest national downturns have been dismal enough that economists have had to invent a new term for them. The phrase is jobless recovery, and the implications are as ugly as they sound.

What it means is that GDP rises, but life remains crappy for real people with real jobs. If they're lucky enough to have one, that is.

Where does the money from rising GDP go, then? Funny you should ask. It goes exactly where it's been going for the last three decades. Not to the public, and not to raising the living standards of ordinary folks. But, rather, to the uber-class.

My guess is that The Great Recession as some are calling the current disaster (presumably to avoid using the D word) will be followed by what history will record as the The Tepid and Rather Jobless, Thank You Very Much, Recovery. If that.

And, more importantly, my guess is that this will be the latest and greatest click yet of what is the most massive ratcheting project of the last three decades, perhaps the most wholesale redistribution of wealth in human history.

Consider the numbers...

The ratio of executive salary to the average paycheck during the mid-twentieth century was about thirty to one. In the last decade it has ranged from three hundred to over five hundred to one.
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The richest four hundred Americans were worth an average of about $13 million each in the middle of the century, using today's dollars. Now they average over $260 million each.

The top taxpayers in America now pay the same proportion of their income in taxes as those earning less than $75,000 per year. Those taxes on the wealthy went from being more than half of their income fifty years ago to about a sixth today.

In the past three decades, the income of the richest Americans quadrupled, while the income of the lowest ninety percent actually fell. Today, the median wage is lower than it was in the 1970s, even though productivity has grown by nearly fifty percent.

All told, from the 1930s through the 1970s, America produced the biggest and richest middle class in human history. But then many of us made the mistake as I did of assuming that this had become, based on a solid society compact, the default status quo for the foreseeable future.

In fact, it was instead an aberration. And it was contingent.
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It was an aberration because we are now speedily returning (if we haven't already arrived) to the days prior to the New Deal, when the rich had everything and the middle class was small and insecure. And it was contingent because the good old days depended on a combination of elite satiation and/or a strong progressive defense of an equitable economic order.

But both have disappeared in the Age of Reagan. Today, there are seemingly no bounds conceivable to what the already astonishingly wealthy will do in order to further magnify their holdings. No suffering of the struggling middle class let alone impoverished brown people inconveniently sitting on top of desirable resources somewhere abroad represents the slightest impediment to a greed which long ago ceased to have any passing relationship with utility. We are simply talking here about sociopaths people who cannot fathom a reason to alter their predatory behavior under any circumstances, even when the lives of millions are at stake, and even when another pile of millions of dollars in their investment portfolio does nothing to improve their condition because they are already so rich to begin with.

Okay, well, that's not exactly a new thing. Unless, say, you're a geologist and you happen to think that human beings are a new thing. But what is new is that the other possible protection against the gutting of the middle and working classes that is, the existence of a progressive bulwark against greed has all but disappeared. At the level of elites, this has transpired because the Democratic Party has simply joined the GOP in becoming a corporate tool, serving the interests of Goldman Sachs and a few others, with near complete disregard for the public interest. At the mass level, Americans have embraced their own petite bourgeois form of greed, and have become stupider and Republicaner with each passing year.

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David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.  He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (, but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. His website is (more...)

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