Annals of Greed: The Ever Fattening of the 1%

One of the problems with greed is that it knows no bounds. In 1985 the top 1% of the Americans received 12% of the income and controlled 33% of the wealth. Now the figures are 25% and 40%. respectively. This is not a good thing…and not only from a notion of fairness. It’s a bad thing, also, because of what happens to nations when the distribution of wealth is so skewed.

Such is the warning that Joseph Stiglitz brings us in his article, “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%,” in the current issue of Vanity Fair. One of several money quotes in a money article:

The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.

And the consequences?

In recent weeks we have watched people taking to the streets by the millions to protest political, economic, and social conditions in the oppressive societies they inhabit. Governments have been toppled in Egypt and Tunisia. Protests have erupted in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. The ruling families elsewhere in the region look on nervously from their air-conditioned penthouses—will they be next? They are right to worry. These are societies where a minuscule fraction of the population—less than 1 percent—controls the lion’s share of the wealth; where wealth is a main determinant of power; where entrenched corruption of one sort or another is a way of life; and where the wealthiest often stand actively in the way of policies that would improve life for people in general.

As we gaze out at the popular fervor in the streets, one question to ask ourselves is this: When will it come to America? In important ways, our own country has become like one of these distant, troubled places.

Interesting times at the end of the empire.

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