Wealth buys less lifestyle, more power

By Edward Hadas
April 2, 2014

Many serious people think economic inequality in the United States and other developed economies should be a hot political topic. But the general public hardly cares. There is a bad reason behind lack of public interest.

President Barack Obama said last December that a “dangerous and growing inequality” is “the defining issue of our time,” but the most recent Gallup poll suggests that view is not widely shared. Only 3 percent of Americans chose the “gap between rich and poor” as the country’s “most important problem” and 4 percent went for poverty. Unemployment scored 19 percent.

The American indifference is surprising because the measured increase in inequality there has been relatively large by international standards, to judge from the recent Chartbook of Economic Inequality from the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School. But the lack of concern is widespread. Neither help-the-poor nor soak-the-rich politicians have gained much traction in any rich country.

Debilitating economic inequality is in fact diminishing on a planetary scale. Each year, fewer people have to live without the basic economic goods of adequate food, clean water, decent housing and clothing, electricity and so forth. More people are experiencing a middle-class lifestyle. Almost every year, the gap between average incomes in developing and developed countries narrows.

However, the Chartbook shows that income and wealth are both increasingly concentrated at the top of society in countries from Canada to Germany. Why is the rest of the population not burning with indignation? The best explanation is that the statistics are misleading. In developed economies, actual consumption is not becoming more unequal to the degree suggested by most widely cited measures.

The pretax income numbers ignore the equalising forces built into modern economies. Taxes fall somewhat more heavily on the rich and benefits add more to the effective income of the poor. Many important goods and services are available universally, either by government fiat or in practice, because everyone has enough money to afford them. The lifestyle of a single mother on welfare is a million miles away from that of Bill Gates. But they use the same roads and can watch the same shows on television. They both have access to sophisticated healthcare.

The focus on widening differences in incomes diverts attention from the central trend: actual lifestyles are improving at roughly the same pace from top to bottom. The economic logic of mass production ensures that new products spread rapidly through the whole population. The rich may have fancier phones earlier than the poor, but in a few years almost everyone can take almost equal advantage of the network.

Of course, the rich always live better than the middle classes, in material terms. And in dollar terms, the top 10 percent may have pulled away a bit in recent years. However, the lifestyle gap has not widened very much. On both the poorer and richer sides of the divide, most people’s consumption has increased along with the advances in technology and the development of services.

The rich, though, were already about as comfortable as possible when the income gap started to widen. So there was little space to increase the distance from the rest. Most of their additional income has gone into investments. Some was given away and the rest was spent on fripperies which add almost nothing to the actual quality of life. So the wealth gap has widened more than the lifestyle gap.

The increase in this aspect of inequality is far from harmless. Those additional investments and donations have bought additional power. The more money people have to fling around, the greater their influence on legislators, jurists, and charitable and educational institutions. They can shape tax laws and push companies to favour shareholders – that is themselves – over customers and workers.

More insidiously, the ultra-rich can fund foundations and think tanks and back publications which help shape the public debate. Hedge fund billionaires, Bill Gates and the Koch brothers can make themselves heard over the crowd.

There is nothing historically unusual in the proximity of wealth and power. However, the two were supposed to be separated in modern democracies. These societies are founded on the principles of equality – among voters, before the law and in the world of ideas.

The latest economic trends may not add to actual economic inequality, but they threaten to undermine completely the more important civic equality. Even if most citizens hardly notice the loss, the gains of prosperity should be distributed more evenly.

32 comments

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The author is dillusional. To think that income inequality has had no affect on peoples lifestyles is ludacris. The poorest half of our country have seen there benefits cut, there salaries adjusted for inflation have gone down, and there debt levels have increased, while having to work more hours.

Mr. Hadas is a true Western elitist propogandist. But im not suprised by his rosy assessment of our society.

Posted by KyleDexter | Report as abusive

The root of this is the Supreme Court failed in applying the appropriate test to the fundamental right of free speech. Even fundamental rights give way under compelling government interests…and here there is a compellling governmental interest in limiting the power of money to subvert the political process. But when you have a court defined more by politics than by legality this is the result you get. In 50 years we will look back and view this court as a mistaken aberration based on the failed political discourse of the time.

Posted by dcayman | Report as abusive

“The pretax income numbers ignore the equalising forces built into modern economies. Taxes fall somewhat more heavily on the rich and benefits add more to the effective income of the poor.”

Yeah, I’m sure the poor appreciate how much Romney’s 13% tax rate is helping them.

Posted by JRTerrance | Report as abusive

I think Mr. Hadas has good points here. If you poll the actual US population, inequality would score low. Keep in mind that if Joe & JosĂ© six-pack have their six-pack and flat screen, they are content. They do not watch or read the news or vote. They do not know who their elected officials are. Most can’t even point to where they are on a globe.
Inequality is a major topic in the learned and elite parts of the population. I don’t think it’s about financial jealousy as Mr. Romney insinuated, but about power. The less wealthy realize that they have no say in matters, no power. The top elite don’t even think about money in the same sense as the rest of us, it’s just power to them.
This country was founded on equality and democracy. The learned folks are realizing that elite have become so powerful that those principles have been mostly lost. History has many examples of this occurring, with just as many results. This will of course be different. We are now in the beginnings of a global economy, and a change in world leadership from the USCA to China. It will be interesting to see what actually happens to the infamous American middle class in the next 20 years.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

The inequality and the unemployment are tied together. The 1% offshore their factories, they favor capital intensive over labor intensive investments, they fight redistribution through taxes and ‘handouts’, they obliterate competition through being first to market. So the surveyed just failed to apply their mind to the cause of unemployment – had they done so, it would have been at 19% too.

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive

Kyle, learn to spell my friend. Ludacris is a mediocre performing rapper last I checked…

This is exactly right. Mr. Hadas explains why the middle class are not staging a revolt, and at the same time points out the fact of increasing power of the wealthy. Once the managerial class take away our social contract as negotiated by our grandparents, who fought two world wars for the elites of our countries, perhaps then we will not think it “no big deal” that wealth inequality has been exploding these past decades as the rich systematically loot the system.

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive

“They both have access to sophisticated healthcare.” Really? I don’t even have kids to support and a 3-night hospital stay would have me in bankruptcy court the day after.

Posted by minderbinder | Report as abusive

Middle class may be doing better over the long haul than commonly thought, see data and interpretation at: http://unrepentantcapitalist.blogspot.co m/

Posted by jambrytay | Report as abusive

I think the headline says it all – they rich not entitled to power in a democracy – that belongs to the people. The rich are entitled to a better lifestyle but they are already have the best lifestyle possible. 100% death tax on amounts over $5 million.

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive

100% death tax on amounts over $5 million! couldn’t agree more

Posted by wiscottie | Report as abusive

Citizens can be divided into an investing class and a consuming class. Since Reaganomics started, the benefits of productivity increases have gone disproportionately to the investing class. The super abundance of investment money has produced bubbles, for example the “toxic mortgage” bubble of 2008, when lacking enough solid investments, Wall Street created unsolid investments with fancy names.

If more of that wealth created by productivity increases had gone to the consuming class, the economy would be much stronger and less volatile. Indeed the average Happiness Index would be higher.

Neither inequality or much else will change until we have a more rational tax code.

Posted by Bristlecone | Report as abusive

I guess once in a while even Mr. Hadas gets off track when giving good facts due consideration. “…modern democracies…are founded on the principles of equality – among voters, before the law and in the world of ideas.”?

Please. “In the beginning” only colonial men of property had a vote. As a direct result America’s electoral “system” both presumed and required informed voters. Such citizens exercised necessary control over their government via the elective process. Today anyone and everyone can vote, and emotion delivers far more votes than common sense.

Our public educational system is now comprised exclusively of union teachers whose uncontested and inappropriate priorities are marvels of liberal indoctrination yet incapable of conveying functional or financial literacy. Approximately one-third of our young people are found unacceptable for military service due to physical or mental inadequacy.

These drones daily prove themselves incapable of educating the growing number of young sociopaths from “low income” homes, who increasingly drop out or graduate as functional illiterates utterly unprepared for meaningful employment. A frightening number of college graduates today are unable to balance a checkbook, live within a budget, find a paying job, or establish a lasting relationship with a mate.

We already have a country where the “poor” drive. All their children have cell phones. “School” related lunch programs and SNAP benefits assure no one starves. TV provides them more and better entertainment at all hours of the day and night than was available to royalty less than a century ago. Yet discontent and anger simmer and occasionally overflow.

Our government is increasingly comprised of unelected, incompetent and unaccountable unionized bureaucracies spawned by “New Deal” liberals. They are much more interested in “stirring the pot” and increasing their own number and influence than any useful service to “we, the people” that pay them.

It should come as no surprise that almost half of those entitled to vote take more from our economy than they contribute. Those sponging off productive society can literally vote themselves a raise. In such context “civic equality” would likely dissolve forever the unique economic miracle long admired, envied and endlessly studied by others known as America.

So, on a world-wide basis, with ALL Americans having already won the “lottery of birth”, the “gains of prosperity should be distributed more evenly”? Those who truly believe that nonsense might be happier living among others of like mind in one of Europe’s “social democracies”.

Horatio Alger remains the appropriate American example.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

The world, our culture, has always been evolving and continues to do so. That’s simply part of the human experience. We have the power to shape that evolution, bound only by man’s limitations. We shape our evolution through the decisions that we make. One of the most important decisions we will make will be how to share the earth’s resources. Is it really a good idea to shape our future by allowing just a few people to expend most of the earth’s resources so that they can become enormously wealthy? And this while the rest of the world struggles to exist? Is that really a fair and wise use of our resources? What does it say when the 85 richest people have more wealth than 3.5 billion people?

Few would argue that a person who works hard and makes good use of his or her brain deserves to make more money than a person who sits around on his a_s. But they shouldn’t have the right to make all the rules that determine the world’s future, rules that benefit them at the expense of the rest of us, rules that include the use of all the world’s resources primarily to make them very rich. It’s our world, too. We matter, too. Let’s not cede our power to the ultra rich, because that’s what we’ll be doing if we don’t stand up and demand a more equitable distribution of the use of the world’s resources, and demand that they get their corrupting money out of our government so we can have a true representative democracy once again.

Posted by carnivalchaos | Report as abusive

@carnivalchaos has two points
- Should the wealthy be so wealthy
- Should they be able to make all the rules.
Most all comments on this subject seem to follow one or both of his points.

@OOTS’s opinion and my own is that ALL people should not be able to make all the rules either. The vast majority of “all” are not informed and generally ignorant. They will hurt the country with their votes.

So should the wealthy be allowed to be so wealthy? Sure, why not. As long as the majority of people are not suffering; and they’re NOT as Mr. Hadas points out s they are not revolting.
Should they be able to make all the rules? Absolutely not. They too would destroy the country.

Who should make all the rules?
I say the learned people should. I believe that is exactly why our founding fathers created the electoral college in our constitution. Those individuals should be charged with determining who the leaders should be based on their research of the opinion f the learned people in their districts.
I would though amend the constitution to ensure that not only are the politicians not allowed to be electors, but that the top 5% of the wealthiest people are also banned form the position.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

Sorry about the typos. :-(

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

To add to my last post:
The SCOTUS is anally retentive, so extreme donations are not corruption. They are technically right. This recent decision is primarily based on the concept that contributing money to a campaign is a form of free speech. That’s arguable, was argued, and we lost again due to anal lawyers.
Since SCOTUS job is to interpret the constitution, then to fix this issue we need to clarify it for them. Meaning it will require a constitutional amendment.
Can we get an amendment passed on clarifying “Free Speech”? Unfortunately it would have about the same chance as campaign finance reform and term limits.
It always seems to boil down to that. So the people need to demand a referendum vote on the next presidential election ballot, or stage a revolution.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

tmc: Bear in mind that the gist of my post is about how we shape our future. With that in mind, I take issue with your response.

You seem to be advocating the system that we currently have with the addition of taking away the freedom and liberties of those who don’t measure up to some intelligence test, a test or measurement to be designed by the few who are in charge. Yes, if people don’t get a say in how they are governed, they surrender essential freedoms and liberties. It’s actually the direction we’re currently headed in, where a few control the government and decide how we expend the earth’s resources. It’s already clear that the primary goal of such an arrangement will be to enhance the wealth of the few at the expense of the many. That is why we have such a disparity in wealth where 85 people have as much wealth as 3.5 billion. I find that statistic jaw dropping and should be a call to arms.

Take the US healthcare system. This is a system primarily designed by a relative few healthcare and insurance titans whose objective is their personal wealth, rather than designing a system that offers all people healthcare as efficiently and cost effectively as possible. This is an example of why it is NOT a good idea to allow just a few people to A.) make the rules for everyone else, and B.) to build unlimited amounts of personal wealth. It was designed by those you would consider to be the “learned people”. Without the right limits and regulations in place, the “learned people” become the greedy overlords. It’s happened again and again throughout history.

If we are to have a future at all, we must go forward in a way that allows all people a reasonable standard of living and a say in how we are governed. Why should just a few well-connected people have the right to expend the world’s limited resources to make themselves rich and to allow them to govern over the rest of us in a way that advances their interests at the expense of everyone else?

I think we need to do a better job of shaping our future, one that is smarter, more efficient in how we use our resources, and that does a better job of distributing the earth’s resources so that all mankind benefits from those resources, rather than just a few getting the most benefit. I’m not saying the world hasn’t benefited from the extraction and refining of our oil, for example. I’m saying we can do a much better, a more efficient, job of distributing those resources, how we use them, and the money to be made from them. Having all the money go to a few is not smart nor is it ethical.

I’ll repeat what I said in my earlier post, I’m a strong advocate of a system that encourages people to develop themselves and to be rewarded accordingly. But if you allow the same few people who have made the most money to be the ones who make the rules, they will make those rules to benefit themselves at everyone elses expense, as we’re seeing. This arrangement squanders our limited resources, gives little incentive to protect our planet, and guarantees abuse for personal gain, again, as we’re seeing today.

I admit that I’m not clear on what exactly your post is saying. It’s a little confusing to me. I’m not sure if you’re putting the wealthiest people in charge or not. I’m taking issue with the way America practices capitalism. It’s not an efficient or equitable way of using the planet’s limited resources. I think we can design a better system that utilizes the strengths of capitalism while keeping its weaknesses in check. But we first have to recognize that our current practice of free market capitalism has weaknesses. We need a better structure, one that does a better job of 1.) protecting our planet; 2.) of making more efficient use of our limited resources, and 3.) is more equitable in the distribution of those resources and the money they make.

I don’t agree that people aren’t suffering because of our current system. I think I’m accurate in saying we’re seeing both the strengths and weaknesses of capitalism as it’s now practiced. Yes, in general it has helped to lift great numbers of the world’s people out of abject poverty. But we’re also seeing an unacceptably heavy price being paid in the harm being done to our planet. Also, millions are seeing their standard of living decline while a few gather the majority of wealth. Resources are becoming scarce, like food and clean water. This is the trend of the future, a trend I am arguing must be altered. Are oceans are dying. We are causing the earth’s climate to change at a destructively rapid rate. In short, we don’t utilize our resources for what is best for the human race and our planet. We utilize our resources to make a few very, very wealthy. That must stop.

Posted by carnivalchaos | Report as abusive

Sorry, “OUR” oceans are dying, a statement, not a question.

Posted by carnivalchaos | Report as abusive

carnivalchaos: Thanks for your response. I’ve admitted several times that I’m not a great writer and able to articulate my thoughts well.
I don’t think that anyone should be banned from voting. I’m saying that our system is actually very good but should be used more than it is. Our electors are hidden from public view and the vast majority just follow a policy with no input of their own. Making them just a formality that adds no value. I believe they should add value as they did two hundred years ago. Then it was due to poor national and even state level communications. Now it is due to the opposite. I agree with virtually every word you said in your response. If you check my past posts, you’ll see I too think American capitalism is in dire need of serious changes. I can also see your point that the people are suffering, but I think the counter point is that most of them don’t know it, or think they are merely for reasons of jealousy. If we are to help those people and society in general we need to change many things. The 21st century and globalization provide extraordinarily complex issues. We need to significantly change not our form of government (A Republic), nor the framework (The constitution) but the implementation and regulation of it. I’ve even gone as far as moving closer to the Chinese form that is now proving its wisdom.

I am well traveled man. I have seen much suffering in the world. There are few if any in the United States that are suffering that haven’t chosen to of their own (sick) volition. Just because someone has less of a living standard than another does not make suffering. Also, in this new century, wealth is not what it used to be. The 1% do not have giant vaults of cash that they swim in at night. They are in control of large parts of the economy. I don’t see the need to limit that, as long as our government is strong and firmly in control. I’m sure they would provide for a wise regulatory that ensured the safety and fairness of capitalism. We just don’t have that any more. Actually, I think we only had it for a short time between the ’30s and ’70s. As for health care I support a single payer or socialized system. Capitalism fails in things like health care, education, national defense, and parts of the national infrastructure. I think that includes energy, as many other countries have found.
So, as I said earlier;
Should the wealthy make all the rules? No. That leads to Oligarchy.
But to OOTS point, should All and Only the people make all the rules? No. That is a pure democracy and those fail quickly too just as pure socialism and communism do. Our republic was designed to ensure that the wealthy did not gain all the power, that the government would not gain all the power, and that the people would not destroy it with their own selfishness. We just don’t seem to remember that very often as the wealthy have gained the upper hand and spew so much misinformation that the people are complacent. I would say that at least 90% of the population does not know we are a republic, not a democracy. Our republic can stay the power of the wealthy, but not with jealousy caused by human nature fueled with misinformation.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

Fairness. Even children in a school yard know what is fair. If one child is always selected to get the ball, then the other children call foul. Or do they? In society, the wealthier kids are deemed smarter and better looking simply by a measure of their family’s financial standing. This is contrary to what we are to believe to be the condition in a democracy, but this is the human condition, not driven by economics, but by class. Is there any doubt that the rich kids will not end up on death row? Is this a measure of wealth or more appropriately the measure of power which is a manifestation of wealth in any society? The vast majority of those without power do not cry until the pain is so great that what they have to lose is less then what they have to gain. Revolutions are not driven by a content people. The lack of focus on the issue of growing inequity by the masses is simply that we have not yet reached a tipping point that yields desperate people in the street.

Posted by Voice101 | Report as abusive

Mr. Hadas, you say, “But the general public hardly cares.” The truth is that most Americans have their heads in the sand and don’t realize that the rest of the world is getting better with OUR taxpayer, 401k, donations and consumer dollars at OUR expense. Our infrastructure, including schools, are failing. Our retail, entertainment, health and every other supposed choice is controlled by a few people around the globe. Half of us lost half of the value of our 401K and homes to the top 1% global financial elite in the Wall Street manipulated housing meltdown yet many are saying, “I’m getting it back.” Yes, until the next Wall Street manipulated meltdown to send even more money to the top. This is creating kings and peons and, unless Americans want to live in the middle ages, people had better wake up and vote in their best interests to restore democracy in America. We can’t help others if our strength continues to be siphoned away by the financial elite.

Posted by njglea | Report as abusive

Aristocracy has been the historical rule and the SCOTUS decision merely brought this country into conformity with it.

The majority of voters have voted their economic interests in the country since its inception and by so doing reduced almost everyone to “chump change”.

The SCOUTU decision regarding unlimited campaign financing effectively builds a permanent inherited aristocracy in this country that will control the military and the key positions of global corporations unless tax laws are adjusted to take back the accumulation of wealth and influence that will flow to the top. That decision could actually make both political parties irrelevant or render them as anything more than window dressing or an accent of the dominant way of global governance. It actually has been more or less the rule since WWII and now it is irreversible.

The raising of living standards as per the UN’s Millennium Development Goals has resulted in standardization of lifestyles, but at the cost of voter participation in any real alternative and merely reinforces the historical model.

The only thing left to make the trend perfectly obvious to everyone will be for Congress to device a form of “Patents of Nobility” that can somehow by-pass the Constitutional prohibition against that.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

tmc: Sorry for my misunderstanding. Like you, I, too, would advocate keeping our Republic and our Constitution. I don’t think that’s where the problem lies. I don’t think a pure democracy can work unless with a small body of people. Certainly not with a country our size.

There’s two basic problems with America, and they’re closely related: Our election system, which allows the extremely rich to control our government, and our free market capitalist system, which allows those same people to control how wealth is distributed, directing most of the wealth to themselves. It also has the added pernicious outcome of wasteful expending of earth’s finite natural resources and is damaging the planet’s eco-system.

Our capitalist system rewards those who can extract and burn through our resources at the fastest rate. Exxon, for example, makes enormous profits because it produces enormous amounts of oil. There’s no incentive to make efficient use of that oil. Quite the opposite. Likewise, there’s little incentive to make safety a priority, as we’ve learned with the BP Oil spill. Safety regulations are systematically ignored. Most oil spills get little attention and may subject a company to a relatively small fine. Also, since there’s so much money to be made in oil (and there’s an extremely powerful oil lobby), there’s little incentive to develop alternative forms of energy. To put it in stark terms, in our system the profits to be made by a few are more important than the health of our planet and the well-being of the human race. This shouldn’t be.

We CAN make better, more efficient use of our resources, and alternative forms of energy need to be made a higher priority. We CAN do a better job of how wealth is distributed. (As you correctly point out, we’ve done that before. Paintcan correctly points out one way, through taxation, and we can also legislate higher wages, something unions used to do for us.) And we can, and must, get the corrupting influence of money out of our elections. We should adopt publicly financed elections; reform how we design congressional districts (no gerrymandering); and place a ban on allowing congressman to leave Congress and go to high paying jobs with companies they’ve passed favorable legislation for. We need to dismantle the lobbying industry. If Congressmen need information to make educated decisions on legislation, they don’t need lobbyists to get it.

Posted by carnivalchaos | Report as abusive

@Oneofthesheep Brilliant post, however, in the age of attention spans that can only handle 140 characters or less, let me summarize the issue:

Americans are fat, dumb, lazy. Long as they have the latest toys, pop culture gossip, & social media, nothing else matters to them.

Posted by FlamingLiberal | Report as abusive

One last point, then I’ll shut up (until next time :O) If anyone has any doubts about what I’m saying in the above posts, at least regarding the current dynamics of wealth and power, consider how we’ve recovered from the recent economic collapse. The stock market is at record highs. US companies have been making record profits, at least the large multi-nationals. The politically active multi-millionaires and billionaires, the plutocrats, have rebounded nicely. Their wealth-garnering ways have returned. The top 1% have made 95% of the gains. The top 10% of earners took home more than half of the country’s total income, the highest recorded level EVER. Is there anyone left out there who doesn’t believe that this is by design? Let me spell it out. These extremely wealthy plutocrats exert their influence on our government so that the laws and regulations guarantee they maximize their wealth while sacrificing the economic well-being of everyone else. The 1% can do this because they’re represented in our government. The 99% no longer have representation in our government, so there’s no one looking after their interests. The latest economic reports state that employment has ticked up, but wages have fallen.

If anyone thinks this is going to get resolved on it’s own they’re delusional. The plutocrats will continue advancing their economic interests by advancing their influence. The government will continue bending to the sway wielded by the plutocrats’ money. And the American people will continue their decline. We have one option open to us and that’s for us to take responsibility for our Republic and its future, OUR future, and get involved in whatever way is necessary to fix our broken and corrupt system. If it means taking to the streets, then so be it. And I’d argue that it does.

http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/0 9/10/the-rich-get-richer-through-the-rec overy/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/sta tements/2014/jan/22/joe-scarborough/scar borough-top-1-took-95-gains-under-obama/

Posted by carnivalchaos | Report as abusive

I want to modify my comment slightly – Aristocracy may be the rule in history, but even they can become idiots and self-serving pigs, especially if they succeed completely in controlling the government. Everything in life is prone to decay. In the old world they were the commander class and could be wiped out as easily as those who did the actually fighting and they were also expected to pay for their armies – the reason historical aristocracies paid low or no taxation. They were prone vulnerable to social revolution, if the upper class failed in their duty to the nation, and disease could seriously threaten them as anyone else and allowed lower ranks to rise to fill the gaps.

But Mr. Hadas is onto something with his assertion that wealthy people don’t have to enlarge a lifestyle. You really don’t have to gild a lily. Money is power and it takes knowledge and skill to use it well. But modern businessmen don’t really have to be all that exceptionally brilliant to be in business, do they? Are Zuckerberg or Bezos brilliant or are they just getting silly, or overextended?

But it takes a government not in thrall to money to be able to stand as an independent and disinterested critic of both wealth and power to prevent the powerful and wealthy from controlling everything to their own advantage and actively encouraging the conditions among the less wealthy and even impoverished, that some comments here despise. But charitable giving may be fine and serves as a tax not otherwise levied. But it isn’t enough.

It was a healthy and growing middle class that I grew up in and what really kept this society alive for a few decades. This is not an agricultural or even major industrial economy anymore and that leaves only an investor economy and the services to support them. Actually, wretched excess in the form of buildings and consumer goods is an employer and about the only thing to do with money other than reinvest it. What alternative is there now in an economy that needs fewer people as workers?

It is too stupidly smug to suggest that all those made redundant by the modern economy, or were never able to rise in it, were made so by the inadequacies of the economic system. They forget that not all human beings can handle stress well. And each way of life has it’s own kinds of stresses. Stresses can be a killer and can make all other good adaptations useless if they are too severe.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Fairness. Even children in a school yard know what is fair. If one child is always selected to get the ball, then the other children call foul. Or do they? In society, the wealthier kids are deemed smarter and better looking simply by a measure of their family’s financial standing. This is contrary to what we are to believe to be the condition in a democracy, but this is the human condition, not driven by economics, but by class. Is there any doubt that the rich kids will not end up on death row? Is this a measure of wealth or more appropriately the measure of power which is a manifestation of wealth in any society? The vast majority of those without power do not cry until the pain is so great that what they have to lose is less then what they have to gain. Revolutions are not driven by a content people. The lack of focus on the issue of growing inequity by the masses is simply that we have not yet reached a tipping point that yields desperate people in the street.

Posted by Voice101 | Report as abusive

Excuse me – I made a mistake in the last paragraph, I meant to say…

“It is too stupidly smug to suggest that all those made redundant by the modern economy, or were never able to rise in it, were not ALSO made so by the inadequacies of the economic system.”

In other words, if there is no room for them due to economic slowdowns, or even due to criminal activities on the part of the masters of the economic system, not much they do will work anyway. The country can become a casino rigged in favor of those already in positions of influence and they can be ruthless bastards.

As La Rouchefoucauld said: “It isn’t enough one succeeds others must fail”. I’m sure many self styled “winners” believe that adage to the heart of their rotten souls.

The wealthier one gets, and the more power one has at one’s personal disposal, the more one can become a living piece of human excrement. Films like “Wolf of Wall Street” may decry the excesses of the new rich who rise without the proper “finish” but also ignored how many of the older experienced rich were doing the same thing but were far more discrete because they had more experience and were better insulated by “friends in high places”.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Whoa… first of all, people aren’t ‘indifferent’ to income inequality or its consequences. The reason that the general public is less concerned about income inequality than they are, say, unemployment, is that they are impacted directly and immediately by unemployment, and they actually understand *how* they are impacted. Conversely, the long-term implications of an esoteric, socio-economic problem like growing income inequality doesn’t register with the average person – they’re not economists, and they have more immediate concerns to study and solve.

“On both the poorer and richer sides of the divide, most people’s consumption has increased along with the advances in technology and the development of services.” – Hadas

I’m really stunned by logic here. It’s not the ability or inability to consume luxury items like phones – or buy political influence – that determines whether income inequality is a problem or not; it’s the inability to save, prepare financially for retirement and secure access to quality healthcare once people leave the workforce. We have a rapidly growing number of people who will not be able to afford their later years, which lowers quality of life and places an incredible economic burden on our social system.

Posted by HitGirl | Report as abusive

@Paintcan,

I know you believe in no “universal truths”, but that only makes you less certain of ANYTHING than the rest of us.

Today’s idea that “everyone gets a trophy” just for showing up merely reduces the value of that trophy to NOTHING. For people to be “above average” in learning, earning, even contentment and/or happiness there MUST be those “below average. It’s not anyone’s “criminal intent” that makes this so, it’s just some rather simple facts of life one either accepts or gets run over by.

Did the inventor of the mechanized loom set out to throw thousands and thousands out of work during the industrial revolution? Of course not. They just wanted to better their own personal lot in life. Cheaper clothes for most everyone was likely unintended consequence, not a goal.

There are expenses and consequences associated with almost everything anyone does, sometimes obvious, sometimes not. If you’re going to make an omelette, you’re going to have to break some eggs.

Transportation changing from horses to automobiles, streets will be cleaner and less slick (hazard reduction). Design, construction and maintenance of necessary infrastructure will put far more people to work building paved roads, bridges and freeways than become unemployed (like farriers, coach makers, saddle makers, whip makers).

People needed not the same as those thrown out of work? So it has always been and will always be. All are NOT “created equal” and all do NOT succeed. There is also an element of luck in both success and failure.

One who conducts themselves “admirably” always has more who want to see them succeed and those who seek every advantage giving no quarter always have many knives at their back should they ever falter in stride.

An “economic system” is what it is and we each participate well or poorly. To call it “criminal” or “inadequate” is silly…such undesirable attributes associate with homo sapiens.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

We’re two down. First, the American people lost Congress to the super-wealthy, and now we’ve lost the Supreme Court to same. The wealthiest are the most powerful. Until now, they’ve had to hide their governmental control to some degree, but open season has just been announced by way of the new SC ruling – and just in time for the 2016 Presidential election. Political corruption and the “appearance of corruption” will become a point of pride from here on out.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

Sorry OOTS – I forget to check this thread.

I was raised on “universal truths” and they are all embarrassing now. Since neither of us knows what the full extent of the universe may consider “the truth”, I don’t know how either of us could be certain we know it either.

The minute one talks or writes about “universal truths” and I haven’t heard one out of you yet, it’s astounding how provincial they tend to look.

The biggest “miracle” this country had going for it was an untapped continent open for development. It was never alone in industrial sophistication and was even behind Europe for most of the 19th century and even into the 20th. Their stratification of income and their class structure may have preserved cultural standards but also embroiled them in numerous wars. The old class structure had the s__t kicked out of them frequently and it wiped out vast numbers of their populations too. Maybe the only universal truth it could possible illustrate is; It stinks to be a wretched human being that, because it is the top of the food chain, can only eat itself if it ever wants to go higher?

But every country has an enormous ego and always thinks the sun rises and sets on it’s wonderful self alone. They almost always think they are the center of the universe.

We don’t have to he untapped resources to the extent there once were and they must serve and enormously larger population that also demands all the things you despise the unworthy having. And you resent the fact that things and consumer goods don’t get you the degree of lifestyle grandeur and status you think you deserve. But without all those unworthies buying those things and consuming those goods, this economy would shrink to far smaller numbers and those worthy inventors may not actually have to produce those products at all. There would be far fewer very wealthy people.

There have been criminal economic systems or have you forgotten your earliest comments and arguments with me regarding your assertion that the Taliban were the modern equivalent of the Third Reich? Both of them believed/believe they represented universal truths too.

But I definitely agree with Hadas that megawealth can dominate public policy and will succeed. But I also anticipate that power will not be nearly as satisfying as they might think. The wealthy aren’t head and shoulders superior to everyone else in this country and aren’t the wisest and brightest. I still enjoy reading about the lives of the rich and powerful and they can be sophisticated business men – that comes with experience and exposure to that way of life- but can still be garbage as human beings. Leona Helmsley and Donald Trump aren’t somehow the aristocratic type, are they? Some old European aristocrats were idiots, actually, they just learned the social ropes and knew how to flatter each other.

Single minded purpose may get them what they want, but that single mindedness can also rob them of what it meant to be a human being capable of governing a country without antagonizing it to the point of open revolt, or more subtly, of resigned dissatisfaction and even subversion. Ancient Roman history – one of my favorites- is such a good text on how an unbalance of wealth and power can destroy a civilization. Those who lived it also said that, frequently and we even patterned this government with that history and more recent European history, for issues the Romans could never understand, with all of that history in mind. The early republic didn’t have such vast differences in wealth, as a rule. Only the slave states engaged in European scale displays of wealth and land acquisition.

There is no such thing as absolute power and even the disenfranchised can make life miserable for those who claim too much power. They are almost guaranteed to. N.Korea may be the tiny exception but they also live on a reservation of their own making and delude themselves they are really powerful at all. They have to be brutal to any form of descent but that power rests mostly on self-delusion. The government has to work to edit it’s failures and kill off or imprison anyone who isn’t blindly enthralled.

Maybe the only honest and good government is one that can never claim it got there. But if only the very wealthy are allowed to control the seats of power in this country, they will do what the underfunded and ignorant would do anyway. They will rape the rest of the population and use them in proxy wars until they run out of “the expendables” and go after each other directly. Roman history was one disgusting blood bath after another and so was aristocratic European, Chinese, and Russia history etc. And their aristocratic traditions even made it expedient to make sure the ignorant and powerless stayed that way. It was so much more predictable and manageable for them to keep social conditions that way.

I’m almost certain this country is going to go the same way because there are no new territories – except perhaps the sea to get away from it all and start fresh.

BTW – I’m getting reports for Seasteading and they are serious now and want to have a community ready by 2020. But the construction costs are Manhattan scale. They are talking $500/sq.ft and there were too many unverified $1,000,000 ancillary development costs to claim that number will stay even that low.

Maybe they should consider having their platforms built in a much cheaper developing country. The structures aren’t that sophisticated. But it isn’t going to be wagons to the prairies from the looks of it.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive