Let’s do something about this

This video seems to be everywhere. It needs to be everywhere.

If you’re wondering about the validity of the numbers cited — if the situation is as massively skewed as the video portrays, then let me assure you the numbers check out. The facts are factual. The video is true.

This viral video is right,” Ezra Klein writes, giving it the Wonk Seal of Approval. “We need to worry about wealth inequality,” Klein says.

Well, yes, we need to “worry” about this. But worry isn’t really a substantial response, and a substantial response is what is needed here.

Just consider all the breath and ink and time wasted fretting over budget deficits and the clumsy, crude responses to deficit-panic, like “sequestration.” Then watch that video again, or look at the graph below. The massive concentration of wealth they illustrate tells you all you need to know about those deficits — that most of the wealth is piling up beyond the reach of taxation. More and more of our allegedly “runaway spending” is flowing to the 1 percent,  while less and less of our revenue is being supplied by the 1 percent.

That’s an unsustainable situation and an unsustainable trend. It calls for a response.

It requires a policy response — steps that citizens must demand and elected officials must implement. It also calls for a moral response — this is something that prophets, preachers and pundits need to be condemning. And it calls for a cultural response — from storytellers, artists, songwriters, jesters and clowns.

We’ll return to this later, but here let’s just make this an open thread to discuss potential responses — “if … then” responses. Consider that video above to be the “whereas” of our resolution. Given what that “whereas” clause tells us, what should be included in the “therefore be it resolved” section of our resolution?

Worry is appropriate but inadequate. What should we try to do about this? What can be done?

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  • What difference does it make if it’s income or other forms of wealth? Money is money.

    Not necessarily.  Not all income is liquid and able to be parlayed into influence or other things.  For example, if my parents were to liquidate all their assets, they would be millionaires, but only just.  However, that would also mean giving up their home (which they lived in for over three decades, invested a lot in to expand and make more comfortable, and raised two children in) and their investments (which are long-term, low but guaranteed return ones) and somehow remove all the money they saved and put into trust funds for retirement or their children’s education.  

    They have a lot of wealth tied up in various worthwhile places, but their income is still pretty strictly middle class, and they had to work pretty long hours and have an austere lifestyle while I was growing up just to get what built-up wealth they do have.  It helps that they were finance-savvy and had the opportunities they did to build assets for the future, but unfortunately such opportunities are not as easy to come by these days.  

  • Wait wait what? Who elected the Koch brothers to anything?

    This, exactly.

    Another thing that desperately needs to be done is to remove the inordinate amount of power rich people have over elections. I’m not sure how to do this — figuring it out will take professional analysts, I think. I like the idea of completely removing campaign contributions altogether, and having a certain percentage of ad space set aside for campaigns instead, but really I don’t know how it would work.

    One important thing, though: enforce the laws. All the laws. A rich person should not be allowed to get away with stealing millions of dollars when a poor person can’t get away with stealing a hundred. And white collar crimes on a large scale should have serious jail time in maximum security prison, along with (maybe more importantly) actually taking away the stolen money from the criminals, as well as anything else they’ve gotten because of said stolen money, and an extremely hefty fine based on percentage of wealth. They’ve ruined the lives of hundreds of people; justice and practicality both demand an accounting.

  • Edo

    Maybe I’m just cynical, but I think, at this point, things are going
    to just have to play out. The system is unsustainable, and at some point
    in the near future, things will collapse, and then we’ll be forced to

    Maybe. But if it’s cynicism, it’s my cynicism too.

    Fixing America in a timely manner is as hard as reforming the Vatican, for roughly the same reasons: power stratified enough that no low-tier action can reach high enough. Authority so concentrated that approaching it involves a lifelong commitment that makes you, and everything you do, complicit and accessory to the very problems that moved any would-be reformer to commit in the first place – with absolutely no guarantee that it’ll ever pay off, or that you’ll still care by the time you get a chance. And shepherds at the top who simply do not care about the complaints of the sheep they’re screwing, even if those complaints are oddly in human language.

    This is a time for prophetic language because the contracts/covenants that bind Above to Below are no longer in effect, and when Above and Below go separate ways the world comes apart.

  • Carstonio

    I believe that prison facilities should be only for offenders whose crimes indicate that they pose a physical danger to others. While it might be rewarding to see the Bernie Madoffs do hard time, I think the interests of society would be better served if they simply had their fortunes taken away instead, partly to pay back their victims. Perhaps if they had to work late-night shifts at 7-Elevens to support themselves.

  • fredgiblet

    All of the above.

  • SergeantHeretic

    Austerity doesn’t work. Deficit fretting doesn’t work. deregulation doesn’t work all three  things actually HURT the national economy and PREVENT prosperity and economic growth.

    The kinds of people who fret over the supposedly dire national debt are the kinds of people who do not understand how national economies work. We can watch in real time as these deficit fretters dismantle and destroy the national economy and cause recessions, depressions, and everything that goes with it and then pat themselves on the back because they’re “Being tough” and “Doing the responsible thing” and “Making the tough calls.”

    The resultant flaming wreckage that was once a national economy is then blamed on “Someonelsenotthemwhomadethemessdon’tblamethem”

    And what are the things they want to do to “Fi” the mess caused by austerity, economic lawlessness by deregulation and deficit fretting?”

    Why, funny you should ask,



  • fredgiblet

    I think making it illegal to not vote is just as dangerous as having people not voting.  We want informed voters, not people running down the list flipping coins, or people who only pay attention to the surface arguments and never look into the reality of the issues under debate.

  • fredgiblet
  • EllieMurasaki

    Australia’s democracy must have crashed and burned, then, because voting’s mandatory there.

    What’s that? It hasn’t?

  • AnonymousSam

    Australia has compulsory voting without the chaos of randomly elected officials and laws. *Whistles*

  • fredgiblet

    The problem with simply taking away the fortune is that the Old Boys Club will get them right back up soon enough.  I believe that the sentences handed down by courts should be for rehabilitation rather than punishment, but sometimes punishment is required for rehabilitation.  If you get caught committing white collar crime and all that happens is your cash is taken away it’s really not that bad, all that means is that next time you’ll be better about hiding the cash.  I feel that white collar crime, particularly crime by people who would be rich anyway, needs a response that will leave a lasting impression that deters the criminal.  I’m not entirely certain what the best route for that is, but I expect that putting them in a REAL prison with the people who can’t be allowed out during rehab may be effective.

  • Edo

    I think making it illegal to not vote is just as dangerous as having
    people not voting.

    I think it’s worse. We’re a two-party system, one of which is openly willing to actively interfere with the voting process where they imagine it would go against them – hell, Fred wrote about it here.

    If not voting had legal consequences, does anybody here seriously think that kind of obstructionism would stop? I think it’d skyrocket.

  • fredgiblet

    How vigorously is that enforced?  How many people still don’t vote?  Not trying to argue, honestly interested.

  • AnonymousSam

    I see a problem with wanting to criminalize violence, murder and rape while relying on violence, murder and rape to exist in prisons.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Which is why we get the obstacles out of place before we start putting penalties into effect–or we make the penalties nominal, say a twenty-dollar fine, and anybody caught obstructing someone’s vote has to face a stiff penalty, say a two-thousand-dollar fine. That ought to make people think twice about obstructing the vote.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Paging the resident Australians.

  • Dogfacedboy

    What about a “wealth” tax in addition to an income tax?  

  • I see no inherent reason for wealth to continuously move from the poorer to the richer in a capitalist society.

    The 1800s called, they want you back.

    Seriously, the structure of the capitalist economic system we employ in the West is not a natural phenomenon. It is maintained by a legal framework put in place as a consequence of political decisions that affect the distribution of wealth and income.

    Paul Krugman made this point quite well in one of his recent books. You would do well to read it.

  • P J Evans

    No more settlements that don’t require admission of wrongdoing, or small fines for actual crimes. Because those businesses will never learn to not do those things.

  • P J Evans

     Therefore, we shouldn’t do anything to fix the very real problems?

  • MaryKaye

    A decade ago I put some of my savings into CREF’s investment program.  As a result, one year I had some capital gains–less than a dollar.

    I did my taxes, working diligently through the worksheet for capital gains, and found out that that $0.85 in capital gains would save me over $200 in taxes.  Then I threw the worksheet away and paid the $200.

    The IRS kindly wrote to me to tell me I had done my taxes wrong, and sent back the $200.  I donated it to the reduce-the-debt fund.

    Something is HORRIBLY wrong with our tax structure.

  • Jim Roberts

    This. A choice between the guy who cozies up to the Koch brothers in private and in public and a guy who cozies up to the Koch brothers in private and excoriates them in public is, functionally, not a choice.

  • Carstonio

    Fair point. Prison space is expensive, and personally it rankles me that the state pays for room and board for people who steal millions and billions. My alternative would probably involve a legal prohibition on them obtaining a business license or borrowing money or even holding a bank account. Some way of preventing their old cronies from helping them.

  • Such a typical right-wing attitude. The Department of Defense can have as much money as it says it needs; every other government department, we can do without.

    In fairness, there is a lot that the Department of Defense has determined it does not need, and recommends not adding any more of.  However, they are not the ones who control the budget, and their recommendations can get overruled and the military over-supplied.  Ostensibly the reasoning from those who vote to increase military spending is as a jobs stimulus, since a lot of those voting to over-supply the military have home districts that manufacture military hardware and thus those dollars come home.  

    However, the issue is that many of those same people who vote for increased military spending under the reasoning of stimulating jobs seem to think that any other kind of government jobs stimulus is not only ineffective, but immoral, the money siphoned off the makers given to the takers, etc.  

    I would have more sympathy for them if their outlook was not so myopic.  They see the benefits that the government spending brings to them, but they cannot see the benefit it brings to others and the economy in general.  Perhaps they see it as a zero-sum kind of thing, the government having a finite amount of resources and they want to absorb as much as possible.  However, letting the wealth be more widely distributed grows the economy as a whole, which in turn increases the total amount of government resources to distribute.  

  • mud man

    Like the Roman Empire … when the endgame of the Republic played out, Augustus owned the whole thing, personally. After that, it was bread and circuses. Don’t you like circuses? 

  • Lori


    or people who only pay attention to the surface arguments and never look into the reality of the issues under debate. 

    Because of course people never do this in a voluntary voting system.

  • Wait wait what? Who elected the Koch brothers to anything?

    People who do not educate themselves on politicians’ lists of campaign contributors   Look for the largest sources of funding in their campaign, and trace the money back to their controlling interest.  If most of their money comes from big “dark” sources which do not report their contributors  take that as a bad sign.  

    The politicians are just the representatives of those interests, and the public needs to look beyond the figurehead to the people standing behind the throne.  Further, the public needs to continue to demand that there is no curtain behind that throne for the other figures to hide behind.  

  • AnonymousSam

    Hell, we’ve got people doing this even when they agree with the other side’s positions, because loyalty to the base trumps functional economy any day of the week.

  •  Why, then, do some governments have budget surpluses? I see no reason for why the government cannot be run like a household budget. Gridlock makes a good climate for spending cuts-look at the sequester. Quotations from my comments, please. I see no contradictions in my comments. I see absolutely nothing in your last large block of text that even remotely relates to my comment. “Creating jobs” and “helping the economy” are not the same thing.

  • fredgiblet

    Well in a system focused on rehab instead of punishment the number of people in prison would be drastically reduced, in my ideal (though half-formed) system there would likely be far less of those things in prisons, the punishment I was referring to was more being taken out of the lap of luxury for an extended period and less about casting them into the rape den.

  • fredgiblet

    I’m not sure where you’re getting that.  Care to elaborate?  I’ll be leaving for work shortly but I’ll answer when I get back.

  • There is none, or at least none that is maintained by market forces.

    Nonsense. Competition between employers for workers is (mainly) that reason.

  • fredgiblet

    The problem I see with that is that generating wealth isn’t a bad thing, the people who are good at white-collar theft can also be good at legitimate business, many of them started that way.  Preventing them from ever holding positions of power in business again prevents them from contributing as well.  As for the cost of imprisonment that can be paid with the seized money or by making the cost of imprisonment a loan (with reasonable and negotiable repayment plans) rather than a gift.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Competition between employers for workers

    Only applicable if there’s at least as many jobs as there are workers. If there’s a lot fewer jobs than workers, people will kill each other over that nickel. (Read Steinbeck sometime, it’s enlightening.)

  • Wingedwyrm

    The problem with this issue of “informed voters” vs “uninformed voters” is that information does not make the difference as to whether or not someone votes.  In fact, low information makes one more easily manipulated.

    So, a law demanding people vote wouldn’t increase the percentage of uninformed voting.  It would, however, increase the number of people elected officials have to deal with in order to get elected.

    As it stands, anyone seeking either election or re-election has to please the likely voters.  The less likely you are to vote, the less insentive they have to help you out.  And, the less help they have in helping you out, because even when those who actually desire to help the powerless get into office, they’re surrounded by those who know that it’s helping the powerful that keeps them their jobs.

    By eliminating the “not-likely to vote” category, you eliminate the “safe to ignore and/or spit upon” category.

  •  Not to worry; I support large cuts to the military as well. I see no reason for the U.S. government to have a long, large, and expensive military presence in Afghanistan unless it is fighting a war of conquest, which it isn’t.

  • fredgiblet

    “The problem with this issue of “informed voters” vs “uninformed voters” is that information does not make the difference as to whether or not someone votes. ”

    I would expect more informed people to trend more towards voting since you usually have to specifically seek out information and the effort involved implies an interest in the system.  Do you have any studies about this you can link to?

  • AnonymousSam

    You can take them out of the lap of luxury more effectively by putting them to work in the kind of circumstances the average worker has to live in — but I’m wary of that as a punishment because historically enforced work tends to become prison slavery for the poor and “cruel punishment for men who already work so hard” for the rich.

  • Nonsense. Competition between employers for workers is (mainly) that reason.

    Like Ellie said, that only happens when unemployment is very low or negative.  When unemployment is high, employers can afford to be very selective and offer very little incentives to applicants.  After all, there are other people waiting in line who would love to have that opportunity  and if someone insists on more they can just hire the next person with the same skills but lower standards.  It drives down all the averages for the people on the lower rungs of the ladder.  This kind of thing is why recovery is so slow, there is little incentive in the market forces themselves for employers to hire more people more quickly.  

    I suppose if a lot of potentially employable people engaged in a mass-suicide of sufficient magnitude to reduce the workforce to where employers would have to start competing for workers again that would solve the issue, but (and I am just speculating here) one would have a lot of difficulty convincing enough people to go along with this plan for the sake of the job market.  (e_e)

  • EllieMurasaki

    FearlessSon, next time you have the bright idea to suggest people commit suicide, TRIGGER WARNING THAT SHIT.

  • At present, there are more unemployed than there are job openings. This is because wages need to drop (even more than they have already) so employers can afford to pay a greater number of employees. Thus, my first step to increasing the employment rate would be to abolish the minimum wage.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Because *one- to two-thirds of enough to live on* is *too much*?

    What in the FUCK.

    Spend a few months on minimum wage, Enopoletus, no other support except what you can persuade the government to give you (if your political views permit you to accept government aid), and then tell me minimum wage is too high. For bonus points, do this experiment on tipped employee minimum wage of $2.13/hr, not nontipped employee minimum wage of $7.25/hr.

  • FearlessSon, next time you have the bright idea to suggest people commit suicide, TRIGGER WARNING THAT SHIT.

    My apologies Ellie.  I thought my eye-roll was an indication that I was being facetious.   

  •  Some good here (“Implement a small fee on every stock purchase/sale”‘, “Oh – and ban sitting politicians and their families from investing while
    in office. No stock purchases. No business investments. Their financial
    world gets frozen while in office.”), some bad (“Raise minimum wage and peg it to inflation”). http://www.aei-ideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/minwage1.jpg

  • EllieMurasaki

    I missed the eyeroll. It’d be beside the point anyhow. Suicide gets a trigger warning. Full stop.

  • At present, there are more unemployed than there are job openings. This is because wages need to drop (even more than they have already) so employers can afford to pay a greater number of employees. Thus, my first step to increasing the employment rate would be to abolish the minimum wage.

    Sadly, even at the minimum wage we have now, it is difficult or impossible to meet living expenses even working full-time.  How do you propose fixing that?  

  • They can already afford it. That’s not what’s stopping them. What’s stopping them is lack of demand — they don’t need more workers than they have, so they have no reason to hire more.

  • Except it doesn’t work that way. There’s no actual evidence that raising the minimum wage to $9 or $10 an hour will increase unemployment, and people have studied that quite a bit.

  • Does Australia also have a two-party system where one party has given up on objective reality altogether and has adopted an institutional policy based on vote suppression and a lot of ending sentences with “Or the hostage gets it”?

  • My intention was to describe more of a “Soylent Green” scenario.  But given that we have a representative democracy, I doubt many people would voluntarily vote for a policy that requires their death.  I apologize if that was unclear or triggering.