Archive for Monday, January 10, 2011


Everyday Life: Nobody’s an island

January 10, 2011


In 1970 the richest 1 percent of all Americans made 9 percent of the nation’s income. Forty years later, the richest 1 percent of all Americans makes over 24 percent of the nation’s income. I.e., in 40 years the average wealth of the super-rich has gone from 11 to 31.5 times the average wealth of the rest of us. The gap between the super-rich and the middle is huge and getting more huge.

Meanwhile, according to a recent UNICEF report on child inequality in 24 relatively wealthy countries, on all but one measure the U.S. ranked in the bottom quarter (we managed to rank 13th in math literacy) and was dead last overall, below Greece and Italy. This report measured the distance between the very poor and the middle. The gap between the bottom and the middle is huge and getting more huge.

Which means the gap between the super-rich and the poor is inconceivable. And we have more poor than before — the percent of kids living in poverty has gone from 15 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2010.

Contrast this with a potlatch: the responsibility of a really, really rich person is to have a big ceremony and give lots of stuff away to lots of people. The higher your status, the more you are supposed to give away. This is how the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest handled inequality; many other indigenous people around the world have similar customs. Here in America, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are mobilizing their fellow super-richies to give most of their wealth away.

Because nobody’s an island. Nobody gets rich without a lot of help from a lot of people. And most of those people don’t get rich. In fact, the people who do the hard, physical labor on which the rest of us depend tend to get the least. A potlatch recognizes this. Not just a mechanism for redistributing wealth, and not just a terrific party, it’s a religious ceremony as well.

Or, as Japanese Zen monks chant before each meal: This food is the work of countless beings....

But in America too many of us have forgotten this. Too many of us don’t understand that many of the people we depend on live without health care, send their kids to lousy schools, don’t have reliable transportation... Too many of us think that if those other people just worked harder they could get everything, but guess what, they are working hard — that’s why they’re called the working poor — and the wealth of the nation (this means your wealth, if you have it) wouldn’t be possible without them.

Instead, people hoard what they have as if they uniquely deserve it. Instead, people don’t acknowledge what they owe to others, including and especially people they’ve never heard of. Instead, people act as if they got theirs and the hell with everyone else.

When we do this we lose. We lose as individuals. We lose as a community. It’s lovely that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are doing something; the rest of us have to do something, too.

— Judy Roitman can be reached at


devobrun 7 years ago

The more money a school has, the lousier the school. There are many reasons for more poor in our country today:

1) Illegal immigration creating an underclass of people who are subject to nefarious people who exploit them. 2) Drugs. 3) The closing of mental hospitals. Crazy folks are out and procreating more than ever before. 4) Government safety nets. People know that they can be poor and live.
5) A nurturing of the collective. People can be lazy and not be sanctioned by the collective. It isn't illegal or socially stigmatized to be a lazy bum. 6) Inversion of the concept of morality. Bad behavior which leads to poverty isn't considered bad. But good, smart behavior which leads to wealth is reason for an article like this. Thus, it is moral to be poor and immoral to be rich.

Feeling guilty for wealth is stupid. It promotes poverty.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

Translation-- poor people are poor because God made them that way. Rich people are rich because God really, really loves them.

notajayhawk 7 years ago

Of course, according toboohoozo, nobody could possibly get rich without their jack-booted heel on the throats of the proletariat, nicht wahr, Herr Klowne?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

OK, I know you have your fairy-tale image of how the world works, but let me give you a little secret.

Poor people are poor for lots of reasons, and those reasons vary from one person to the next. Some of them really are just lazy slackers who can't consistently put one foot in front of the other. But the vast majority are poor because of reasons that are generally beyond their control, which is why economic upward mobility in this country is largely a myth. And now that the US has become a full participant in the global race to the bottom, that becomes ever more true.

Rich people are rich for varying reasons, too. Some got there very much because of their talent and hard work. Some get there because they have no compunction about using their jack-booted heels on anyone unfortunate enough to come in contact with them. The majority get there because they were born there. But what all of them have in common is that their wealth is completely dependent on and derived from the hard work of the vast majority of the human race who will never be rich.

Many rich people, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates come immediately to mind, recognize this. But many others, the Koch brothers, for example, want to ascribe their wealth to divine providence. You and Devo appear to agree with them.

BTW, although any reply you make will be entirely predictable, it would make for quicker reading if you can keep the frothing to a minimum.

notajayhawk 7 years ago

Funny, boohoohoozo, for all your blathering about god and divine providence and all, you seem to be the only one mentioning him. Constantly.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

Your basic argument is really no different from the old medieval arguments that explained the differences between peasants and aristocrats were divinely ordained. I merely restored that which you've omitted.

tomatogrower 7 years ago

So greedy corporations, who take the good paying jobs out of the country, and even get a tax break to do it, so they can earn more money than they could ever spend. aren't to blame? You must be quite young. At one time, a hard working person could get a job in a factory, and while they didn't get rich, they could buy a modest house and a car. I know people who work 2-3 jobs, and can barely pay the bills. What immoral behavior are they practicing?
Why do you think that corporations, who worship money, and could care less about the stability of their employees and our country's economic stability are moral? Yes, all of the behaviors you mentioned above make people poor, but what about the working poor. You know the people who check out your groceries or take your dry cleaning or help you deposit all your money. Corporations apparently have more rights than individuals now, so why don't they have to behave morally?

LloydDobbler 7 years ago

I don't think the point was that wealth should make anyone feel guilty. The point is that people who do amass large amounts of wealth don't do it by themselves. Moreover, the statistics show that the amount those people tend to keep is not in line with their contribution to business enterprise. And seriously, drugs, immigration, and closing mental hospitals as major contributors to economic disparity? That's pure fiction. In this town alone, for every crappy $30k per year job, you get 100 applications from graduates of our local university with post-graduate degrees.

notajayhawk 7 years ago

"And we have more poor than before — the percent of kids living in poverty has gone from 15 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2010."

The method for calculating the poverty level is ridiculous. It basically takes into account nothing but wages, and has nothing to do with wealth. In periods of high unemployment, of course the number of people "living in poverty" increases. It has nothing to do with the gap between rich and poor.

People, get over it. Stop measuring what you have by what someone else has. Everyone is better off than they were decades ago. Stop worrying about whether someone is a lot better off and you're just a little better off. It's nothing more than jealousy.

tomatogrower 7 years ago

And how many of these unemployed people are going to have to take jobs for a whole lot less money than before the recession, even after the recession is over?

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

"after the recession is over?"

Maybe it will never be over, and we might have to adjust to a new reality.

Cait McKnelly 7 years ago

Considering that economists are saying that in the last ten years millions of jobs have disappeared that will never come back, that's a pretty wise statement, Ron. Thing is, it's not the first time it's happened. Polarization of wealth is not a new thing. History has also shown that when it happens countries become very unstable; politically, economically, morally and in every other way. I'm an old woman. I don't have to face what's coming. I'm just sorry that my kids and grandkids do.

madameX 7 years ago

For some maybe it is about jealousy, but many, many others are not bitterly measuring what they have against what others have, they are struggling to pay their bills and feel their families. These people are neither a lot better off, nor are they a little better off, they are very badly off and are actually living in poverty.

devobrun 7 years ago

Guilt is too easy, notajayhawk. The focus of the article is that "we" should feel guilty because "we" are rich. One doesn't even have to be rich to feel guilty about the people who are rich. Because there are rich, "we" should feel guilty.

People are suckers for guilt. Some people are more susceptible than others to the guilt feeling. The LTE writer is certainly one of these people and she wants us all to share in her feelings. Sharing feelings justifies those feelings. She wants us all to become a collective, sharing each others guilt.

How many "we", "us", and "many" references are in the letter? She feels, so "we" should share in her feelings. It is a form of narcissism.

When the preacher invoked "original sin" I left the church. When alternative and progressive thinkers dish out guilt, I do the same. Judy, your guilt is your own. As for me, Judy, I'll strive to get all the things I want. I'll do it free, above board, and without lying, cheating or stealing. At the end of the day, I'll have what I want and I won't feel guilty about it.

Beats the Robin Hood method of living.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

You certainly have no guilt about hating people who you consider to be inferior to yourself, I'll give you that much.

Fossick 7 years ago

"One doesn't even have to be rich to feel guilty about the people who are rich."

And because America has the richest poor people who have ever lived, we can feel guilty, envious, and resentful all at the same time. Is this a great country or what?

tomatogrower 7 years ago

Sorry, I don't consider corporations who take jobs out of the country earned their money. They could have earned more than enough money by staying in the country and making our country stable. But they worship money, as you appear to do. So, you are rich because you are moral, and poor people are poor, because they aren't? You're the one who brought in the morality issue. But you have no guilt over what you do, so how do we know you aren't lying, cheating or stealing if you don't believe in guilt? The CEO's in this companies don't feel like they've done anything wrong. So they have created their own ethics, what are yours?

notajayhawk 7 years ago

"corporations who take jobs out of the country "


Whether those jobs were lost to overseas workers, automation, or plant closings, they were going to be lost. Blame the corporations since you seem to need a scapegoat, but you really have nobody to blame but the consumer. Everyone talks a good game about being willing to pay more to keep jobs in America, but in reality that doesn't happen when it's time to open their wallets.

Cait McKnelly 7 years ago

I think it's hilarious that people want to interject philosophical meaning into the editorial "we".

Scott Drummond 7 years ago

Actually, I highly doubt many of the 1% of people in this country hoarding more and more of the wealth read or participate in these LJW forums. Instead, I think the message is to quit voting against ypour economic interest. I have hard news for all who read this - 999 out of 1,000 of you are never going to enjoy membership in the 1% class. Quit voting like you might.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

Has anyone here read Ayn Rand? In her books she talks about the uniquely American concept of "making money", as though money is something that is somehow created by an individual. That's just the way we think, and our etymology gives it away.

That concept is given away by the very first line of the article, "In 1970 the richest 1 percent of all Americans made 9 percent of the nation’s income."

Money is not "made", it is either earned or paid. The thing that is "made", or created, is wealth. But, that's a whole different topic.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

Oh, I forgot. The Fed can "make" money, all they have to do is print some when necessary.

jafs 7 years ago

Something else about the poverty level.

It is based on emergency food prices from quite some time ago (I believe it was the 1950's), and doesn't take into account other costs of living.

So many people living above that level are still what most of us would call "poor", taking into account actual costs of living today.

thebigspoon 7 years ago

You arer wrong, kiddo. There are actually two different levels of "poverty" recognized by the government. One is from the Department of Health and Human Servicess and one promulgated by the Census Bureau. Both of those are used for different purposes. The "poverty level" used for base statistical purposes (such as comparing the U.S. to other nations and for entitlement programs) is defined in the following excerpt, as quoted by Wikipedia:

Since the 1960s, the United States Government has defined poverty in absolute terms. When the Johnson administration declared "war on poverty" in 1964, it chose an absolute measure. The "absolute poverty line" is the threshold below which families or individuals are considered to be lacking the resources to meet the basic needs for healthy living; having insufficient income to provide the food, shelter and clothing needed to preserve health.

You will see, there is a specific "absolute poverty line" and is is a fluid, dynamic figure. Now, nowhere is the decade of the '50s mentioned, and it is obvious that the cost of living is an integral part of calculating the poverty level of the nation at any specific time.

You're so full of vitriol for this LTE that you haven't, nor will you, research the truth, but will continue to spout your conservative rubbish until you truly believe what you write, regardless of facts.

The fact is that there are too many people living in poverty, there are too many who can nor provide sustenance, let alone rise above poverty, for us to blithely dismiss the "poverty level" as an invention that need not be acknowledged by you ilk because you are fortunate enough to be comfortable. Robbing the rich is not the answer (though the very human idea of giving to the less fortunate is promulgated by some of our wealthiest might give one pause to wonder who is right and who isn't) but neither is dismissing the "poverty level as a fabrication. Even you, jafs, must have a modicum of humanity in your soul. If not, I grieve for you and your kind. It must be horrible to be anti-everything.

tomatogrower 7 years ago

Good post. In fact, I think what Gates needs to do is encourage the rich to let the money trickle down to the workers. Create jobs here in the US. Help someone set up a business. Most people don't want charity, they want to be paid enough to at least rent a home and own a car. And we aren't talking about a McMansion or Lexus SUV. So your business has 5 billion dollars in profit. How many jobs could you create to help the people you have working for you already? Why not give your employees a raise? Why can't they settle for a 4 billion dollar profit. It's still a profit. When did it become the goal of business to set record profits every year? A business isn't considered a success anymore unless they make more profits every year, never mind that they are doing quite well.

somedude20 7 years ago

What do you call Dolly Parton in a bathtub? "Islands In The Stream"

Flap Doodle 7 years ago

If I'm not an island, could I at least be a peninsula?

Fossick 7 years ago

P'raps not, but you can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant.

ksriver2010 7 years ago

" the richest 1 percent of all Americans makes over 24 percent of the nation’s income" I wish people would stop repeating this tired anecdote.

Forty years is a long time. I don't know anyone who is not better off than 40 years ago. Even the minimum wage is double what it was 40 years ago.

Cait McKnelly 7 years ago

"Even the minimum wage is double what it was 40 years ago." Is that adjusted for inflation? There was a huge hue and cry set up by the right when the minimum wage was raised to $7.50. Yet that amount is still considered well below poverty level. Forty years ago I bought hamburger on sale for .35/lb. Bread was .10/loaf at the bread store. Gas was .25/gallon during a "gas war". I lived these things. I know these things. Are we really "better off"? I know a young couple. The wife is pregnant and due to complications can't work. They live in a one room studio apartment for which they pay 350$/mth plus electricity. The husband makes 10$/hour which supports both of them. They receive a little help; the wife qualified for WIC and the pregnancy is being covered by HealthWave. Despite that they didn't qualify for Food Stamps. At all. The woman's physician, concerned that she was starving herself and her baby, referred her to a church food pantry that is giving her some supplemental food. This is the face of the "working poor" today. It's a b***h that you would deny them even that much help.

Scott Drummond 7 years ago

Most kids raised in the last 20 years aren't. 40 years ago one parent worked and a second parent raised the children. Increasingly both parents must work and no one parents.

No, I know many who are not better off than 40 years ago.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

"Even the minimum wage is double what it was 40 years ago."

Actually if the $1.60 minimum wage of 1970 had been adjusted for inflation over the last 40 years, minimum wage would now be over $10. In other words, a minimum wage earner now has about 20% less purchasing ability than they would have had 40 years ago.

tomatogrower 7 years ago

Don't confuse the corporation apologists with facts, bozo. To them, money is god, so if you work for minimum wage, you must have angered god somehow.

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