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Archive for Monday, January 10, 2011

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Everyday Life: Nobody’s an island

January 10, 2011

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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 go@ljworld.com.

Comments

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 3 months 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.

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ksriver2010 3 years, 3 months 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.

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Flap Doodle 3 years, 3 months ago

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

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somedude20 3 years, 3 months ago

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

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jafs 3 years, 3 months 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.

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Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 3 months 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.

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devobrun 3 years, 3 months 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.

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notajayhawk 3 years, 3 months 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.

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devobrun 3 years, 3 months 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.

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