Here's more class warfare from Barbara Eherenreich,
the woman who brought us the book Nickel and Dimed.
This particular article recites the same tired canard that the rich are making the poor poorer.
Before I get to what Eherenreich actually said in her piece, I would suggest a bit of reading that challenges the conclusion that we are somehow worse off today then we were thirty years ago. First, give this piece by W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm,
on the benefits of free enterprise that economic statistics can miss, a try. And then, take a look at Brian Doherety's blogging about research which points out how income statistics fail to take into account the effects of immigration.
Eherenreich cites four problems with the "super-rich," which we can look at one-by-one. First,
"the Clemens example [the example pointed out that Roger Clemens salary doesn't impact most of us] distracts from the reality that a great deal of the wealth at the top is built on the low-wage labor of the poor. Take Wal-Mart, our largest private employer and premiere exploiter of the working class: Every year, 4 or 5 of the people on Forbes magazine's list of the ten richest Americans carry the surname Walton, meaning they are the children, nieces, and nephews of Wal-Mart's founder."
Eherenreich is right that most of us love to hate trust fund babies- but that's more class warfare than economic fact. Just think about Wal-Mart for a second- if Wal-Mart, from the very start, offered lower wages than people otherwise had the opportunity to earn in their communities, no one would have ever gone to work there in the first place. So obviously, there is some segment of the population that has benefited from the jobs Wal-Mart has to offer. And of course, rich people being rich doesn't make any of the rest of us worse off.Second, though a lot of today's wealth is being made in the financial industry, by means that are occult to the average citizen and do not seem to involve much labor of any kind, we all pay a price, somewhere down the line. All those late fees, puffed up interest rates and exorbitant charges for low-balance checking accounts do not, as far as I can determine, go to soup kitchens.
Ahhhh- now this is what I've been blogging about the past few months- the fees and interest rates that make it possible for low income people to get credit, buy homes, and maintain a bank account. Yes, I'm sure there are people making money on all these low income people- but if no one wanted to make that money, than no one would offer these services to low income people in the first place. Business doesn't exist to serve people, it exists to make money, and lower income people face higher fees and higher interest rates because they are more of a financial risk. The real question is, does having these opportunities make low-income people worse off? I don't think so.Third, the overclass bids up the price of goods that ordinary people also need -- housing, for example. Gentrification is dispersing the urban poor into overcrowded suburban ranch houses, while billionaires' horse farms displace the rural poor and middle class. Similarly, the rich can swallow tuitions of $40,000 and up, making a college education increasingly a privilege of the upper classes.
Eherenreich may have a point about gentrification pushing the poor out of cities (at least in certain cities), but this tends to be the result of government policies- urban renewal and eminent domain and the like- and not the result of the market. And I'm not quite sure if "overcrowded suburban ranch houses" are worse living conditions than the urban tenements my relatives lived in when they first came to this country one hundred years ago.
And I just have to point out the utter ridiculousness of this tuition example. Yes, the rising cost of education is troubling, but the fact of the matter is, a greater percentage of kids are going to college today than ever before. Certainly a greater percentage of kids are going to college today than went thirty years ago.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the huge concentration of wealth at the top is routinely used to tilt the political process in favor of the wealthy. Yes, we should acknowledge the philanthropic efforts of exceptional billionaires like George Soros and Bill Gates.
But if we don't end up with universal health insurance in the next few years, it won't be because the average American isn't pining for relief from escalating medical costs.
Yes, the wealthy have political power, but I mean, come on. Factor in federal, state, and local taxes, and many of the very wealthy pay up to 50% or more of their income in taxes- that hardly sounds like a system completely controlled by the wealthy. And ... yeah ... we've talked about universal health insurance before.