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Friday, October 21, 2011

It Finally Has a Name -- Even Two

Credit the Occupy Wall Street people with simplifying the complicated topic of the dominance of the bankers over the political system by naming the bankers the “One Percent” and the rest of us rats on this sinking ship the 99%. One photo Rat saw from the Wall Street occupation said it beautifully. It depicted a woman holding her granddaughter and a sign that read, “99% chance that you’re with us.”

Finding an easy way to explain how wealth has become skewed to the top of the economic food chain is hard to do without pummeling people with lots of numbers and arcane economic theory. But there are people – and from the mainstream academic world, not just a park bench in Manhattan – who are making this topic more accessible and interesting.

Rat recently found a rat hole in the swank new Wisconsin Institute for Discovery at UW-Madison, where I snuck in to overhear a talk by Yale University political scientist Jacob Hacker. Author of Winner Take All Politics, Hacker tossed out lots of numbers to explain the wealth disparity. The most salient: how the One Percent’s percentage increase in income since 1970 is six times higher than that for the rest of us. Another: 40% of all income increases in the U.S. since 1970 went to the One Percent.

The typical rat brain struggles with numbers, but also with big words. Rat hopes the big word “oligarchy” rings a bell with the 99% of Americans who are not the One Percent. Another academic, political economist Jeffrey Winters, of Northwestern University, has re-introduced that term to the political discussion, along with one he may have coined –the wealth defense industry.

Read his article A useful complement to Hacker’s numbers, Winters’ narrative account of how the uber-rich have wired the political system (for them, the most important thing to do) to their considerable advantage, and they more wealth they amass, the more lawyers, lobbyists, right-wing think tanks and political contributions they deploy it to protect it.

You have to hope the powerful evidence these two scholars have assembled, paired with the gritty passion of the Occupy Wall Streeters, will give ordinary Americans, in their beleaguered status as the 99%, pause to ask how the country got where it is. Sure, it’s “the government,” but bad government is a byproduct of the oligarchy’s putting the wealth defense industry to work to manipulate government to its benefit.

Rat remains nonpartisan, so I will end this note about partisan politics. Both Hacker and Winters make it clear there is not one political party on which to hang the country’s financial crisis; both have the blood of the 99%’s ever-shrinking economic prospects on their hands. Sure, Republicans align much more with wealthy interests, but Democrats have abetted them at crucial times, and failed to explain to American voters, in real and honest terms, the threats to their economic self-interest.

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