Thursday, June 16, 2011

Joan Walsh on the Story the Obama Administration Needs to Tell: Dangerous, Unprecedented Accumulation of Wealth at Top

Joan Walsh's analysis of the glaring moral failing of the Obama administration, and of the danger this failing poses to ordinary U.S. citizens, dovetails with Robert Scheer's at TruthDig, in the statement to which I linked yesterday:

My main concern has been Obama's failure to use his presidency to tell voters a story about our changing economy, and even when he didn't have the votes in Congress, to lay out what he thought was the right course.

That story has to do with the dangerous and unprecedented amount of income and wealth clustered at the very top of American society. The concentration of wealth and the rise in economic inequality isn't just a matter of fairness or morality, it's a matter of economic stability. The economy is stuck in the dumps of a demand crisis, where people are too broke or too financially insecure to help purchase their way out of the problem. Few people seem to understand that we deliberately used government to build a middle class in the years after the war – building public schools and universities, subsidizing college and homeownership for veterans, building highways and roads -- and we began to tear it down in the late 1970s. Wages stagnated; jobs moved abroad; taxes on the rich were slashed. Productivity kept rising, but unlike the previous 40 years, wages didn't rise along with it. Without rising salaries, people began to borrow.

"The dangerous and unprecedented amount of income and wealth clustered at the very top of American society": the tea party response to this situation, about which I wrote yesterday, is to turn its scope to the vulnerable at the bottom of society, rather than to the entitled and superrich at the top of society who have produced increasing vulnerability for all sectors of society except the very rich.  The tea party response to the accumulation of a dangerous and unprecedented amount of income at the top of society is to write a morality play, in which middle-class citizens are heroes who sacrifice, work hard for their money, and are then asked to foot the bill for the riff-raff of society (who are almost always imagined by those in the middle as brown- or black-faced).

What this morality play entirely overlooks is that those most responsible for placing everyone in society in a vulnerable position are the very rich, whose wealth keeps increasing exponentially.  What this morality play entirely overlooks is that middle-class people themselves are increasingly made vulnerable, not by those at the bottom of society whose well-being is linked to those in the middle, but by the tiny elite at the top of society whose wealth depends on the upward flow of money from all the cadres beneath that elite.

With its talk of abolishing taxes and limiting the scope of government, of making each nuclear family a sovereign authority, the tea partier analysis of the serious socioeonomic and political problems facing American society today spectacularly misses the point.  The most pointed threat to the well-being of those buying into this misplaced rhetoric about government as the problem is not the government and its system of taxation, nor is it the socially marginal groups that the government's weak welfare system assists.

It's the superrich who, in recent years and precisely as the idea of government as a control over unbridled rapacity has been under severe attack, have begun amassing wealth at a rate unprecedented in the history of the U.S. it's this tiny but immensely powerful sector of American society that poses the most serious threat of all to the stability of the nation and the well-being of its working and middle classes.

No comments: