The top 10 percent of earners took more than half of the country’s total income in 2012, the highest level recorded since the government began collecting the relevant data a century ago, according to an updated study….The top 1 percent took more than one-fifth of the income earned by Americans, one of the highest levels on record since 1913, when the government instituted an income tax. –As reported in the on-line New York Times, September 11, 2013
I’m a Matt Damon fan, so I’m looking forward to seeing his latest film, Elysium. The movie takes place in a future time when the entire Earth has become a slum so that the very wealthy have taken up residence in an exclusive retreat in space, visible from Earth, but inaccessible and forbidden to the mass of humanity.
The irony of Elysium is that it is not really a film about the future: it is a metaphor for the present economic situation in the United States of America, a situation that should shame us. (And bravo to Matt Damon and the Elysium writers for their political sensibility and boldness!)
The idea of an America of economic democracy—not Socialism, mind you—in which middle class prosperity is virtually guaranteed to anyone willing to labor with earnest ingenuity for the fruits of modest wealth has died. The reigning economic culture is a throwback to the late 19th century and the era of the robber barons. The rich deserve to get richer and those in the underclass must learn to accept their suffering if they have not been lucky enough to design (and patent) a jackpot computer app or a chance to buy a loaded security with adequate insurance for its failure.
Wealth is accumulating in the pockets of the corporate magnates, money taken out of the pockets of the former middle class. The very rich now do live in a separate society prohibited to the ordinary masses. Traditional means for righting the inequities between the very wealthy and the working class—such as strengthening organized labor—have fallen into disrepute. The 1990’s taught the young they have a right to aspire to great wealth before they turn 30 and if they don’t achieve that, well, they’ll have to accept that they’re just losers.
There is no longer any community sensibility advocating a continued American aspiration for the wider distribution of wealth. Moreover, with the help of our advanced technology, the corporations have acquired and are employing the means to make its customers—us—their servants. By reducing personal services and compelling us to accept more efficient automated alternatives to increase the corporate bottom-line, they substitute our labors for services we used to take for granted. (Consider, for example, the nightmarish recorded message option menus that now often prevent access to real human beings when we try to do business or file a complaint with a corporation or, for another example, the growing self-checkout lines in supermarkets.)
America has apparently become a new kind of feudal state: a plutocratic regime run by and for the benefit of the already rich. What can we do about it?
Harrison Sheppard, San Francisco, CA