Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Chew on these numbers

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that "the richest 1 percent of Americans now get about 15 percent of total US income, close to the 18 percent the same small group had in 1913."

An article in the same paper reports the next day on the economic strides Australia has made in recent years. Despite these gains, Australians reportedly think that the country has "become a meaner place over the past 10 years" and have some misgivings about the growth. Income inequality has increased: "in 1995, the richest 1 percent garnered 5 percent of the national income; now it's 9 percent."

So, Australians are disturbed that the richest 1 percent of the population has 9 percent of the national income; in constrast, the richest 1 percent in the U.S. has 15 percent of the national income, up from the all-time low of 8 percent in 1963. Where's the discussion in the U.S.?


Dylan said...

Wow... That's really disturbing, although not at all surprising. The graph at the end of that article is particularly interesting. I've never seen a representation of that trend before.

As for "where's the discussion?" I think the US is so deeply polarized on other issues that there is no dialogue about anything. By focusing the attention of our nation on issues such as questions of religion that can never be resolved or the "war on terror" which can never be won, the Bush Administration has effectively distracted the American people from the fundamental issue of class inequality which I see as being far more important than abortion, gay marriage, or any of the other issues on the news today. (and didn't I just see something recently about South Dakota criminalizing abortion?)

Back during the Bush/Kerry election, too, people were so incredibly polarized that there was simply no discussion anywhere. You and everyone you knew supported one of the candidates, and it was unthinkable to even consider that the other guy may have had merits. I've met very few people who ever had an intelligent discussion with somebody on the other side. That's not the way a functional democracy works. Discussion of the issues and understanding of the other side's perspective is the only way compromise can be achieved.

Every day I find the news from the US more and more depressing. It's really like a nightmare that I wish I could wake up from, but like the graph suggests, I don't think this is a cycle that will end anytime soon. It may take decades for public opinion to swing back away from xenophobia, religious fundamentalism, and cutthroat capitalism and bring us back to a point where we as a nation are genuinely interested in openness, equality, and tolerance. This is why students should be taught to critically examine the _patterns_ of history in high school, not just memorizing dates and names. Or should we just give up on trying to break out of the cycles of greed and inequity that have always been a fundamental and inescapable flaw of civilization since it began?

Haha, wow... that went on a bit longer than I intended. :)

B said...

I just read in the Christian Science Monitor today a book review on conversation. The book's author, Stephen Miller, is quoted: "Cicero was the first writer to make a case that liberty might lead to violent civil discord if the educated classes lacked the art of conversation."