I know what you’re thinking. “Paul,” you’re thinking, “it feels as though the economic divide between the rich and poor is not quite as gaping as it ought to be, nor is it accelerating at a pace that sufficiently turns the vast majority of Americans into a forgotten underclass.” Well, fret no more! In a jaw-dropping piece in the Washington Post, we learn the following:
For years, statistics have depicted growing income disparity in the United States, and it has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. In 2008, the last year for which data are available, for example, the top 0.1 percent of earners took in more than 10 percent of the personal income in the United States, including capital gains, and the top 1 percent took in more than 20 percent.
Let your eyes settle on that figure for a moment. 0.1 percent makes 10 percent of the income. What an astounding waste of economic resources, so much of which is being directed at a tiny, disconnected clutch of uber-elites.
But there have always been super-rich guys, right? Nothing new here. Oh, wait:
Other recent research, moreover, indicates that executive compensation at the nation’s largest firms has roughly quadrupled in real terms since the 1970s, even as pay for 90 percent of America has stalled.
So all those guys who were out-of-touch fat cats with monocles and top hats and twirly mustaches in the days of yore (oh wait, that’s the 187os — still, the image works), imagine those guys now get four times as much wealth, and everyone else gets less.
This bothers me on two levels (right now anyway). The first I alluded to already: that much wealth in such a tiny number of hands is a squandering of economic fuel on those who need it least and will use it least effectively for the betterment of society. Money that could otherwise go to raising wages of workers, providing more revenue for government social services, or investment in our infrastructure is instead being hoarded and spent on multiple country clubs and private jets for a handful of (mostly) men.
The second level is my main focus for this post; the notion that as this gulf widens between the rich and poor — and put aside the outlying 0.1 percent and think about the rich-writ-large — the psychological and empathic connection between the two spheres frays more and more. How can someone to whom everything now comes easy ever understand the plight of those for whom it does not? If one’s day to day life is one of only high-class concerns, and one’s only contact with the lower classes is with those who clean up after you, how can they possibly understand the implications of their own actions?
One might say it doesn’t matter. Who cares whether Rich CEO X is “connecting with the common man.” His job is to make money for his company, and that’s that. But the problem is those who have the money, the resources, the connections, they’re the ones who also wield incredible political power. Policy swings toward those who have the means to fund its marketing, and that being so, it’s no wonder even our best-intentioned lawmakers and officials can’t escape from the gravitational pull of a giant dollar sign. The political needs of the rich are attended to, the needs of the rest of us are pandered to, and then ignored.
Which brings me to an article that’s made me angrier than anything I’ve read in ages (save any article about what Republicans “think”). From the New York Times, we read about a whole new way of getting started in the big, wide world:
For some parents, an engraved pen set just won’t cut it as a graduation present. It seems so insubstantial, so unoriginal. Anyway, the kid will just lose it. So how about a New York apartment?
Real estate brokers say that in the last year, they have seen more parents shopping for apartments for their grown children, hoping to take advantage of low mortgage rates and apartment prices that are still about 20 percent down from the market’s peak.
“I got a digital watch for graduation,” said Barry Silverman, an executive vice president of Halstead Property, “but I’ve worked with families where the children are getting an apartment.”
What follows in another 1887 words about the most airborne of all high-class problems — working through various regulations and arrangements so that parents can literally purchase Manhattan apartments for their spoiled children.
Why even go to college? Why educate oneself if one has already had the good fortune to be born to parents who will roll out the red carpet for you in the form of the most expensive and sought-after real estate on the planet?
But honestly, I’m less concerned with how this prepares then for the real world (for they will need no preparation), but how they will go on to relate to those who are not privileged. How will they treat the ever-impoverished majority?
How will they vote? What distorted priorities will they have?
Political power will already tend toward their interests. What will they decide their interests are if all they know is being the prince or princess of their little fiefdoms, their rented duchies with views overlooking the park?
Yes, in some instances noted in the article, the kids are paying some maintenance costs. But this amounts to a few hundred dollars in an place that would normally fetch thousands, if not tens of thousands per month.
And Christ, just look at the shit-eating grins on these kids faces as they sit happily perched in their palace towers.
I mean just look at them. And listen as they recount their struggles.
Ms. Santos is easing herself into the cold reality of housing costs by paying the maintenance fee, $650 a month, to her father. Without her parents’ help, she said, “I wouldn’t be able to live in Manhattan, and I would definitely have roommates.
“Hopefully, in a few years, I’ll be more established in my career and I’ll be able to get something bigger.”
My god. She’d have to have roommates?!? Thank the sweet lord her parents were willing to sacrifice in order to spare her that horror. And rest easy, folks. Soon enough she’ll have something bigger. In Manhattan.
Yeah, that’s about all I can stand. What’s worse is that the entire article in written without a trace of irony, without a hint that, you know, maybe this is a tad excessive, and perhaps — perhaps! — it points to an overindulgence of already-privileged children who will go on to lead warped, unconnected, and supremely sheltered lives. Nothing. This is just a new trendy-trend for the Gray Lady’s upscale readership.
Which, incidentally, now crouches behind a paywall. Coincidence.