The Visual Du Jour – Successfully Turning Back The Clock

Hurray! We’re back to Depression-era stratification levels… Neoliberal mission accomplished:

As the article notes;

“As you’ll notice, from the 1950s onwards, income distribution in the US remained broadly stable until the Thatcher-Reagan revolution. The neoliberal policies pursued by the Reagan administration – tax cuts for the wealthy (the top rate of tax was reduced from 50 per cent to 28 per cent), deregulation and privatisation, led to a dramatic rise in inequality.


As for the UK, we’re not doing much better. The richest 10 per cent now receives 31 per cent of national income and owns almost half of the country’s personal assets, while the poorest 10 per cent takes home just 1 per cent of the total income. The coalition’s decision to rely on spending cuts (which hit the poorest hardest), rather than tax rises, to reduce the deficit will inevitably widen the gap. Conservatives may criticise the Occupy London movement but they cannot deny that it reflects a grim empirical reality.”

The Visual Du Jour – Redistribution… to The Top


So, to repeat, there has been massive redistribution, but to the top, by design, through political means and legislation. As I constantly tell my students, nothing ever happens by chance in society. So, instead of trickle-down, we got massive flow-up, accepted and facilitated by a constant media drumbeat of conservative propaganda, persuading a lot of people that everyone can get to the red bar on the right. Except that the very existence of the red bar on the right is based on the existence of a lot of green-ish bars to the left. There is no incredibly wealthy and getting wealthier 1% without stagnating 99%.

Needless to say, the effects of such gross inequalities are rather socially deleterious as the multiple social movements occurring around the world, from the Arab Spring to the Discontents to the Occupy movements, clearly illustrate. The Cloud Minders may want to take notice.

Why I Keep Harping on Inequalities

Because it is THE issue facing many societies today, with negative effects across the board, and yet, it is largely ignored:

“The incomes of the richest sections of society are soaring in the UK, China and India, and in most other countries as well. The poorest groups are seeing slow improvements at best, and often decline. Recent estimates indicate that at the current rate it will take more than 800 years for the bottom billion of the world population to achieve 10% of global income.

The UN general assembly began its 66th session last week. Many of the heads of state attending will no doubt report on their country’s progress towards the millennium development goals. They’re also likely to discuss the targets that will succeed the MDGs after 2015. However, there will almost certainly be a looming gap in these presentations: the rising inequalities between and within countries.

A year ago, coinciding with the UN MDG summit, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and the MDG Achievement Fund released a report showing that the MDG targets largely overlooked inequality. Even in countries where there has been progress towards the MDGs, inequalities have grown. A Unicef study shows that only a third of the countries that have reduced national rates of child mortality have succeeded in reducing the gap between mortality rates in the richest and poorest households.

Inequality matters not just for those at the bottom. Highly unequal countries tend to grow more slowly, are more prone to conflict and have weaker civil societies. The much-cited study The Spirit Level found that across developed countries, crime, disease and environmental problems were exacerbated by inequality. Such ill effects in society made everyone worse off, even the middle classes.”

And yet, reducing poverty is essential to development and healthier societies:

“The meeting examined successful inequality reduction policies, sharing the lessons of a handful of countries that have defied the global trend. Thirteen countries in Latin America, including Brazil, Argentina and Chile, have narrowed the gap between the incomes of the poorest and wealthiest groups over the last decade. Similar positive trends have been seen in Malaysia, Thailand and in several African nations.

How was progress possible in these countries? Inequalities fell when governments expanded social protection programmes like Brazil’s Bolsa Familia. Minimum wage legislation and policies allowing more people to access secondary and higher education also contributed to success. Successful countries used progressive taxation or channelled mining and oil revenues to fund inequality-reducing programmes.”

These programs have been discussed at length in Just Give Money to the Poor.

The Visual Du Jour – It’s Lonely At… The Bottom??


I know, I know, everybody hates the GINI coefficient… but everybody uses the GINI coefficient. No index is perfect and this one is still pretty decent, so, here goes:

Obviously, the US ranks in the bottom half, along with countries such as Mexico, China, Madagascar and Mozambique. From the article:

“The U.S., in purple with a Gini coefficient of 0.450, ranks near the extreme end of the inequality scale. Looking for the other countries marked in purple gives you a quick sense of countries with comparable income inequality, and it’s an unflattering list: Cameroon, Madagascar, Rwanda, Uganda, Ecuador. A number are currently embroiled in or just emerging from deeply destabilizing conflicts, some of them linked to income inequality: Mexico, Côte d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Serbia.

Perhaps most damning is China, significantly more equal than the U.S. with a Gini coefficient of 0.415, where the severe income gap has been a source of worsening political instability for almost 20 years. Leagues ahead of the U.S. on income inequality is India, Gini coefficient 0.368, where outrage over corruption and income inequality recently inspired a protest movement that shook the world’s largest democracy. (The data for India is from 2004, however; income inequality has likely worsened since then.) Russia, which has seen three popular revolutions in the last century against the caviar-shoveling oligarchs who still run everything, is also less unequal than the U.S., at 0.422 Gini.”

But here is another view:


“Income inequality is more severe in the U.S. than it is in nearly all of West Africa, North Africa, Europe, and Asia. We’re on par with some of the world’s most troubled countries, and not far from the perpetual conflict zones of Latin American and Sub-Saharan Africa. Our income gap is also getting worse, having widened both in absolute and relative terms since the 1980s. It’s not a problem that the “Buffett rule” would solve on its own, but at least the U.S. political system is starting to acknowledge how serious things have become.”

And since we have all read The Spirit Level, we all know how bad inequalities are for society as a whole, on a variety of indicators of population well-being and health.

The Visuals Du Jour – It’s Still The Inequalities, Stupid

First, Uwe Reinhardt:

From the article:

“Consider now the longest period featured in their Table 1, from 1976 to 2007. The authors estimate that over that period the average annual income of all families in the United States grew at an average annual compound growth rate of 1.2 percent. But the data reveal that for the top 1 percent of income recipients, average real income grew by 4.4 percent a year. They captured 58 percent of the growth in total income over the period.

By contrast, for the bottom 99 percent of Americans, average family income over the same period grew by only by only 0.6 percent a year. Within that broad 99 percent, however, some lower-income groups probably saw their real income fall.”

Hello, tax cuts for the wealthy!


“In this regard, I found even more interesting this comment by the authors, pertaining to the international league tables of which we are all so fond, especially if they make us look good:

Average real income per family in the United States grew by 32.2 percent from 1975 to 2006, while they grew only by 27.1 percent in France during the same period, showing that the macroeconomic performance in the United States was better than the French one during this period. Excluding the top percentile, average United States real incomes grew by only 17.9 percent during the period while average French real incomes — excluding the top percentile — still grew at much the same rate (26.4 percent) as for the whole French population. Therefore, the better macroeconomic performance of the United States and France is reversed when excluding the top 1 percent.

In other words, if one took away the top 1 percent highest-income recipients and their share of income and focused on what was left for the bottom 99 percent, the median representative of that cohort should not be all that impressed by economic performance in the United States relative to their peers in other countries.”

Then, Robert Reich:

“THE 5 percent of Americans with the highest incomes now account for 37 percent of all consumer purchases, according to the latest research from Moody’s Analytics. That should come as no surprise. Our society has become more and more unequal.

When so much income goes to the top, the middle class doesn’t have enough purchasing power to keep the economy going without sinking ever more deeply into debt — which, as we’ve seen, ends badly. An economy so dependent on the spending of a few is also prone to great booms and busts. The rich splurge and speculate when their savings are doing well. But when the values of their assets tumble, they pull back. That can lead to wild gyrations. Sound familiar?

The economy won’t really bounce back until America’s surge toward inequality is reversed.”

Would The Members of The Precariat Please Stand up?

This is another installment in a series of posts (herehere and here) I intend to write as I work my way through Guy Standing‘s The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. In this section, the main topic is the composition of the precariat and the consequences of such categories for society as a whole, in terms of social integration and social solidarity (how very durkheimian).

So, who is in the precariat?

“One answer is ‘everybody, actually’. Falling into the precariat could happen to most of us, if accidents occurred or a shock wiped out the trappings of security many have come to rely on. That said, we must remember that the precariat does not just comprise victims; some members enter the precariat because they do not want the available alternatives, some because it suits their particular circumstances at the time. In short, there are varieties of precariat.

Some enter the precariat due to mishaps, some are driven in it, some enter hoping it will be a stepping stone to something else, even if it does not offer a direct route, some choose to be in it instrumentally – including old agers and students simply wishing to obtain a little money or experience – and some combine a precariat activity with something else, as is increasingly common in Japan. Others find that what they have been doing for years, or what they were training to do, becomes part of an insecure precariat existence.” (59)

Standing then distinguishes between two categories within the precariat: the grinners (those who enter the precariat more or less voluntarily, such as students taking casual jobs and expect that to be temporary) and the groaners (those pushed into the precariat). Every demographic category of the precariat has its grinners and groaners. Among old agers, the grinners are those with decent pensions and benefits who get temporary jobs for the extra money or to fund some leisure activity. The groaners are those deprived of such benefits and who have to work for a living. For women, the grinners are those who have a partner with a solid and well-paying job in the salariat and who take jobs also for the extra money and treat them as a sideline. The groaners are those who have no such flexibility and need to work full-time.

Indeed, there is a major gender aspect to the precariat. The feminization of labor and of globalization has pushed more women into the workforce, often in a precarized fashion. Export processing zones are home to a generation of young women. Interestingly, the precariat has long been the norm for women in the workforce while it is relatively new for men (who were the ones who got the stable, unionized and well-paying jobs of the post-War period of expansion). The precariat becomes an major issue when it affects more men. As the ‘family wage’ (a feature of the industrial age, a man’s wage) has been more and more replaced with the individualized wage, women have seen their obligations multiply: forget about Arlie Hochschild’s second shit, enters Standing’s triple burden (paid work, housework / child care and eldercare)… these are the same women that experts in development have charged with meeting the MDGs (shall we consider that the quadruple burden).

So, let’s compare and contrast: women, who get a greater share of precariat jobs have to deal with the triple burden (and a host of other issues such as abusive bosses, horrendous working conditions, and the violence they are more likely to experience… see Juarez); as Standing shows, men, on the other hand, pushed into the precariat, have to adjust to the blow to their masculinity. Allow me to not feel too bad. Downward mobility is never fun but the ledger is still a lot longer on women’s side.

The youth are another major category of the precariat. The Global South has very large young cohorts but the same cohorts in the Global North, while smaller in numbers, do not have it easy either. And part of the reason for that is something that really is at the heart of the precariat: the commodification of education. Standing does not mince his words or mask his contempt for the promoters of education-as-business:

“The neo-liberal state has been transforming school systems to make them a consistent part of the market society, pushing education in the direction of ‘human capital’ formation and job preparation. It has been one of the ugliest aspects of globalisation.

Through the ages education has been regarded as a liberating, questioning, subversive process by which the mind is helped to develop nascent capacities. The essence of the Enlightenment was that the human being could shape the world and refine himself or herself through learning and deliberation. In a market society, that role is pushed to the margins.

The education system is being globalised. It is brashly depicted as an industry, as a source of profits and export earnings, a zone of competitiveness, with countries, universities and schools ranked by performance indicators. It is hard to parody what is happening. Administrators have taken over schools and universities, imposing a ‘business model’ geared to the market. Although its standards have plunged abysmally,  the leader of the global ‘industry’ is the United States. Universities tend to compete not by better teaching but by offering a ‘luxury model’ – nice dormitories, fancy sports and dancing facilities, and the appeal of celebrity academic, celebrated for their non-teaching achievements.

Symbolising the loss of Enlightenment values, in the United Kingdom in 2009, responsibility for universities was transferred from the education department to the department for business. The then business minister, Lord Mandelson, justified the transfer as follows: ‘I want the universities to focus more on commercialising the fruits of their endeavour… business has to be central’.

Commercialisation of schooling at all levels is global. A successful Swedish commercial company is exporting a standardised schooling system that minimises direct contact between teachers and pupils and electronically monitors both. In higher education, teacher-less teaching and ‘teacher-less classrooms’ are proliferating (Giridharadas, 2009). The Masschusetts Institute of Technology has launched Open Courseware Consortium, enlisting universities around the world to post courses online free of charge, including professors’ notes, videos and exams. The iTunes portal offers lectures from Berkeley, Oxford and elsewhere. The University of the People. founded by an Israeli entrepreneur, provides tuition-free (tuition-less) bachelor degrees, through what it calls ‘peer-to-peer teaching’ – students learning not from teachers but from fellow students, trading questions and answers online.

Commercialisers claim it is about ‘putting the consumers in charge’. Scott McNealy, chairman of Sun Microsystems and an investor in the Western Governors University, which delivers degrees online, argued that teachers should re-position themselves as ‘coaches, not content creators’, customising materials to students while piping in others’ superior teaching. This commodification and standardisation is cheapening education, denuding the profession of its integrity and eroding the passing on of informal knowledge. It is strengthening winner-take-all markets and accelerating the dismantling of an occupational community. A market in human capital will increase emphasis on celebrity teachers and universities, and favour norms and conventional wisdom. The Philistines are not at the gates; they are inside them.” (68-9)

And further:

“This commodification of education is a societal sickness. There is a price to pay. If education is sold as an investment good, if there is an unlimited supply of certificates and if these do not yield the promised return, in terms of access to good jobs and high income with which to pay off debts incurred because they were nudged to buy more of the commodity, more entering the precariat will be angry and bitter. The market for lemons comes to mind. As does the old Soviet joke, in which the workers said, ‘They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work’. The education variant should be as follows: ‘They pretend to educate us, we pretend to learn’. Infantilising the mind is part of the process, not for the elite but for the majority. Courses are made easier, so that pass rates can be maximised. Academics must conform.” (71-2)

And so, community colleges and their multitudes of vocational, narrow certificates are declared the wave of the future. This commercialisation of education is coupled with two precarity traps: (1) a debt trap and therefore, (2) low-income trap in order to pay these debts. And that is on top of the internship explosion I have discussed elsewhere. Interns are part of the precariat and they may be grinners (if they are the privileged few who can afford to NOT work and get a prestigious internship) or groaners (if they have to work and intern at the same time, for degree requirements).

The precariatization of the youth puts them also in competition with another generation: the elderly (or, to use the British phrase, the old agers). And on this, Standing’s predictions are rather gloomy:

“It is the idea of retirement that will fade, along with the pension, which was suited to an industrial age. The reaction to the fiscal crisis has been to roll back early retirement schemes and age-related incapacity benefits, to lower state pensions, to push back the age at which people can claim a state pension and the age at which they can claim a full state pension. Contribution rates have been climbing and the age at which people can receive a pension has gone up, more for women than for men to approach equality. The number of years of contributions to gain entitlement to a state pension has gone up, with the number required to receive a full pension increasing even more. In some countries, notably in Scandinavia, the legal retirement age for eligibility for a state pension is now pegged to life expectancy, so that access to a pension will recede as people on average live longer and will recede with each medical breakthrough.

This amounts to tearing up the old social compact. But the picture is even more complex, for while governments are convinced that they are in a fiscal hole with pensions, they are worried about the effect of ageing on labour supply. Bizarre though it may seem in the midst of recession, governments are looking for ways of keeping older workers in the labour force rather than relying on pensions because they think there will be a shortage of workers. What better way to overcome this than to make it easier for old agers to be in the precariat.” (81)

And it is a double whammy: since more jobs are in the precariat, old agers are more likely to be placed in them (because they might not need a full income from a full time job, for instance, or they are no longer concerned with building a career), and because there are more old agers around, more jobs are created in the precariat. As a result, old agers employment rate did not decline with the 2008 recession.

In addition, the whole pension system is now being individualized through another risk shit as pension schemes are being replaced with individual 401k-type plans where individuals bear all the risk. This move, of course, was pushed for by governments in the Western countries and this has resulted in putting two generations in competition and the odds are not in favor of the young. Governments have been instrumental in three ways, according to Standing, in fostering this intergenerational competition:

  1. Governments have subsidized investments in private pension plans with tax incentives, which is guaranteed to increase inequalities as only those who have enough disposable income can afford to properly fund a 401k or an IRA or any of such kind of plans. And those old agers who have access to pensions can then afford to take jobs that have low wages, thereby exercising a downward pressure on wages.
  2. Governments, such as in Japan, actively encourage firms to retain older employees or recruit them back, again using tax schemes and subsidies, at low status, no seniority.
  3. The anti-discrimination protections for old agers and other forms of anti-age discrimination actually work to maintain old agers in the workforce.

And, of course, old agers do not require maternity leaves, child care arrangements, and other benefits that younger workers might need. The lower costs of older workers erode the bargaining power of younger workers.

And then, there is one last category in the precariat (migrants and other minorities are discussed later in the book): the incarcerated masses.

“The precariat is being fed by an extraordinary number of people who have been criminalised in one way or another. There are more of them than ever. A feature of globalisation has been the growth of incarceration. Increasing numbers are arrested, charged and imprisoned, becoming denizens, without vital rights, mostly limited to a precariat existence. This has had much to do with the revival of utilitarianism and a zeal for penalising offenders, coupled with the technical capacity of the surveillance state and the privatisation of security services, prisons and related activities.


Criminalisation condemns people to a precariat existence of insecure career-less jobs, and a degraded ability to hold to a long-term course of stable living. There is double jeopardy at almost every point, since beyond being punished for whatever crime they have committed, they will find that punishment is accentuated by barriers to their normal involvement in society.

However, there is also growth of a precariat inside prisons. We consider how China has resorted to prison labour in chapter 4.  But countries as dissimilar as the United States, United Kingdom and India are moving in similar directions. India’s largest prison complex outside Delhi, privatised, of course, is using prisoners to produce a wide range of products, many sold online, with the cheapest labour to be found, working eight-hour shifts for six days a week. Prisoners with degrees can earn about US$1 a day, others a little less. In 2010 the new UK justice minister announced that prison labour would be extended, saying he wanted prisoners to work a 40-hour week. Prison work for a pittance has long been common in the United States. The precariat outside will no doubt welcome the competition.” (88)

This is very reminiscent of Loic Wacquant’s thesis of the neoliberal combination of workfare + prisonfare.

Forget The Cloud Minders, Here Come The Sea Minders

That is wealthy people who would like to continue benefiting from various forms of labor for their enrichment without having to live too close to the laborers. So, first, we all had a good laugh at this:

“First, he launched Paypal, and then he went on to fund DNA sequencing, commercial space travel and Facebook. Peter Thiel is known for having big ideas and doing amazing things. Now, this self-made billionaire has his sights set on creating sovereign nations that will spring up from the ocean, free from the laws of any country.

Thiel is working closely with the Seasteading Institute to build these startup countries in international waters. He has invested $1.25 million to create what he sees as the next frontier. According to Thiel, a Libertarian, his islands will be instrumental in “experimenting with new ideas for government.” These new ideas include a society free of welfare, minimum wages, strict weapons restrictions and rigid building codes.”

I seriously hope this happens so that these libertarians realized how much they depend on socialized things and exploited labor when that is no longer available.

But more seriously but in the same vein, there is this:

“Brazil has always had its super-rich with extravagant tastes. But booming commodity prices fuelled by Chinese demand, along with some of the world’s biggest offshore oil discoveries, have created an expanding class of wealthy Brazilians. The number of millionaire households in South America’s biggest nation is forecast to treble by 2020 to more than a million. They, in turn, are boosting the international yacht market even as it plummets in the US and Europe.

For the Italian Ferretti Group, one of the world’s leading yacht builders, sales in Brazil represented less than 5 per cent of global sales in 2007, according to Mr Christiansen. This year, Brazil is expected to account for about 40 per cent of the company’s global revenue, or almost $290m.

Ferretti opened a huge $310m shipyard on the outskirts of São Paulo two months ago to meet the new demand. It’s expected to produce 120 yachts a year once it reaches capacity. In the past two years, more than a dozen high-end foreign boat makers have either built shipyards in Brazil or have entered into partnership with local dealers to export their wares to the market, despite tariffs of between 70 to 100 per cent on imported vessels.

Annual boat sales in Brazil have grown by 30 per cent since 2008, industry leaders said. Meanwhile, in the US and Europe, sales of high-end boats have dropped by 70 per cent.

Executives in São Paulo now earn more than their counterparts in New York, London, Hong Kong or Singapore, and their disposable income is flooding Brazil’s consumer market. When not spending at exclusive shopping centres, Brazilian executives can be seen cruising the seas near Santos, south of São Paulo, Brazil’s financial hub, and along the lush green coast north to Rio de Janeiro. The marinas that dot Brazil’s 4,600-mile coast are at capacity, and as soon as a vacancy opens, it is snapped up by a new boat owner. “We were always told that Brazil was the ‘country of the future’ but we didn’t know when that would arrive,” said Ernani Paciornik, a Brazilian marine industry pioneer, who organises international boat shows across Brazil. “I think the future has arrived.”

The ranks of the new rich are growing in other developing countries as well, especially the other members of the so-called Bric group – Russia, India and China. In China the number of millionaire households is set to rise by 91 per cent to 2.5 million by 2020, in Russia by 221 per cent to 1.2 million, and in India by 143 per cent to 694,600, according to the consulting firm Deloitte.”

So detached utopia for them and dystopia for the rest of the peasants, subject to ubiquitous surveillance, state repression and declining living standards, in deteriorating environments while the sea minders can pretend they owe their wealth to their individual genius and Galtian superiority.

As I have said before, welcome to the New Sociopathy. It will take more than Twitter to fight back effectively because one of the reasons for such social detachment is not simply living away from the riff-raff but also the fact that, at this point, these sea-minders are afraid as the Cloud Minders were and needed torture to control the miners.

Fake Peace Offerings from the Fearful

A few days ago, I blogged about an interview with  Monique Pinçon-Charlot in which she noted that the wealthy were getting scared, especially considering the recent UK riots, of social instability caused by the massive increase in inequalities that occurred in the past 30 years or so along with the 2008 recession. As a result, they might make peace offerings to preserve a system that has benefited them so grandly.

And whaddaya know:

But mind you, they don’t want the extra tax to be permanent, just an exceptional measure due to exceptional circumstances… until it’s back to business as usual. And mind you, it is for the deficit and to help clap louder for the confidence fairy.

Some are fooled (especially considering the fact that the current government does not seem disposed to do that):

Others are, like Thomas Picketty, are fortunately not:

Indeed, as Picketty notes, it is especially hypocritical to offer roughly an extra €200 million when the government abolished a tax on wealth that used to bring in €2 billion. His analysis is particularly scathing.

And it is not just France, Germany is in the same highly unequal boat:

“We know how the death of our society will look from the recent riots in London. We are threatened by social instability, which could lead to societal collapse and anarchy — our own private Somalia. To avoid that will require a serious effort by the powerful. Our system needs a complete change of course. A politics of inequality got us into this crisis. If we keep going down that road, it will cause our downfall.
It’s time to use the crisis as an opportunity for change. It’s high time, in other words, to raise taxes.

Germany is a land of inequality. That’s not some left-wing dogma, but a simple fact. Our system leads to a “redistribution of wealth from poor to rich.” That was the recent conclusion of Paul Kirchhof, a conservative law professor and tax expert who Angela Merkel once wanted to appoint as finance minister. If our political system is to survive in the long term, something needs to change.

Let me describe the current situation with a few figures. The 5,000 best-earning German households have increased their share of the total national revenue by about 50 percent since the mid-1990s. At the same time, the real income of all Germans has remained about the same over this period. The net share of wages — that is, the share of national income accounted for by wages — was about 44 percent in West Germany up until the 1980s. Ten years later, it was just over 38 percent. Now it’s about 35 percent. In the same period, the portion of income accounted for by profits has continually risen.

Huge redistributions are happening. That’s a fact that has been known for some time. But most of us have just sat around and watched. Why? Because the ideology of privatization, small government and neo-liberalism has permanently fogged the minds of a generation.


It’s not the power of left-wing arguments that has brought capitalism to its knees. Capitalism has grown for so long that it has reached the point of being incompatible with democracy. We live in a system where the few profit but the many do not. But in a democracy the majority are still needed at the ballot box every few years. They’re expected to give their votes — and then keep quiet. In return for this service, the state hands out (ever-smaller) benefits from the public treasury. But where should the money come from, if the rich and the corporations pay fewer and fewer taxes and keep their money for themselves, while the poor pay no taxes because they have no money?

Answer: debt. Public debt is the price paid by countries to allow the rich to grow richer while the poor grow poorer. This system has now come to the end of the road.

A strategy of spoiling the rich and placating the poor can’t work any longer. The only choice now is to raise taxes or cut spending.

But if the government cuts spending, inequality will rise. Whether it’s schools, public swimming pools, libraries or hospitals, the wealthy don’t care if these public institutions are in a good condition. But everyone else does. Popular rage will grow. We can imagine where it might lead in Germany — toward the far right. If the government cuts spending, it will not reform the system in the direction of more democracy. Instead, it will push it toward totalitarianism.

If we want to save our society, there is only one answer: to raise taxes.”

Wealth Inequality for Dummies

Thanks to VeganProf for mentioning this one to me:

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

As I have mentioned before on this topic, this is hegemonic triumph: cultural belief in equal opportunity, a moralistic view of social inequality and social mobility, along with a refusal to generally discuss inequalities outside of these terms. Combine that with general ignorance of facts (thank you media) and overall anti-intellectualism and you have a generally ill-informed and deluded population with the corresponding disastrous public policy.

And let us not forget that, contrary to popular belief, there is less social mobility in the US than in other Western countries.

See also here on a similar topic.

Monique Pinçon-Charlot On Social Hypocrisy and Self-Preservation

Of course, everyone and their brother has been talking about Warren Buffett’s op-ed in the New York Times, in which he breaks rank with his social class to claim too low a level of taxation on the wealthy like him and to advocate for higher taxation. Of course, this has won him a lot of applause from the liberal / progressive side and, at least, relative silence on the right instead of the usual reactions ranging mockery to cries of socialism and class warfare. And yet, Buffett has not said anything that has not been said for years now. Well, that is what social privilege based on prestige is (in the Weberian sense), you get listened to and not summarily ignored or insulted. And from the left, you get plaudits for looking like you’re playing against your own privileged team and demanding greater justice and equality in the name of some degree of social solidarity.

Well, hogwash, says sociologist of the Rich, Monique Pinçon-Charlot. This social hypocrisy and self-preservation. For her (and considering her body of work, she definitely knows what she is talking about), the wealthy can see the rising amount of destabilization around the world and they can read the writing on the wall and they have a good sense of the amount of resentment directed at them. They are getting scared. So, they publicly make statements seemingly offering a few sacrifices to appease the masses. There is no significant solidarity movement involved.

After all, everyone can see that significant fiscal and economic measures have been targeted at the financial sector and the wealthiest classes, both recovered rather quickly while the middle and lower classes continue to sink. Even the Greek bailouts were massive gifts to the wealthy Greeks. So, whatever sacrifices are offered by wealthy people like Buffett will be largely symbolic because extreme wealth is not just monetary. As Pinçon-Charlot puts it, wealth is an iceberg, the vast sums of money that we see are only the tip. Wealth is also cultural, symbolic and social and these are forms of capital that are as valuable as economic capital which they sustain and reinforce.

So, according to her, expect more such calls for solidarity and monetary offerings from the top of the social ladder, and do not believe a word of it. It is a self-preserving strategy for fear of the barbarians at the gates.