fresh voices from the front lines of change







Roger Simon, Politico:

Don't like the way wealth is distributed? Then you can join congressional Democrats and grump about it, or you can get some wealth for yourself.

I've been waiting for some real push back on this "inequality" stuff from the well-off Villagers. Remember that their main conceit is that they see themselves as representatives of Real Americans, reg'lar folks, just working for a living and trying to get along when in fact, they are successful, wealthy elites living at the very top of the pyramid. Most Americans have never been in a limousine or a green room and have never had a conversation with a famous person. And 98% of them are making far less than 250k a year, most of them far, far less.

Wealthy celebrities lecturing others about being "grumpy" over the tax deal and telling them that they should just get some of that wealth for themselves is very revealing. After all, they haven't been materially affected by this economic downturn.

Here's Pierson and Hacker on this disconnect:

If an economic catastrophe befalls Americans and no one in power hears it, did it happen?

That was the question raised by a new Yale/Rockefeller Foundation report released yesterday that looks at the economic experiences of Americans during the Great Recession. Since one of us (Hacker) was a coauthor, we obviously gave it extra attention. Yet the picture it painted -- based on a two-wave survey between March 2008 and September 2009 -- was only confirmation of what most Americans know: there's a lot of economic pain out there.

According to the report, more than 90 percent of Americans experienced at least one major economic "shock" during these 18 months: a substantial drop in wealth or income, a large increase in nondiscretionary spending (such as medical costs), or similar dislocation. Even if you ignore big wealth losses -- ubiquitous because of the fall in the housing and the stock markets -- roughly 7 in 10 Americans saw their earnings substantially decline or their nondiscretionary expenses substantially rise. Nearly a quarter saw their income fall by 25 percent or more.

Even more worrisome, those who experienced these shocks were much more likely to report serious economic deprivation (going without food, housing, or medical care because of the cost). And this was true for middle-income families as well as the least advantaged. Indeed, more than half of families with incomes between $60,000 and $100,000 that experienced employment or medical disruptions reported being unable to meet at least one basic economic need.

Against this backdrop, the tax-cut deal brokered by President Obama looks like very weak tea. Extended unemployment benefits are a vital lifeline that will encourage spending to revive the economy, and the temporary cut in payroll taxes will provide an important, albeit modest and short-lived, boost. But a huge chunk of the bipartisan deal is tax cuts that the Congressional Budget Office has judged singularly ineffective as economic tonic, including massive cuts for the richest of Americans and their heirs that will pile on future debt, exacerbate inequality, and crowd out other, more effective measures -- all for little or no short-term economic gain...

That the tax-cut deal may well be the best that Obama could have gotten only makes the joke crueler. What's wrong with our politics that so much hardship evokes so little response?

They go on to describe an event at which a number of expert panelists seemed stumped as to why there isn't more pressure to fix things for the people considering all the suffering out there. They discussed the dysfunctional political system and the filibuster and any number of systemic problems. But my money's on the this one:

There was second hypothesis: Maybe a good chunk of the political class is just so insulated from the realities in the report that they don't feel the same sense of urgency that most Americans do. Things are terrible on Main Street, but on Wall Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, and K Street, they don't look so gloomy. How else can we explain why everyone in Washington was talking about deficit reduction (at least until they decided to blow another hole in the budget), even while polls show that Americans ranked it way, way below fixing the economy?

It's not clear which is scarier -- that our leaders don't think they can lead, or that they don't want to.

Either way, the middle-class economy keeps falling, and no one is there to hear it.

They don't even think about it because they are laboring under the narcissistic illusion that they are the middle class. And so, if their 401ks are doing well and their portfolios have recovered --- and everyone they know is doing well --- then clearly these people who are complaining about wealth inequality and tax cuts for millionaires are cranks. They should just go out and do what these salt 'o the earth Real Americans did and get them some 'o that money! There's plenty!

Update: Meanwhile, you've got Bernie Goldberg saying that we should be building monuments to the rich and accusing Jesus Christ of being a stinking hippie.

Sadly, far too many tribal wingnuts think Bernie Goldberg knows what he's talking about.

It should be noted that in the the panel discussion I mention above, Ezra Klein did observe that the economic conditions of DC have skewed the perceptions. I would just add that social/cultural conditions are part of this as well.

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