Capitalism sucks, unless you are one of the 74 wealthiest Americans who made profits five times bigger than the previous year, while most working-class people were catching hell in the Great Recession.
If you are one of the gilded Americans whose earnings were more than $50 million a piece last year, you actually saw your average income “skyrocket from $91.8 million in 2008 to a mind-boggling $518.8 million in 2009.”
These guys – the group of 74 – made more than the combined total of the 19 million lowest paid workers in the country.
These findings and more are based on statistics recently released by the Social Security Administration and analysed almost exclusively by David Kay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize winning former New York Times reporter.
At the height of the election campaign, it’s a surprise, even startling, that the media has said scarcely a word about this.
Johnston comments, “Not a single news organization reported this data when it was released October 15, searches of Google and the Nexis databases show” – a curious silence indeed given the debate in Congress on extension of the Bush tax cuts.
The superprofits raked in by the 74 added up to a combined $38.4 billion in 2009, up from $11.9 billion earned by 131 individuals with wages above $50 million in 2008, according to Social Security Administration data, writes Bloomberg news.
Keep in mind, the data, based on Medicare payments only, pertains only to wages and salaries and not investment income.
While the rich are growing fabulously richer – a fivefold increase in fact – wages for most of us fell, Johnston points out. Equally significant, he says, “Every 34th wage earner in America in 2008 went all of 2009 without earning a single dollar.”
This massive transfer of wealth, he contends, began in 1981 when there was “an abrupt change in tax and economic policy. Since then the base has fared poorly while huge economic gains piled up at the very top, along with much lower tax burdens.”
Thus it was Reaganism and GOP policy that set these forces in motion, a process that has had a devastating impact on the working class both economically and ideologically. “This systematic destruction of the working class and middle class has come during an era notable for celebrating the super-rich just for being super-rich,” Johnston writes. “From the Forbes 400 launch in 1982 and Robin Leach’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” in 1984 to the faux reality of the multiplying “Real Housewives” shows, money voyeurism has grown in tandem with stagnant to falling incomes for the vast majority. There has also been huge income growth at the top and the economic children of income inequality: budget deficits and malign neglect of our commonwealth.”
It was hoped that the Obama election two years ago signalled the end of that era of unprecedented capital accumulation that resulted in the Great Recession. That is precisely what’s at stake next Tuesday.