America’s inequality distorts our society in every conceivable way. There is, for one thing, a well-documented lifestyle effect—people outside the top 1 percent increasingly live beyond their means. Trickle-down economics may be a chimera, but trickle-down behaviorism is very real. Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military—the reality is that the “all-volunteer” army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism goes only so far. Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war: borrowed money will pay for all that. Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake; corporations and contractors stand only to gain. The rules of economic globalization are likewise designed to benefit the rich: they encourage competition among countries for business, which drives down taxes on corporations, weakens health and environmental protections, and undermines what used to be viewed as the “core” labor rights, which include the right to collective bargaining. Imagine what the world might look like if the rules were designed instead to encourage competition among countries for workers. Governments would compete in providing economic security, low taxes on ordinary wage earners, good education, and a clean environment—things workers care about. But the top 1 percent don’t need to care.
Or, more accurately, they think they don’t. Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important. America has long prided itself on being a fair society, where everyone has an equal chance of getting ahead, but the statistics suggest otherwise: the chances of a poor citizen, or even a middle-class citizen, making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries of Europe. The cards are stacked against them. It is this sense of an unjust system without opportunity that has given rise to the conflagrations in the Middle East: rising food prices and growing and persistent youth unemployment simply served as kindling. With youth unemployment in America at around 20 percent (and in some locations, and among some socio-demographic groups, at twice that); with one out of six Americans desiring a full-time job not able to get one; with one out of seven Americans on food stamps (and about the same number suffering from “food insecurity”)—given all this, there is ample evidence that something has blocked the vaunted “trickling down” from the top 1 percent to everyone else. All of this is having the predictable effect of creating alienation—voter turnout among those in their 20s in the last election stood at 21 percent, comparable to the unemployment rate.
In recent weeks we have watched people taking to the streets by the millions to protest political, economic, and social conditions in the oppressive societies they inhabit. Governments have been toppled in Egypt and Tunisia. Protests have erupted in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. The ruling families elsewhere in the region look on nervously from their air-conditioned penthouses—will they be next? They are right to worry. These are societies where a minuscule fraction of the population—less than 1 percent—controls the lion’s share of the wealth; where wealth is a main determinant of power; where entrenched corruption of one sort or another is a way of life; and where the wealthiest often stand actively in the way of policies that would improve life for people in general.
As we gaze out at the popular fervor in the streets, one question to ask ourselves is this: When will it come to America? In important ways, our own country has become like one of these distant, troubled places.
How is it that a respected economist can be permitted to distill this sort of populist fury? Answer: His essay appears not in a Serious Intellectual Forum, but in the issue of Vanity Fair with a shirtless Rob Lowe on the cover. Clever Professor Stiglitz, smuggling ZOMGsocialism!!! into the supermarket checkout racks!
FYI, your link has an extra “http://” in it at the end.
Davis X. Machina
When the cable goes out. And the internet goes down.
If the Democrats spoke the language of class warfare (and backed up their words with actions) they would be like Popeye gulping down a can of spinach. The Republican Blutos wouldn’t know what hit them.
Uncle Clarence Thomas
President Obama hates Mr. Stiglitz.
@Davis X. Machina:
The price of beer and gas more than double, oh it already has. It might be sooner than we think.
Shirtless brat packers are the jackbooted thugs of Obamafascism!
Fucen Pneumatic Fuck Wrench Tarmal
I still have the same unanswered question every time i read anything by,or about, Stiglitz.
What kind of ass can you pull saying you are, “the most often quoted economist in the world?”
Just Some Fuckhead
Yer link is broken. Here’s the one I used on my FB page:
And when even Walmart products are out of reach for all of the bottom 20%-25%.
Stiglitz is so on target, but he is not the only one. I would love to see a compendium of scholary essays that have been written on this subject recently.
Just ignore that man, AL. Didn’t you hear the UI shrank .2 percent this month! Good times are here again.
Just Some Fuckhead
Mmmhhhmmm. Gonna be tough for me to figure out which one to masturbate to.
Davis X. Machina
jo6pac: I remain unconvinced. Pitchforks and torches in hand, yeah, they’ll head for the castle, but they’ll go through the — ahem — ‘darker’ parts of town, and the neighborhood over by the university, and the arts district, get ‘distracted’ en route, and somehow never make it to the castle.
And that’s presuming ‘lash out’ beats ‘curl up and go fetal’ to begin with.
There’s a book called The Long Emergency that has some pretty compelling answers to how this may come about. I don’t know that it’s prophetic or anything, but it sure makes a lot of sense.
Although now that I think about it, just mentioning that you’ve read such a book can make a person seem all shrill and Thunder-Domey. Carry on.
He has a much better chance of being read in Vanity Fair than in a Serious Intellectual Forum.
Davis X. Machina
@dr. bloor: But an even better chance on Dancing with the Stars. Anyone seen Joe dance?
OT: Quick interruption. Donald Trump is going to join Fox and Friends as a commentator.
All that birther crap that Trump was spouting clearly made him AOK for Fox.
@matryoshka: I have that book. I don’t agree with everything Kunstler says but he is right about how peak oil is going to affect our civilization. I think it will be somewhere between Mad Max and The Road with a little Soylent Green thrown in for flavor.
Too many words for a bumper sticker. Democrats just need to wear pie charts.
Folderol & Ephemera
It was his audition material.
While on the other hand, Hugo Stiglitz is one badass motherfucker.
Davis X. Machina
@Cat Lady: The GOP’ll just whip out a pie chart for “Freedom”. And Americans can’t read graphs.
In all fairness, CNN/MSNBC/FOX are more than willing to dedicate some an hour or more of coverage to Kim Kardashian or Lindsey Lohan.
I think the big difference between Vanity Fair and the cable big three is that the magazine actually covers politics alongside its glamor whoring.
And thus it’s all good for Republicans. No matter what disasters they create, they’ll make out like bandits. Iraq? Big bucks for Halliburton, thanks to We the People. Afghanistan? Make money selling weapons to the pre-Taliban to fight the Soviets, then make money selling to the U.S. military to fight the Taliban after 9/11, paid for by We the People. Climate change? Make money exacerbating the problem, and make money denying a problem even exists, all paid for by We the People.
America, is we learning yet?
Just Some Fuckhead
America hasn’t even begun to wake up to the possibilities yet. Did you know we could conscript our prison population into the military and save money WHILE making it hand over fist?
You know a logical and rational person in might get it that if Mubarik and his police state can be mobbed out of power then so can our corporate overlords in the Land of the Free and the Brave. Then again these people think Atlas Shrugs is a history so doubtlessly they are sure they can save themselves with some kind of invisibility field.
So how long before stupid immovable object meets irresistible force?
@Just Some Fuckhead: Yep. Republicans already profit from privatized prisons. And they already profit from contracting out prisoners for what’s essentially slave labor. And they profit emotionally by locking up many of the people they already hate. Why wouldn’t they seek to profit by conscripting prisoners? Oh yeah, not into the military, but into their mercenary corps under contract to the military, ya know.
The peasants canna take much more, captain.
Just Some Fuckhead
Really? Haha. Go look here.
Fifty percent of the peasants are voting for Republicans.
I would like to see a tax policy that establishes two sets of rates – one for peacetime and one for wartime (called what you will). Establish them up front, make it clear what the cost to individual taxpayers will be to enter a conflict or to exit one sooner.
You might not believe me, but Vanity Fair publishes some excellent journalism, especially on economic issues.
@Martin: Good idea. Republicans will hate it unless the wartime rates are lower.
Just Some Fuckhead
@Martin: Only way to pull that off is by passing a non-wartime tax cut. Which means we’ll just be further in the hole between wars.
Benjamin Cisco (mobile)
What could turn this around? Easy.
The status of the average American (at this point a subset that does not include the top 1%, their enablers in the dregs of what was the 4th estate, and the 27 percenters) is going to have to deteriorate further. Only this group has any chance of recognizing reality and shrugging off the BS.
@Uncle Clarence Thomas: Ha ha! That’s all ya got?
@Tonal Crow: Heh. I hadn’t thought they’d push it that way, but you’re probably right.
Villago Delenda Est
@Davis X. Machina:
No beer and no TV make Homer something something.
Villago Delenda Est
@Just Some Fuckhead:
Those are the wretched excuses for human beings I call the “natural serfs”.
They are utterly unworthy of the freedoms so many have fought, bled, and died for.
This country blows. Sorry.
@Breezeblock: Yes, that’s what I was thinking as I read this. Clearly McArdle has found a way to mass produce her calculator.
Shrill = Eloquent
Vanity Fair publishes an article bemoaning income inequality on one hand and then runs ads that for products that only those in the top one percent can even afford to purchase. Talk about a disconnect.
Vanity Fair: The Magazine of the Masses
Yup, that’s why I buy it. Even if I did tear the Justin Beiber cover off before reading it in public!
The highlighted section or whatever you call it is written by someone who is totally out of touch with reality and how things work in our economy and society. And it’s to such an extent that I’m going to do something I rarely do – I’m not even going to waste time responding to the substance of it.
I know my libertarian views don’t count for much on this blog, and being a troll somehow makes my comments less worthy of consideration than the regulars.
But if you think whoever wrote that blurb has any idea what he’st talking about, you are sorely out of touch. And there are enough such persons that our government continues to plunge the country into ruin because the faithful believers keep voting for these career corrupt politicians on both sides of the proverbial aisle.
I think a majority of Americans would agree that we need a real “regime change” in this country. We need to get the R’s and D’s out of power for a while and let some libertarians or old school conservatives run things for a change. The R’s and D’s have failed us for decades, and they show no signs of stopping, so why not give a totally different ideological group like libertarians a chance to run things and see how differently they approach the vast array of issues and problems we face as a nation.
What’s the worst that can happen? We’re already pushing bankruptcy as a nation, our infrastructure is crumbling before our eyes, we destroy every single natural ecosystem we can reach, and we continue to put these idiots in positions of power that they use to further damage our great nation.
Does anyone care about the foundational principles that made our country so exceptional?? Does anyone care to adhere to the Constitution anymore?? It boggles my troll mind that everyone is complaining about the R’s and D’s, yet we keep givig them the keys, and they keep driving us off the cliff.
Let’s really shake it up for a change and give a new ideology other than “big government/world’s policeman/spending spree” a chance to right this ship.
We are heading for serious problems beyond complaints about gas prices and personal mandats in health care reform bills. Maybe when there are actually gas and food shortages and 20% unemployment, and a C rating on U.S. debt, then people will wake up. Until then, I guess everyone will just continue to enjoy American Idol, NFL Football (assuming there isn’t a lockout), and voyeuring the R v. D corrupt game of who can fuck things up worse.
What is so wrong about adherence to the Constitution, limited government, fiscal responsibility, minding our own business globally, maintaining a military that is merely sufficient to protect our own national security, and promoting individual responsibility, accountability, and liberty? Neither the R’s nor D’s have any interest in these things, so maybe another direction might be a wise attempt for a change.
Like voting for a true libertarian, or amending the Constitution, or changing the executive branch from one “leader of the free world” to a committee of three or five persons with staggered terms and Supreme Court Justices with term limits.
We need to do something different because the R’s and D’s are clueless and have no idea how to lead.
But I’m just a troll and I’m sure I’m wasting my breath, but there must be someone on here who shares my sentiments. Anyone? Anyone? Buehler?
Parallel 5ths (Jewish Steel)
@Caz: Plangent troll sings to himself on a dead thread. How melancholy.
I’ll give you the same offer I give all libertarians, Caz: take your group out into a completely unincorporated area and build your town from the ground up on libertarian principles. If you can actually build something rather than parasitically feeding on existing infrastructure the way you are now, we might think you have something to say that’s worth listening to.
Of course, we all know exactly how it would work out in reality. You’ll be lucky if you don’t go Donner Party in the first six months of trying to live in your libertarian paradise.
I see all the smart asses are trashing another Noble Prize winning economist. I guess if you are not spouting your beliefs over the cable networks, then your nothing to this crowd. So fucking be it. When “they” come to take what belongs to you, maybe then you will realize how you were set up for the big screw. Nobody is immune. Believe it.
“Clever Professor Stiglitz, smuggling ZOMGsocialism into the supermarket checkout racks!”
Hey – what better place?
comrade scott's agenda of rage
You and the rest of your ilk, move to Somalia. Fix that. Then get back to us.
Indeed. Their political articles and analyses are among the very best out there. Toss in the columns by Wolcott and Christopher Hitchens and the editorials and it’s a great mag, a shirtless Rob Lowe and Oscar party coverage notwithstanding.
And one Tina Fey cover makes up for a lot of “What will the mail carrier think?!” Rob Lowes.
It sounds like you believe our problems are the result of character flaws among D’s and R’s, and that libertarian candidates lack these defects. Which is just plain silly.
Duncan Dönitz (formerly Otto Graf von Pfmidtnöchtler-Pízsmőgy, Mumphrey, et al.)
@comrade scott’s agenda of rage:
Damn right. Good old Somalia is a shining beacon of libertariany libertarianiness that should bring a smile to any libertarian’s tiny little heart. Caz and all the other libertarians can set up shop in Somalia and see how long they last in a truly free paradise.
Oops. I forgot. They’ll come back with some tortured expalnation of why Somalia isn’t really what their beliefs would lead to, why it doesn’t count and why their version would work out so much better. I mean, hey, Ayn Rand said so, so it must be true, right?
@Mnemosyne: Hey, isn’t some asshole libertarian trying that “town” thing? Kindasorta? I’m not interested enough to google sea steading but I remember some libertarian wanting to build Utopia on the high seas. Of course he would still be pimping existing stuff. But fuck that little detail, it would still be Utopia.
@Duncan Dönitz (formerly Otto Graf von Pfmidtnöchtler-Pízsmőgy, Mumphrey, et al.): Forget Somallia. How about that free trade, unregulated, drug shithole down Mexico Way?
@Bob: Don’t blame Mexico. We’re the ones giving the multi-billion dollar market. You can’t blame the narco-traffickers from fulfilling a market need.
At least we get to boost the business of our gun shops, since huge numbers of the narco-paramilitaries’ weapons come from here. And if you try to make the gun shops do even as little as filling out a form to send in when the same person makes mass purchases of weapons in one occasion or over a time period, they all start whining about how oppressed they are.
@Cat Lady: The problem is that so many Americans look at that pie chart and say, ‘a) I want to be in the 1 percent, b) that’s actually possible and c) actually, fuck ‘possible’ it’s totally inevitable!’
@El Cid: I wasn’t blaming Mexico, I’m blaming unregulated markets. You know, the thing libertatians love.
This VF article raises some interesting points, but Barney Frank is a big fat homo.
I’m surprised we haven’t seen the “these people aren’t poor! they have cellphones and flatscreen TVs and can buy cigarettes and lottery tickets!” argument yet.