How the Plutocrats Are Different from You and Me


Just in time for the holiday shopping season, the inestimable California Budget Project weighs in with a terrific new study detailing the full measure of the economic domination of California’s wealthiest 1%.

To the surprise of no one, the state’s widening wealth gap mirrors the same long-term trend in the nation as a whole, as reported last week by the Congressional Budget Office.

The new report, “A Generation of Widening Inequality,” is just the latest piece of a growing mountain of evidence that demonstrates the growing concentration of wealth in the U.S, in the hands of a micro-minority of the uber-rich:

The average income of California’s top 1 percent was 33 times the average income of the middle fifth of Californians – about $35,000 – in 2009. This means the average Californian in the top 1 percent earned in eight workdays what the average middle-income Californian earned in a year.

As a political matter, the report is certain to fuel the passions driving the “99%” movement in the state, at a time when the inequality issue is becoming more central to the 2012 political debate.

As a practical matter, it is worth recalling that inequality is much more than a moral or ethical issue, although it is certainly that; as leading economists have noted, the nation’s vast financial disparity is a huge obstacle to growth, with an increasingly impoverished middle class having little disposable income for consumer spending, as Robert Reich notes:

The economy is in trouble because so much income and wealth have been going to the top that the rest us no longer have the purchasing power to buy the goods and services we would produce at or near full employment.

Mega-kudos to Alissa: Current economic conditions may also preview widespread social unrest, with the “Occupy (Name of Your Town Goes Here)” adventure perhaps a harbinger of much more to come. In a year when chronic unemployment and economic frustration have roiled plutocratic and kleptocratic governments elsewhere, the distribution of wealth in the U.S. increasingly resembles that of an underdeveloped nation. From the CBP report:

The U.S. has an income gap wider than all other wealthy industrialized nations, and according to the CIA World Factbook – which includes data on 136 countries – the U.S. has the 39th most unequal distribution of income, ranking between Jamaica and Cameroon.

While CBP’s findings won’t shock anyone who hasn’t been napping since Houston Flournoy was running for governor, author Alissa Anderson did a first-rate job of analyzing and presenting the report’s reams of 1987-2009 data with acuity and clarity, and along the way crafted some nice characterizations of the numbers that go well beyond stat-speak to tell an old story in compelling new ways, viz:

The incomes of California’s wealthy stand in stark contrast to the more than 6 million Californians living in poverty. California’s millionaires, who account for just 0.2 percent of taxpayers, had combined incomes of $104 billion in 2009, which is 11 times the income needed to lift every single Californian out of poverty.

Cameroon here we come.

Raising Cain: It is the 19th Century American writer Elbert Hubbard who is credited with being first to define an editor as “a person employed by a newspaper, whose business it is to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to see that the chaff is printed. “

Elbert’s old  adage came to mind this week as we whiled away a few minutes of pool time counting bylines on Beltway yarns about the Herb Cain sexual harassment scandal.

First up was Politico, which broke the story on Sunday. Its four name byline was unusual, if not excessive, but after all it was their oppo-research dump scoop, so what the hell.

Having been skunked, the MSM swiftly turned the full force of their superior numbers to the matter: By Tuesday, the NYT’s catch-up team included at least seven reporters, with their main Page 1 story featuring a double signer and five other names in a credit box, along with assorted other bylines on web stuff.

Small potatoes for the Washpost, which also ran a double byline main bar, but identified seven other reporters and a researcher in their credit box. More: the Post also featured op-ed pieces on the Cain matter by five staff columnists.

Five columnists? Really?

Hey, we enjoy a good political kinda-sorta sex scandal as much as the next guys, but amid all the endless caterwauling about “declining resources” in newsrooms, was “Herman Cain: Mighty King of the National Restaurant Association” really worth the time and effort of at least 13 staff members – at a conservative back-of-the-envelope wild ass guessestimate of something north of $1.5 million in salary and benefits per day (not counting assignment, news, copy or masthead editors, let alone assorted webheads, photographers and page designers)?

We’re just askin’.

Next up: The Post airdrops a battalion over Minnesota to get to the bottom of rumors Michele Bachmann used a fake id to buy Boone’s Farm apple wine in high school.

Bottom line: Whether or not Herman Cain actually sexually harassed two women in the 1990s is uncertain (although it could probably get cleared up if the woman who wants to speak out is allowed to). But here’s what’s crystal clear: Herman Cain –- or as the loathsome Ann Coulter calls him, one of “our blacks” — is a liar.

Cain knew he’d been accused of sexual harassment and that there’d been a financial settlement to make it go away. But he denied knowing anything about the messy affair until his lying could no longer stand.

Maybe Andy Borowitz has it right: the scandal is the first indication that Cain is qualified to be a politician.



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There are 6 comments for this post

  1. avatar smoker1 says:

    The story about Herman Cain is not as much about sexual harassment as it is about being ready to take over the White House. Cain might be thinking that this is the most serious challenge of his campaign, but in the White House it would be the most serious challenge between 9:40 and 10:00 on Tuesday. The question is: How did he handle himself? Did his performance on this crisis lead us to believe that he is up to the job of President? Answer: No.

  2. avatar bogey says:

    Where is Ernie when we need him to comment?

  3. Of course, we never hear directly from the 1% on their side of the story, but below is an exception 🙂

    Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6FrVehCLw8

    Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzcLF3SkarY

    Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dx2mLfVSdnQ

  4. avatar tegrat says:

    I think the term “sex scandal” only applies to consensual sex, not things like harrassment. To classify it as such just further demeans women.

  5. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    Watergate rule: It’s never the scandal that gets you. It’s the cover up. Always amazes me that elected officials and wannabe politicos haven’t learned that one yet.

    And I’m going to disagree with Tegrat on the definition of a sex scandal. I think the term is far broader. As we’ve recently seen, it can include tweeting racy photos of your underwear. It can include having consensual oral sex in the Oval Office–even if your spouse later forgives you. Or says she does. But it can also include hitting on people who work for you or making them feel their jobs are threatened if they don’t give out. Happened to me when I was a cute young thing, and before people thought much about it. And, believe me, it should be a scandal.

    As I always said during the Clinton “scandal,” I refuse to express an opinion on what should be, to my way of thinking, a private marital issue. Since I wasn’t married to the president, I considered it absolutely none of my business. Same goes for rep. Weiner and his wife. For rep. Craig. And for various gay and lesbian elected officials whose sexuality offends some. Not my business as long as it doesn’t affect their job performance. In fact, it really bugs me when people try to enforce their own morality that not all of us may share.

    However, I make exceptions when the powerful exploit the weak. This includes people who prey on children. Or bosses who hit on employees. Those are scandals.

  6. avatar mp3michael says:

    In California the mega income producers include many movie stars, athletes, singers, TV stars, and those affiliated with media production (think Chuck Lorie, Spielberg, etc). Are you suggesting that they’re not worth the money they make? How would paying Kobe or Simon Cowell or Justin Bieber (who made $53 million last year) less make things better? And there’s many tech superstars like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Google guys, etc. Are they undeserving?

    Are these the “powerful exploiting the weak”? Are these people greedy? Should we take all their money? Would that make the US better?

    It is simply astonishing to me that so many people don’t understand how capitalism works. It rewards the ultra producers with oversized payouts. No we’re not all created equal and so rewards will be unequal. The lure of that possibility is what drive people to work hard, be creative, and take risks. If you cap the amount people make you remove the incentive to be an ultra producer. If the government decides how much people can make they Without unlimited upside we slunk toward mediocrity, laziness and a lack of prosperity.

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