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Forum Post: We Used to Make the Rich Poorer and the Poor Richer

Posted 5 years ago on Nov. 30, 2012, 7:29 p.m. EST by Underdog (2971) from Clermont, FL
This content is user submitted and not an official statement


We Used to Make the Rich Poorer and the Poor Richer

By David Swanson

November 30, 2012 "Information Clearing House" - Many of us have heard the current period referred to as a second gilded age.  Or we've seen the current inequality in wealth in the United States compared to that of 1929.  But we have not all given sufficient thought to what ended the first gilded age, what created greater equality, what created the reality behind that category our politicians now endlessly pretend we are all in: the middle class.  We have a sense of what went wrong at the turn of each century, but what went right in between?

This is the theme of Sam Pizzigati's new book, "The Rich Don't Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph Over Plutocracy That Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970."  I take away three primary answers short enough to include in a brief summary. First, we taxed the riches right out from under the rich people.  Second, we empowered labor unions.  And third -- and this one came first chronologically as well as logically -- we developed a culture that saw it as absolutely necessary for the greater good that the rich be made poorer.

Nowadays, it's not hard to find people who would like the poor to be richer.  But who wants the rich to be poorer?  It seems so impolite and improper and cruel.  Surely Bill Gates earned, deserves, and needs his $66 billion.  While he might live exactly as comfortably as before if he lost 65 of those billions, how could we expect others to do all the good Gates has done (surely he's done some) if they can't expect to also be permitted to hoard $66 billion while other people starve and go homeless.  In fact, without the possibility of hoarding your own $66 billion, nobody will work (will they?) or "create jobs" for others, and in the end if we took $65 billion away from Gates it would vanish into the air leaving the poor even poorer than they'd been.  Or so we like to fantasize.

Pizzigati points to the polling that shows that Americans imagine their nation is much more equal than it is, and that they would like it to be more equal still -- would in fact far prefer Sweden's distribution of wealth to our own.  But what does this tell us about our willingness to do what it takes to get there?  I just saw an article in Mother Jones Magazine claiming that President Obama's caving in and permitting the continuation of the "Bush" tax cuts for the super wealthy was actually a progressive victory because of other things Obama got in the process.  Such analyses suffer, I think, not just from hero-worship and partisan defensiveness, but from misplaced priorities.  Taxing the rich is absolutely essential to every humanitarian cause and the viability of representative government. 

"We can have democracy in this country," Louis Brandeis accurately said, "or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."

The history that Pizzigati tells demonstrates this.  Democracy and wealth concentration rise and fall in opposition to each other.  Limitations on extreme wealth do nothing to reduce work and initiative.  Extreme wealth impoverishes the poor; it doesn't enrich them.  Trying to enrich the poor while allowing the rich to grow richer is an uphill if not impossible struggle, as the super-rich rewrite the rules to their own advantage.  Thus "Tax Cuts For Everybody!" is an even worse policy than we commonly understand.  It's not just that Congress rigs such deals to give the wealthiest the biggest cuts, but beyond that the wealthy will gain the power to quickly enact even worse legislation for the rest of us.

In the decades before World War I, authors and activists built an understanding that survived that horror, an understanding that the rich needed to be brought down if the poor were going to be brought up, that a rising tide doesn't lift all ships, that voodoo economics doesn't work just because preaching it can get you elected.  It took decades of struggle, partial victories, and many setbacks.  It took civil disobedience.  It took third political parties.  It took a willingness to spend money on World War II that we have yet to compel our government to spend on green energy or infrastructure or education or health.  It took the alternative of communism competing for the world's approval.  It took until the 1940s and 1950s for success to come.  It was never a perfect success, and it came under greater threat of reversal the more people came to take it for granted.  The success came after some who had worked for it had died.  It came slowly.

And this is what worries me.  Dave Lindorff speculated the other day that the rich and powerful in the United States may be driving climate disaster forward because they actually think that they and their friends will be able to weather the storms (and the millions who will suffer and die be damned). If at the start of the last century global warming had been what it is now, the struggle for success by mid-century in bringing down plutocracy would have come too late.  We don't have a half century to play with.  We can't leave power in the hands of maniacs willing to destroy the planet for a half century.  "Those who succeed us," said Senator William Andrews Clark at the turn of the last century as he proposed hacking down the national forests, "can well take care of themselves."  Many U.S. senators clearly feel the same way today under the cloud of greater dangers.

This is not an argument against reading Pizzigati's book.  It's an argument for reading it immediately and acting on it even more swiftly than that.  It's an argument for building a cultural awareness, not of hatred and vengeance, not of violence, not of counterproductive spasms of rage, but of awareness that aristocracy is incompatible with democracy, that in one form or another 99% of us must join together, undo the status of the 1%, and then welcome them as 1% among equals.  There is much we can learn from the history of how the rich have sometimes lost.



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[-] 2 points by jrhirsch (4714) from Sun City, CA 5 years ago

While many people idolize the rich, they don't realize what that wealth actually represents. A billion dollars is equal to the labor of 48,000 people working for one year full time at $10 an hour. That wealth isn't just paper, it's our sweat and our blood, our labor and whether by higher taxes or increased wages, we will take back our fair share no matter how they may justify their excess.


[-] 2 points by GypsyKing (8719) 5 years ago

I would bump this post a hundred times if I could. I sums up our current economic predicament perfectly and clearly. Thanks again!

[-] 2 points by Underdog (2971) from Clermont, FL 5 years ago

Spend some time on Information Clearing House and you will see some good articles from time to time. That's all I did, but I'm glad you liked it. I thought it kinda went to the heart of an important topic as well.

[-] 2 points by GypsyKing (8719) 5 years ago

Right to the heart!

[-] 2 points by GypsyKing (8719) 5 years ago

Brilliant post! Thanks underdog!

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (33496) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

But now it seems that the wealthy need all of our help to get by - WTF?????????

Well lets get em proper help then - http://occupywallst.org/forum/what-do-you-think-of-a-rolling-jubilee-type-action/ - perhaps action will lead to their getting treatment.

[-] 1 points by highlander (-163) 5 years ago

It is the dream and desire to become wealthy that is the driving force behind innovation and success. Life is about risk and risk-taking. Even if you fail, you can still get up and start again. There are people out there who want to turn this country into a den of milquetoast pussies. They can go to Sweden.

[-] 3 points by Underdog (2971) from Clermont, FL 5 years ago

At this point in world history, they need to get a different dream...like leading the effort in the survival of the human race and other lifeforms for example. Getting rich is a very narrow, shallow, and stupid goal. There are grander and nobler goals to pursue, and they should be pursued over wealth, because wealth/greed/capitalism is what got us to this dangerous point and it is what will bring us down.

[-] -1 points by SteveKJR1 (8) 5 years ago

How about instead of losers focusing on what the wealthy have would instead focus on themselves becoming wealthy. We need to change the attitude of the younger generation to be makers instead of takers.

Only by doing this will this country survive - otherwise we will be going the way of Greece.

[-] 3 points by Underdog (2971) from Clermont, FL 5 years ago

Your definition of "losers" is very narrow and biased. How is wealth accumulation "winning" when the pursuit of wealth/greed/capitalism has resulted in enormous disparities and hardships, not to mention destructions that are now threatening the very continuance of life as we know it? That tends to get overlooked in the blind pursuit of money doesn't it?

[-] 0 points by SteveKJR1 (8) 5 years ago

No, my definition of "losers" is not very narrow and biased - it's a fact. What I have realised is that there are a lot of people out there who don't know how to succede. As a result they blame others for their failures.

Ask anyone you know who complains about the 1% if they have a goal and where they want to be 5 years from now.

You can be sure if they say they don't know, 5 years from now they will be exactly where they are today. Whining doesn't get the job done - having a goal does.

BTW, you and your generation voted for Obam so whatever the outcome is you are going to have to deal with it so don't blame those who are successful because of it.

[-] 2 points by Underdog (2971) from Clermont, FL 5 years ago

As Reagan said, "there you go again". You are defining/advocating "success" as wealth, and those that might pursue nobler goals (like saving us from this screwed up mess caused by "the makers") as losers. Why do you defend the status quo when all it does is benefit a tiny few at the expense of the vast majority who are suffering from a system designed and built by and for the (R)ich?

And I don't know what "your generation" you are talking about, but I am 57 years old. That generation? You are revealing your futher bias/prejudice with each sentence you make.

[-] 0 points by SteveKJR1 (8) 5 years ago

What the hell do you think being successful is? Do you think being successful is living in poverty? Let me ask - if more people in this country were successful what would happen to poverty - it would go down.

So, how do you make people successful - you don't do it by taking from successful people to give to those who aren't. You make those who aren't successful successful - how hard is that to understand.

I am not bias nor prejudice as you state for if I was I would be criticizing instead of trying to make people understand what it takes to be successful.

Success isn't handed to you you have to have a goal and achieve that goal to become successful. Apparently a lot of people on this site don't understand that.

[-] 3 points by Underdog (2971) from Clermont, FL 5 years ago

What do I think "successful" is? At this point I would define a successful person as someone who is committed to rebuilding the middle-class (that was gutted by 30+ years of Neo-Con policies and trickle-down voodoo lies) and, further, who is committed to a system designed to create the greatest good for the greatest number (democratic cooperative socialism), instead of the greatest good for the smallest number (corporate capitalism). I would also define success as anything/anyone that can reverse the current accelerating climate change debacle that will, in a few short decades, render all other discussion moot as we (those that survive) will have such a low quality of life that we might actually prefer death (but I'm sure the wealthy will be glad to endure it tucked away in their luxurious bunkers if, as the article says, they can eventually emerge to a planet with millions/billions dead so that they can reconstruct their plantations and reinstitute slavery again while they sit on their front porches sipping mint julips).

[-] 1 points by SteveKJR1 (8) 5 years ago

When you say "you define a successful person as someone who is committed to rebuilding the middle-class" what does that mean?

How are you going to do that? Are you going to give people the money you earned in hopes that maybe they can become "middle class"? It doesn't work that way.

You see when you make a comment like that it just goes to show that you don't understand what it takes to "build the middle class".

Middle class people are people who are "successful people" that cannot be denied.

Now, to become "middle class" a person has to be "successful" and to be successful that means working towards the goal to become "middle class".

So, looking at it from that perspective, you put your blinders on focus on becoming "middle class" ,not being concerned about what anyone else owns or has and "walla" - you have become successful and are now part of the middle class. - right?

So if you become a "middle class" person, what you need to do to "rebuild the middle class" is encourage others to be the same- that's how you build the middle class.

You don't build the "middle class" by thinking that other people who are successful and have more then you are evil. Like anything else, going from poor to middle class to evil rich and wealthy is all part of being successful. It is just a matter of how successful you want to be.

[-] 1 points by Underdog (2971) from Clermont, FL 5 years ago

How am I going to rebuild the middle-class? Well, I would start by taxing the (R)ich at 90% like they were in 1960. The (R)ich complain about wealth redistribution through socialistic taxation policies, but fail to notice their complete hypocrisy at doing nothing but redistributing the wealth in this country from the middle-class up to the top starting around the 1980s Reagan era. They took it from us through Neo-Con policies and failure to police Wall Street that resulted in a largely unregulated capitalistic money grab. People understand that now, and they want their money back. It was legally stolen from the middle-class through clever and largely unnoticed activities/policies that the average little guy was too busy slaving away at work to understand (and couldn't do anything about at the time anyway). This has little to do with "Success" vs. "Failure" as you are advocating, and everything to do with right vs. wrong. It is a moral advocacy, not success/failure advocacy.

But I guess you might not be able to grasp that since you are advocating maintaining the status quo, and obviously believe that capitalism is a good thing and not the enormous evil that it is.

[-] 1 points by jrhirsch (4714) from Sun City, CA 5 years ago

Focus on this graph and tell me who's been doing the taking for the last 40 years?


[-] 0 points by SteveKJR1 (8) 5 years ago

So tell me - why are there rich or wealthy people and why are there poor or needy people. Think it's maybe because the successful people have the drive to succede the those who aren't don't have the "capability to succede"?

[-] 2 points by jrhirsch (4714) from Sun City, CA 5 years ago

Still waiting for your answer. Where has all of the increase in income gone in the past four decades and more importantly, where has it not gone?

[-] 0 points by SteveKJR1 (8) 5 years ago

The question is not where the "income has gone" but why hasn't the income gone up and why? Who's to fault - is it the corporations or is it the fault of the people who decide not to improve their job skills to increase their wages.

If you say that people have been opressed when it comes to wages why then are there successful people - why are there people out there making hugh amounts of money -

Think maybe it's because they want to be successful and make tons of money? If so, what's wrong with that? If they can do it so can others or do you think that only a select few have that capability..

[-] 1 points by jrhirsch (4714) from Sun City, CA 5 years ago

Even the well educated aren't making any more "real" money than their parents. Inflation has burred the value of money so much that the average person with a doctorate isn't making any more than they did 20 years ago.


[-] 1 points by SteveKJR1 (8) 5 years ago

The way I look at it is this - if a person wants to have more then they have, they have to have a goal to do it. It isn't going to come to them sitting there.

Have you ever talked to successful people to really find out what drives them - should you do that you will find out that they have goals to succede - that's what makes them successful.

So if a person has a BA degree and feels they should be making more money, then what should they do - go for their masters and so on.

Success isn't something that is given to a person - success is earned by that individual through having a goal to become successful.

[-] 1 points by jrhirsch (4714) from Sun City, CA 5 years ago

You still don't get it. We have many hard working people in this country who don't share in the increase in wealth they help create. Successfully diverting as much money as possible from your employees and customers into your bank account is not a sign of success, it's a sign of excessive selfishness.

[-] 0 points by Coyote88 (-24) 5 years ago

None of the regulars here are addressing the OP. Insults and name calling.

[-] 1 points by Underdog (2971) from Clermont, FL 5 years ago

I know. Pretty pathetic. People don't really want to talk about some of the topics. There are some defenders of the status quo who will argue against this topic though.

[-] 0 points by BetsyRoss (-744) 5 years ago

Ahhhh using the speculations of someone like Dave Lindorff, who admits that this particular theory in his own words-

" is conspiracy thinking, and that as such it is rather far-fetched, and yet what troubles me is that it’s hard to imagine an alternative explanation for the years of complete inaction on combating global warming, and the deliberate undermining of any sort of international accord which America has engaged in for the past decade."

It's not hard for other people to imagine an alternative explanation at all!! Here's one-the climate is changing. It always has and it always will. It's been hotter in the past without humans and colder in the past without humans because the only thing consistent about the planet called earth IS It's CONSTANTLY CHANGING environment. The scientific community is the FIRST to admit that they DO NOT KNOW how all of the natural contributors to Earth's environment WORK exactly and that they are learning more every day. This makes it entirely logical and reasonable to think that MAYBE, just MAYBE, the planet isn't something we can control at ALL.

And somehow-all the natural changes resulted in the perfect environment for the human race to come into existence and thrive! Should the planet warm up and kill us all off, then it's something else's turn to exist and thrive and who are we to think that we're special or deserve more time than we were granted?

[-] 1 points by gnomunny (6819) from St Louis, MO 5 years ago

Man, you're a deflective son-of-a-bitch. The post ain't about climate change, Betsy.

[-] -1 points by DKAtoday (33496) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

Also contrary and contentious. Perhaps even a daughter(?) of a bitch?

[-] 1 points by gnomunny (6819) from St Louis, MO 5 years ago

Yep. He (she?they?it?) likes to take one kernel of a post or comment and run with it. Half the time I can't figure out why they decided to go off on their tangent in the first place.

[-] -1 points by DKAtoday (33496) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

Contrariness(?) if they are just doing it for them self. Some just like to be contentious even if they do it for no reason but to please them self.

[-] 2 points by gnomunny (6819) from St Louis, MO 5 years ago

Yeah, they get off on it. I've met a few, and I'm sure you have too. They're sometimes called 'shit-disturbers.'

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33496) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

One of my 1st jobs out of High School - a lady I worked with absolutely glowed if she had something to bitch about - come in to work and find her in a foul mood(?) get her to start bitching about something and she was so happy.

[-] 1 points by gnomunny (6819) from St Louis, MO 5 years ago

That's all you got, buddy (just kiddin')? My oldest sister, . . . jeez, don't get me started about my oldest sister. Literally a lifetime of constant bitching, usually about other family members.

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (33496) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

LOL - ummm - sorry - that must have sucked growing up with that negativity. Yeah - though - this lady would get a twinkle in her eye and just the sweetest smile - a case of the giggles - she was in absolute heaven. So strange.

[-] 2 points by gnomunny (6819) from St Louis, MO 5 years ago

Luckily, she was fifteen years older (half-sister, actually) so I never had the . ahem, pleasure, of having to live 24-7 with her. But, yeah, it's strange that some people actually seem to thrive on it. Bizarre, really.

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (33496) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

Well very happy that you did not have to live with a prolonged toxic exposure. It was very strange for me - to decide what was better - a depressed sour glowering co-worker - or a happy and bouncy bitching co-worker.

[-] 2 points by gnomunny (6819) from St Louis, MO 5 years ago

Heh heh. That's an interesting way to look at it. I'm guessing you chose 'happy, bouncing and bitching.'

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (33496) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

Most days - lol - not so much if I had a hangover - 18 and lots of parties.

[-] 2 points by gnomunny (6819) from St Louis, MO 5 years ago

I can relate. Sometimes I miss drinking but I sure don't miss the hangovers.

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (33496) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

I still drink - though it isn't an Olympic event anymore - rare is the hangover since I turned thirty.

[-] 1 points by hchc (3297) from Tampa, FL 5 years ago

I hate the hangovers too. If only I remembered that 12 hrs earlier. haha.

[-] -2 points by BetsyRoss (-744) 5 years ago

I'm a realist. Why does that bother you so much?

[-] 0 points by gnomunny (6819) from St Louis, MO 5 years ago

It doesn't.