Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Let Them Eat Cake!

It’s a populist rebellion. Blue collar and white collar workers at what was once the bulwark of the middle class in this country are mad as hell and won’t take it anymore. Small businesses and the laid off workers who once “made stuff” for America blame our trade policies for their income demise, even as they depend on Target and Wal*Mart stores to stretch their meagre dollars. Though they are the source of most of the demand for cheap foreign goods that are made overseas, these economically-impaired Americans feel they have to shop there since their buying power has declined for almost three full decades… year by year… without interruption. Trump is the presumptive nominee and, even though he has been mathematically eliminated from capturing the Democratic nod, Bernie is railing and raging louder and more vituperatively than ever. But the rich are richer than ever before, CEOs of big companies make 324 times the pay of their average workers (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), and there rest of us… not so good. The numbers speak for themselves. And as bad as the below charts suggest, it’s actually gotten worse in 2016.
“Congressional Budget Office calculations that go back to 1979 illustrate well the disproportionate share of the gains from economic growth that have accrued to those at the very top. Using a comprehensive definition of income after taxes and government benefits, CBO finds that the real (inflation-adjusted) income of the top 1 percent has grown four to five times faster since 1979 than that of households in the middle and bottom (see chart) – even after the financial crisis and Great Recession sharply cut incomes at the top…
“Federal Reserve Board data (from a different survey and with a somewhat different measure of income than CBO) show that wealth is much more concentrated at the top than income (see chart), and that concentration has risen since the 1980s. In 2013, the top 3 percent of households received 31 percent of all income but held 54 percent of all wealth (up from 45 percent in 1989). The bottom 90 percent had 53 percent of all income but only 25 percent of all wealth (down from 33 percent in 1989).” USNews.com, December 12, 2014
As much as Americans are caught up in the lives of celebrities and the super-rich – thank you TMZ and Bravo – there are strong signs of rebellious resentment in the ranks. Nothing brings this home like the class-driven-rage engendered on airlines… where those cloistered in sardine-class have to march through first and business class to reach their ever-shrinking-seats in economy.
“If you’ve found yourself bristling when settling into your seat on an airplane, particularly if you’re back in coach, there’s a reason. A new study by researchers at the University of Toronto and Harvard Business School suggest that the cabin becomes a microcosm of a class-based society and that physical and situational inequality sets off antisocial behavior, more common known as air rage.
“Katherine DeCelles from the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management and Michael Norton from Harvard analyzed an international airline’s database of thousands of incident reports, involving millions of flights. It found that cases of ‘air rage’ are more frequent on flights when there’s a first class cabin. And the unruly and abusive behavior is more likely to occur in both first class and economy class when economy passengers have to walk through the first class section while boarding.
“Taking that humbling walk past those already seated in first class becomes a clear reinforcement of their ‘relatively disadvantaged status,’ the authors wrote, which can ‘prompt negative emotions and aggressive [behavior].’ And the antisocial behavior can come from the haves as well as the have-nots.
“Almost 84% of the incidents occurred in economy class, while 15% happened in first class. Men were involved in more than three times the number of incidents than women, and usually the target was a flight attendant, not other passengers.
“Lately the shrinking room in passenger seats, especially in economy, has been a source of complaints, and flight attendants have suggested it is leading to more air rage. But this new study identifies the physical layout and boarding procedures that trigger air rage. The study also found that air rage among first class passengers increased when there were more first class seats, larger cabins, and delayed flights. The incidents in first class were more likely to involve a passenger being belligerent or angry. DeCelles calls this ‘entitled reactions.’… In economy class, the incidents tended to emotional outbursts, the result of stress, fear or frustration.” Fortune.com, May 3rd.
Perhaps it is a really good thing that their carry-on luggage has been pre-screened for bombs, knives and guns. But looking at all of the tea leaves of class-based dissatisfaction across the United States, it seems pretty obvious that something much, much bigger… and worse… is brewing.
I’m Peter Dekom, and it really is time for incumbent politicians to deal severely with this growing resentment, outright rage, at income inequality in this country.

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