Finally, a movement for us

By Rodel E. Rodis

WHEN the Filipino people revolted against the Marcos dictatorship in February of 1986, the income disparity in the Philippines was a major factor.  According to the National Statistical Coordination Board, “the income of the Philippines’ richest ten percent of the population was in fact twenty times the income of the poorest ten percent”.  The richest quintile (20%) of the population “consistently commanded more than 50% of total family income in the country, with the poorest quintile at less than 5%.”

 

In 1986, the income disparity in the U.S. was “relatively” equitable with the top 12% of Americans controlling just 33% of the nation’s wealth.

While the wealth disparity in the Philippines has narrowed just a bit in the last 25 years, the chasm in the U.S. has widened. The top 1% of Americans now controls 40% of all the wealth in the U.S.

 

As Joseph Stiglitz observed (“Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%”, Vanity Fair, October 2011), “while the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous – 12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades has gone to those at the top.”

 

Stiglitz describes this growing inequality as “a quintessentially American achievement – we started way behind the pack, but now we’re doing inequality on a world-class level.”

 

Americans used to believe, as Pres. John F. Kennedy once said, that “a rising tide lifts all boats”. If the American economy improves, everyone benefits.

 

But somewhere along the road, the rising tide started to lift only yachts. The boats of the middle class and the working class started tipping over and much of the people were forced to cling to their life boats.

 

Globalization is often seen as the cause of this tipping over with the outsourcing of high-paying manufacturing jobs in the US to China and the rest of the Third World where wages are dirt cheap.  Others attribute this to advances in labor-saving technologies that reduced the demand for well-paying blue-collar jobs.

 

The way the US got out of this inequality in the 20s and 30s was for government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. “The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on,” Stiglitz points out. “But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.”

 

Unfortunately, the 1% of Americans who control the economy is reluctant to spend money on common needs.  “The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security – they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government – one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good.”

 

Just 30 years ago, the top 1% used to pay a 70% tax on their income. This tax rate was greatly reduced under successive Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush.  Pres. Bill Clinton held the line at 39% resisting Republican pressure to lower the tax rate for the top 1% even more. After two terms, Clinton delivered a $400 billion surplus to his successor.

 

Pres. George W. Bush reduced the tax rate to the top 1% down to 35% with his tax cuts for the wealthy that promised growth. The reduction in tax revenues to the government, as well as the two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, led to the massive economic meltdown of the U.S. economy.

 

The tax cuts for the top 1% did not produce growth as Bush promised it would. Instead of going back to the Clinton tax plan of 39% that actually produced growth, the Republican presidential candidates want to lower the tax rates for the wealthy even more.

 

This week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry unveiled his “flat tax” proposal that would end taxes on estates, dividends and capital gains and would lower the tax rate to the wealthiest 1% from 35% to 20% and increase the tax rates for the poor and what’s left of the middle class.

 

Republican Tea Party favorite Herman Cain would go even lower by reducing the tax rate down to 9% as his vaunted 9-9-9 plan would do.

 

Under the Perry and Cain plans, there would be virtually no money for infrastructure, education or research and development and virtually no money for social security and Medicare.

 

Americans in the top 1% certainly have their champions. But what about the rest of us?

 

Following the example of the Arab Spring demonstrations that toppled the rule of the top 1% in many Arab countries, Americans started the “Occupy Wall Street” movement on September 17 last month with demonstrations at Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street financial district. They protested social and economic inequality, corporate greed, corporate power and influence over government. Their slogan is “We are the 99%.”

 

By October 9, the “Occupy” movement had spread to 70 major U.S. cities and over 600 communities throughout the U.S. An October 13 Time Magazine survey showed that 54 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of the Occupy Wall Street protests, while only 23 percent have a negative impression. A National Journal Congressional poll found that 59 percent of Americans agree with the movement with 31 percent in disagreement.

 

People all over the world have expressed support for the Occupy protestors. Even the Vatican joined in. Cardinal Peter Turkson, a senior Vatican official, asked: “Do people at a certain time have a right to say: ‘Do business differently, look at the way you are doing business because this is not leading to our welfare, to our good’? Can people demand this of the people of Wall Street? I think people can and should be able to.”

 

Hell yes! Finally!

 

(Send comments to Rodel50@gmail.com or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800)

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