Class and made his virtual dictatorship possible.
right-wing agenda in US history. It quickly emerged that
whatever vague promises he made were insincere, and that
his administration was committed to an acceleration of the
policies of the Bush administration— overseeing a historic
transfer of wealth to the rich, escalating military violence
abroad, and deepening the attacks on democratic rights
within the United States."
FASTER under Obama than Bush.
US wealth gap largest on record
US wealth gap largest on record
By Joseph Kishore
Wealth inequality in the United States is at its highest on record, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. The analysis confirms previous reports documenting the immense transfer of wealth to the top during Obama administration’s “economic recovery.”
19 December 2014
As a measure of wealth inequality, Pew compares the median net worth of upper-income families with the median net worth of middle-income and lower-income families. Upper-income families are defined as those with more than twice the overall median income, adjusted for family size.'
In 2013, upper-income median net worth was 6.6 times more than median net worth for middle-income families, up from 6.2 times in 2010 and 3.4 times in 1983, when the Federal Reserve began keeping such records. It is nearly 70 times more than the median net worth for low-income families, also the highest on records going back to 1983.
The data on median household net worth documents a sharp diversion of fortunes over the past 30 years.
In 1983, the median net worth of lower-income families was $11,400 (in 2013 dollars). This had fallen to $9,300 in 2013—down nearly 20 percent. Between 2007 (just before the economic crash) and 2013, median net worth for this layer of the population fell nearly 50 percent, down from $18,000.
In contrast, the net worth of high-income families more than doubled between 1983 and today, rising from $318,100 to $639,400. Since 2007, the wealth of this layer has fallen slightly.
For middle-income families, median wealth is flat over the past 30 years, while it has fallen nearly 40 percent (from $158,400 to $96,500) since 2007.
By the definition used by the Pew report, 21 percent of families are categorized as upper-income. One third of families are categorized as low-income (those with less than two-thirds of the overall median net income), and about half of families are middle-income (between two-thirds and twice the median income).
Thus the Pew report actually underestimates the growth of wealth inequality, since the greatest concentration of wealth is actually accrued to the top one and even the top 0.1 percent of the population.
Earlier this year, a report from economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman found that “virtually all the increase in the top 10 percent and top 1 percent shares over the last three decades is due to the rise in the top 0.1 percent share, from 7 percent in the late 1970s to 22 percent in 2012.”
A separate report from researchers at the University of Michigan found that wealth inequality had doubled since 2003, with households in the top 5 percent now having a wealth that is 426.5 times the average wealth of households in the bottom 25 percent.
The stock market has been a principal mechanism for the transfer of wealth from the working class to the corporate and financial aristocracy. Particularly since the crisis of 2008, Obama administration and Federal Reserve policy has been focused on bolstering the nominal value of shares, which are overwhelmingly owned by the richest segments of the population.
The rise in share prices has been accompanied (and is to be paid for) by the continual driving down of wages, along with the attack on social programs and other restraints on corporate profitability.
Fueled by trillions of dollars through “quantitative easing” programs and near-zero interest rates, the Dow Jones Industrial average has more than doubled since 2009 and has surged nearly 40 percent since the beginning of 2013.
On Thursday, encouraged by the statement from Chairman Janet Yellen that the Fed would be “patient” in considering interest rate increases, the Dow surged 421 points, its largest point gain in three years.
The state of American society as 2015 begins
The state of American society as 2015 begins
6 January 2015As the New Year begins, the social crisis gripping tens of millions of working people in the United States is worsening. Hunger, poverty and long-term joblessness remain at the highest levels in decades, while vital social services continue to be slashed.
One would never know this from reading the press, watching the evening news, or listening to the statements of politicians. The official discourse is dominated by the supposed revival of the American economy, characterized by record corporate profits and stock prices. The fact that the great majority of the population finds it increasingly difficult to make ends meet finds no reflection in the media or official politics.
The incoming Republican-dominated Congress, working with the Obama administration, will focus on cutting corporate taxes and business regulations, planning new wars, and expanding the repressive apparatus of the state. No representative of the political establishment, including the supposedly outspoken liberal Elizabeth Warren and the “independent socialist” Bernie Sanders, is proposing any significant measures to address the deepening social crisis.
The constant of domestic policy—enthusiastically pursued by both big-business parties—is an unrelenting assault on the working class.
Critical social programs are being cut further. Last week, funding for a two-year temporary increase in fees paid to doctors who treat Medicaid patients expired, leading to a reduction in payments of up to 43 percent. The fee cut will lead doctors to stop accepting Medicaid patients under conditions where millions more low-income people are being added to the Medicaid rolls as part of Obamacare.
This week, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that another one million people are scheduled to lose food stamp benefits next year as a result of the imposition of a three-month limit on food stamps for childless adults. Federal food stamp funds were cut by billions of dollars on two separate occasions over the past three years.
These regressive and antisocial policies are being reproduced at the state and local level. The city of Detroit, which just exited from the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history after slashing municipal workers’ pensions and health benefits, is notifying the owners of 35,000 occupied homes that they will be foreclosed upon unless they pay back taxes. The threatened foreclosures could affect nearly 100,000 people, or one in seven of the city’s residents.
The announcement comes as the city continues the systematic shutoff of water service to tens of thousands of residents.
The Detroit bankruptcy has served as a model for plundering workers’ benefits and privatizing public facilities for other cities across the US. The mass foreclosure and water shutoff programs will similarly serve as a precedent for purging potentially valuable urban real estate of working-class and poor residents.
These policies will exacerbate the social crisis facing the working class, which has been devastated not only by the 2008 crash, but also by a “recovery” characterized by falling wages and worsening working and living conditions.
Falling wages have contributed to a rise in poverty, which increased from 12.6 percent of the population in 2007 to 14.5 percent in 2013. According to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), 47 percent of Americans have incomes below 200 percent of the official poverty level, making half of the country either poor or near poor.
According to one study using the SPM as a baseline, “Nearly two-thirds of New York City residents struggled to make ends meet at some point during 2012.”
Nearly one in four US children lives in poverty, the highest level in 20 years. One in five children does not get enough to eat, and the overall rate of food insecurity has grown from 11 percent in 2007 to 16 percent in 2013.
While the official unemployment rate has declined, the share of working-age men who are employed hit its lowest level on record in November 2014. This figure has fallen from 86.7 percent in 1948 to 69 percent today. The share of employees working at temp agencies has climbed during the economic “recovery.” More than 12 million people, or ten percent of the labor force, worked for a temporary employment agency at some point in 2013.
The share of the national income going to the richest 1 percent, and, above all, the top 0.1 and 0.01 percentiles, grows by leaps and bounds. Democracy can be nothing but a hoax in a society characterized by such levels of inequality.
The American political system is not a democracy; it is a plutocracy—a government of, by and for the rich. The financial aristocracy of bankers and financial parasites runs the country by means of the CIA, the military and a thoroughly bribed retinue of politicians from the White House and Congress down to City Hall.
Last week, Bloomberg reported that “three of the country’s wealthiest political contributors each saw their net worth grow in 2014 by more than $3.7 billion, the entire cost of the midterm elections.” This means that it is within the capacity of one person to buy not just a few congressmen or senators, but an entire election. Nothing that in any way challenges the interests of the oligarchy can be broached, much less implemented, within this framework. The “partisan gridlock” that prevails in Congress is largely a form of political theater for the purpose of deceiving the public and obscuring the overriding bipartisan consensus for austerity at home and war abroad.
The growing divergence between the needs and aspirations of the great majority of the population and an increasingly sclerotic political system, expressed in the record low turnout in last year’s election, must ultimately produce revolutionary consequences. There are already signs, such as the wave of protests against police killings, of mass social struggles to come.
They can succeed only if they take the form of an independent political struggle of the working class against both parties of big business and the capitalist system they defend.
Obama’s State of Delusion
22 January 2015The delusional character of Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday—presenting an America of rising living standards and a booming economy, capped by his declaration that the “shadow of crisis has passed”—is perhaps matched only in its presentation by the media and supporters of the Democratic Party.
The general tone was set by the New York Times in its lead editorial on Wednesday, which described the speech as a “simple, dramatic message about economic fairness, about the fact that the well-off—the top earners, the big banks, Silicon Valley—have done just great, while middle and working classes remain dead in the water.”
The attempt to present Obama’s remarks as a clarion call to combat social inequality runs first of all into the inconvenient fact that the individual supposedly making this call has been the head of state for the past six years. The Times writes as if the policies of the Obama administration—the multitrillion-dollar bailout for the banks, the coordinated assault on wages, relentless cuts to social programs and the social counterrevolution in health care known as Obamacare—have nothing to do with the record levels of social inequality that prevail in the United States.
The Times quotes Obama’s question delivered toward the beginning of the speech: “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an
economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes an effort?”
Anyone listening to the speech with even a passing knowledge of the record of his presidency would immediately respond that, for Obama and for the entire political establishment that he heads, the answer is clearly the former.
As for the proposals themselves—including tuition assistance for community colleges, tax credits for child care and college education, an increase in the minimum wage and paid maternity leave—they consist of insincere and paltry measures, tailored to the interests of big business, that no one, least of all Obama, expects will pass.
The Times itself acknowledges, “Mr. Obama knows his prospects of getting Congress to agree are less than zero.” White House officials freely admitted ahead of the State of the Union that Obama had no expectations that the measures he proposed would be taken up on Capitol Hill. “We will not be limited by what will pass this Congress, because that would be a very boring two years,” White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer told the press before the speech.
Previous State of the Union speeches have produced similar wish lists aimed at generating illusions that Obama sought to advance a “progressive” agenda, proposals dropped as soon as the president completed the obligatory tour of photo-ops and speeches at college campuses.
In his 2014 State of the Union, Obama called for ending tax loopholes for corporations that ship jobs overseas, investing tens of billions in infrastructure projects to create jobs, making pre-kindergarten available to every four-year-old child, regardless of family income, and enacting equal pay for women. Instead, one million people were cut off food stamps, long-term unemployment remained stubbornly high, poverty increased, and wages stagnated.
On the other hand, every major initiative by Obama in domestic policy—the 2009 stimulus program, the 2010 health care reform legislation, the 2010 financial regulatory overhaul, countless budget deals with the congressional Republicans, right up to the executive order on immigration issued a month ago—was dictated by the needs of corporate America, and, in many cases, drafted by corporate lobbyists.
The consequences for working people—record long-term unemployment, a tidal wave of home foreclosures, the slashing of wages in basic industry, the steady decline in living standards over all—were not accidental. They were the deliberate goal of government policy, for both Democrats and Republicans, because mass suffering by the working class was required to obtain the resources needed to bail out the financial aristocracy.
The main purpose of Obama’s remarks was to give the various publications and organizations that orbit the Democratic Party—the Times, the Nation magazine (whose columnist John Nichols described the spech as a “serious effort to address income inequality”), the trade unions, and the network of pseudo-left organizations that present themselves as “socialist”—fodder for promoting the Democrats in the 2016 elections.
Thus, Obama’s speech was peppered with references aimed at the upper-middle class practitioners of various forms of identity politics (Time magazine, for example, enthused that Obama “made history Tuesday night” by the inclusion in his speech of one word: “transgender”).
Here is how to paint the Democratic Party in progressive colors, he was telling them. Here is how the Democratic Party will seek to fool the American people as it collaborates with the Republicans in enacting ever more right-wing policies over the next two years, combined with endless war abroad and the assault on democratic rights.
The delusions, self-delusions and lies of Obama and his supporters cannot, however, alter the underlying reality of American political life: the unbridgeable gulf between the entire state apparatus and the vast majority of the population. It is notable that Obama’s speech, delivered less than three months after the midterm elections, made no reference to the debacle that the Democratic Party suffered at the polls—due primarily to the collapse in voter turnout produced by six years of right-wing policies from the “candidate of change.”
Perhaps the most striking delusion of all is the belief by the ruling class and its representatives that it can, through a few honeyed and lying phrases, forestall the tidal wave of social opposition that is on the horizon.
Patrick Martin and Joseph Kishore