The Great Return

The May 27th edition of The New York Times published an article called “Millions at Top, A Pittance Below.” The subtitle reads, “Want to make money like a C.E.O.? work for 275 years. A telling look at income inequality.” The worst-case scenario starts the article, indicating that a Walmart employee earning the company’s median salary would have to work for more than a thousand years to earn the $22.2 million that the company’s chief executive was awarded in 2017. (I notice that they did not use the word “earned” in reference to the C.E.O.)

There is hard data that indicates that since the dawn of agrarian society ten millennia a go, the tendency has been for the rich to get richer in contrast to the poor. Social upheaval makes for corrections periodically, but then the trend continues.1

Such is the case in our own society since colonial days. Using the Gini Coefficient of relative wealth (also used by the previous source,) an Atlantic Magazine article shows how colonial America was rather egalitarian in contrast to prominent European countries.2 By contrast, the Smithsonian article I cited first lists the current Gini Coefficient for the US in 2018 as .81, almost twice the economic disparity as in 1774.

More recent trends are traced by an article on inequality.org, that shows trends within the last hundred years. After a dip in the share of wealth by the top 1% in mid-century, the situation has returned to pre-depression day levels. Actual income increase by the very wealthy has been way out of proportion to that of the middle and lower classes.3

Our President recently taunted some of his detractors who put him in the “elite” class by saying that it was because his apartment is nicer than theirs, and he is richer than they are. Somehow, I missed the essence of the taunt. It seemed more as a brag. He is indeed part of the top 1%, probably part of the top .1%. His class is amassing more and more of the wealth while the actual purchasing power of the middle and lower classes are not keeping pace.

It does not surprise me, then, that he seems to have a fascination with other powerful rulers around the world who control enormous assets in spite of human rights violations records, proof of meddling in other nations’ politics for their own gain, etc. Apparently the oligarchy system Europe from which we sought independence two centuries ago seems to be creeping back.


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