Sunday, April 06, 2014

U.S. Is More Like Panem Every Day

Activist San Diego Hosts Program on Income Inequality April 21, “Inequality for All” showing April 26

The last time in American history wealth and income were as unequal as they are now was in 1928, just before the Great Depression. According to UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, U.S. income and wealth inequality have been steadily increasing since the 1970’s. In 2012 the top 1 percent of the U.S. population received nearly 22.5 percent of all pre-tax income, while the bottom 90 percent’s share dipped below half for the first time (49.6 percent). The last time U.S. income was so unequally distributed was in 1928, when the top 1 percent got 23.9 percent and the bottom 90 percent got 50.7.
As wealth and income become more unequal, and as opportunities to move up economically dwindle, the U.S. is starting to look ever more like Panem, the dystopia of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games books and the films being made from them. A handful of people in the Capital live lavishly, eat heartily and give themselves drugs to throw up so they can keep eating, while working-class people struggle harder every year to pay an ever-higher cost of living on wages that are staying still or going down.
Some Americans, including members of the 1 percent themselves, think this is just fine. Kevin O’Leary, host of the hit TV show Shark Tank, responded to a recent report by the British charity Oxfam that the world’s richest 85 families have as much wealth as the lower 50 percent of the entire global population by saying, “It’s fantastic. And this is a great thing because it inspires everybody. They get the motivation to look up to the one percent and say, ‘I want to become one of those people. I am going to fight hard to get up to the top.’ This is fantastic news and of course I applaud it. What can be wrong with this?”
Others, like libertarian economist Tyler Cowen, say that growing inequality is inevitable and we’re just going to have to live with it. In his book The Great Stagnation, Cowen said America’s economic future is going to be a three-class division between a super-rich 1 percent, an increasingly impoverished 90 percent and a so-called “infoclass” of 9 percent of the population working jobs requiring heavy intellectual training and talent. Cowen argues that the only chance most Americans will have for upward mobility is to work their asses off to get out of the 90 percent and into that 9 percent “infoclass.”
Still other Americans believe that the growing inequality of wealth and income were caused by deliberate policies pursued by politicians increasingly in thrall to wealthy individual and corporate contributors. What has been done, they believe, can be undone — if the people who are suffering from increasing inequality come together and get active. Activist San Diego is presenting a program with four local activists with long histories battling inequality and working to enable all Americans to have basic economic security, including access to adequate food, shelter and health care. The event will take place Monday, April 21, 7 p.m. at the Joyce Beers Community Center, 3900 Vermont Street, just north of University Avenue in Hillcrest. The speakers are:

• FLOYD MORROW, former San Diego City Councilmember.
• SANDY NARANJO, staff member, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135.
• TONY PÉREZ, Fight for 15 Campaign and Coalition for Labor and Community Solidarity.
• ROBERT NOTHOFF, Center on Policy Initiatives.

A representative of the Center on Policy Initiatives, a progressive think tank in San Diego, has also been invited.
The panelists will be discussing the following issues:

• Why is income inequality increasing in the U.S. and San Diego?
• Is this good or bad?
• What are the potential ramifications for economic growth and the existence of a middle class?
• What, if anything, can or should be done to reverse the growth of income inequality?

Also, Activist San Diego will be sponsoring a screening of the 2013 documentary Inequality for All, featuring former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. The screening will take place Saturday, April 26, 7 p.m. at the same location as the panel: the Joyce Beers Community Center, 3900 Vermont Street, just north of University Avenue in Hillcrest. In an unusual move, Reich and his producers have encouraged people to put on informal screenings of his film to build awareness of what can be done to fight back against increasing economic inequality.
“There is this popular misconception that the economy is kind of out there, it’s kind of natural forces that can’t be changed. They’re immutable. We all sort of work for this economy,” Reich told TV host Bill Moyers last September in an interview to promote his film. “But in reality, the economy is a set of rules. There’s no economy in the state of nature. There are rules about property and liability and anti-trust and bankruptcy and subsidies for certain things and taxes for certain things. … They determine economic outcomes. If we don’t like them, we can change the rules. If we had a democracy that was working as a democracy should be working, we could adapt the rules so that, for example, the gains of economic growth were more widely distributed without a sacrifice of efficiency or innovation.