With four indictments and 91 charges of crimes committed one cannot help but be buoyed by the notion that Trump might spend his remaining years in jail. His crimes are so many and so manifestly obvious that this seems entirely just, even required.
But MAGA America is not just going to melt away. There is not much obvious to be done to counter many components of MAGA world: the Christian fundamentalist radicals, the white supremacists, the screaming homophobes, the transgressions against women’s rights. But, some of the alienation that is featured in MAGA world is in parallel with the sense I have of how our lives are dominated by the policies and culture of the rich, particularly the billionaire class and big corporations. There is the endless touting of individualism and individual responsibility while the rich live in their many mansions, socialize at exclusive outings, send their children to elite private schools, and then on to their legacy positions at Harvard, Princeton, or Stanford. They reside smugly behind the shield of meritocracy. I am rich because I am clever and work hard. Meanwhile, quite literally, being born in the wrong ZIP code means the chances of rising in position and income are nil.1
A centerpiece of the ideology of the rich and corporations is that the less government does, the better. Beyond the legal system to defend private property and adjudicate contractual conflicts, defense of the country, there is little that government should be doing. They don’t even believe that government has a responsibility to maintain our infrastructure let alone improve it. Let the market solve these problems. The same is said of education, healthcare, prisons, and more. The market is the solution to everything. There is no such thing as a social sphere, the commons, except as it is provided through a market. This is to reduce all social interactions to a single seller-buyer relationship.
Meanwhile, the rich and corporations have purchased the political system. Many billions in lobbying and endless political campaign contributions, much of it anonymous, means that they can count on politicians in both the Republican and Democratic parties to do their bidding. Using government laws and regulations the rich and corporations have attacked labor unions, lubricated the creation of a global economy through free trade agreements, overseen the offshoring of millions of jobs to low-wage countries, changed the tax system so that a billionaire like Warren Buffet pays less as a percentage than his secretary, monopolized (concentrated) the economy so that virtually every market sector is controlled by 2 or 3 big companies.2
Getting to the meat of my argument there is the fact that for the bottom 90% of the population, there has been essentially no pay raises for more than forty years. The graph below illustrates two key facts about income in the US since WWII. Between 1948 and 1979 productivity (output of goods and services per hour of work)(dark blue line) rose continuously. So did typical worker pay(light blue line). Gains in productivity were shared between workers and owners. This is a central fact that drove the surge in the middle class during that period. Then, in 1979 and onward to this day, changes in laws, regulations and business practices driven by the rich and corporations shifted the distribution of income massively in favor of those at the very top of the pile. The top 1% being the super-winners.
Two economists from the Rand Corporation (a well-known think tank on the West Coast) Carter Price and Kathryn Edwards asked a brilliant question:3
What would income distribution look like today if the trend from 1948 to 1979 had continued to today?
The table below summarizes their findings. The left-hand column breaks the US population into percentages. Let’s just look at the results for those in the 25% cohort. In 1975 they earned $28,000 (all dollars are constant 2018 dollars). Scanning to the right you can see that by 2018 their income reached $33,000 per year. This is an increase of 15% over almost forty years. BUT, in the “Projected” column you will see that if the 1948-1979 trend had continued they would have earned $61,000. That is $28,000 more or 85% more. Now as you scan down towards the 99% row you will see that even those in the 95 percentile only achieved 93.5% of the income they would have received under the 1948 to 1979 trend. It is truly the top 1% who received the landslide of income. I’ve written at some length about this here: “$47 Trillion – the ripoff by the rich and corporations – in two charts – maybe a few more…..”
There is a unifying story to be told.
- Richard V Reeves, “America’s Zip Code Inequality,” Brookings Institute OP-ED, December 2015, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/americas-zip-code-inequality/.
- Click on this link to see more about monopolization
- Price, Carter C., and Kathryn A. Edwards. “Trends in Income From 1975 to 2018.” RAND Corporation, September 14, 2020. https://www.rand.org/pubs/working_papers/WRA516-1.html.