John Colson: Hit and Run | AspenTimes.com

John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

You can’t quite call it “revolution in the air,” as the hoary old saying goes, but there definitely is something happening in the blogosphere and among commentators brave enough to stick their necks out and risk beheading by the profiteers and greedheads.

The other day, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich spoke on National Public Radio about his belief that the U.S. economy will not recover from the recent financial meltdown until one key problem is resolved and reversed – the disproportionate amount of wealth in the hands of a tiny elite.

Now, Reich is a left-leaning guy, and he was labor secretary under Pres. Bill Clinton, a Democrat, so it’s no surprise that he would say such things. He’s been saying them for years, in fact.

But it is surprising to hear the same refrain, or read it, in numerous other venues, outlets and platforms.

Academics, for example, have long known this basic fact to be true – one percent of U.S. citizens own or control more than 34 percent of all privately held wealth, or “marketable assets,” as they were called in a Jan. 2011 paper by sociologist G. William Donhoff of the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Did you get that?

One percent, meaning about 30,000 people, control more than a third of the money and other wealth in America.

Naturally enough, a sizable proportion of our politicians are among this class, which makes it completely understandable that all the so-called “financial reform” measures are weak-kneed efforts at best, and pure subterfuge at worst.

Meanwhile, as this 1 percent enjoys comfort at levels that are comparable to, say, the lives of the monarchies and feudal barons of medieval Europe, the rest of us scrabble along, barely getting by if we’re lucky. And if we’re not lucky, we’re falling into that vast pool of unemployed, underfed and pissed off people known as the poor.

It is a statistical fact that greater and greater numbers of Americans are slipping into a status known as “poverty” every year, just as it is true that the purchasing power of working wages in this country is diminishing every year, and the two phenomena are inextricably linked.

Unfortunately, too many of us are stuck in a dream world where we believe that if we leave the rich in power, some of that wealth may trickle down to us. This is variously called “voodoo economics” or Reaganism, and was a hallmark of former President Ronald Reagan’s tenure in office.

What this truly amounts to, though, is a reflection that too many people are letting their personal greed and misled, wannabe ambition blind them to the fact that all of this has become an institutional facet of U.S. culture. It has global applications, too, but that’s for a different day.

That is why Republicans and Tea Baggers have found such traction in electoral politics. They play on the anger, fear, selfishness and foolishness of a huge portion of the electorate, and get themselves elected based on oversimplifications, distortions and outright lies. A glance at the “birther” movement should be proof enough for anyone.

And now the Republicans and Tea Baggers in the House of Representatives and the Senate are trying to dismantle one of the few federal agencies to come out of Wall Street reform efforts that has any real promise, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.

The agency hasn’t even been formed yet, and already it is under attack.

That is mostly because President Barack Obama seems to be trying to get a real reformer, Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren, to lead the agency. And she has made clear her intention to impose real changes on Wall Street and the fat-cat bankers of America, in order to forestall another Great Recession or worse.

And a repeat of that fiscal nightmare appears to be looming on our horizon, dear reader, thanks to the toothless and gutless changes made so far. The massive unchecked speculation and fraud that preceded the last meltdown is continuing virtually unabated, the “sub-prime” mortgage mess is still a huge and unsolved pit of pain, and we could be headed for catastrophe once again.

We’re playing chicken with a Mack truck, and it is not swerving out of our way.

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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