Tag Archives: class

Have the Oligarchs and Plutocrats Won?

4 Apr

Just watched Alex Gibney’s powerful documentary Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream (you can stream it on Netflix). Here’s the trailer:


It uses the conceit of two Park Avenues to tell the story of the 1%, living on the Park Ave of Manhattan’s upper East Side, and the (bottom quartile of) the 99%, living on the portion of Park Ave that extends into the South Bronx. It’s one thing to know the story in numbers and graphs, which Gibney presents, but it’s another thing entirely to see the story in actions through moving images and spoken words. The combination of the two is potent, and, alas, depressing.

As I think over the film the sections that keep coming back, however, are those featuring a social psychologist at U Cal. Berkeley, Paul Piff, and some students. Piff had pairs of students play Monopoly, the board game born during the Depression. But, they played the game with a crucial difference. One player started with twice the amount of money as the other player and was allowed to roll both dice; the other player could roll only one die. The student players were assigned to these roles randomly.

The privileged players, of course, walked all over the others, whose disadvantage was too much to surmount. No surprise there. What was interesting, and chilling, is that over the course of a game, the privileged players assumed at attitude of entitlement – you could see it in their posture and hear it in their comments. It was their RIGHT to win. But they did nothing to earn that right; it was simply given to them at the beginning of the game. The oligarchs Gibney showed us displayed that same entitlement even as they lobbied to cut their taxes and blathered on about creating opportunity for all. Continue reading

Why Elites Fail | The Nation

8 Jun

A pure functioning meritocracy would produce a society with growing inequality, but that inequality would come along with a correlated increase in social mobility. As the educational system and business world got better and better at finding inherent merit wherever it lay, you would see the bright kids of the poor boosted to the upper echelons of society, with the untalented progeny of the best and brightest relegated to the bottom of the social pyramid where they belong.

But the Iron Law of Meritocracy makes a different prediction: that societies ordered around the meritocratic ideal will produce inequality without the attendant mobility. Indeed, over time, a society will become more unequal and less mobile as those who ascend its heights create means of preserving and defending their privilege and find ways to pass it on across generations. And this, as it turns out, is a pretty spot-on description of the trajectory of the American economy since the mid-1970s.

via Why Elites Fail | The Nation.

United States of inequality – Inequality – Salon.com

5 Jun

As we wait for the results of the Wisconsin recall election, a refresher course on what the struggle over the future direction of the United States is really about might be in order. Fortunately (or depressingly) the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality has put together a new package of easy-to-digest “educational materials on trends in inequality” that pound the message home. The gist: the United States is becoming more unequal every which way you can imagine.

Between 2009 and 2011, the press release for the project notes, “media mentions of the phrase ‘income inequality’ increased by over 250 percent.” But changing trends in income distribution are only one part of the vast distortions rippling through American society. The slides now available for perusal at http://www.inequality.com are divided into 14 categories: debt, education, employment, family, gender, health, immigration, income, mobility, politics, poverty, race, violent crime, and wealth.

The most obvious insight gleanable from the charts is that class background matters. If you are poor, you are more likely to be in debt and have health problems, and less likely to get a quality education or have your priorities reflected in politics. Of course, that’s always been true, not just in the U.S., but everywhere.

via United States of inequality – Inequality – Salon.com.