Tag Archives: economic inequality

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

Occupy Wall Street: Too Abstract? Will it Last?

31 Oct

Plus Zombies, Bicycles, and Fat Cats

John McWhorter and Glenn Loury have an interesting discussion, mostly about Occupy Wall Street. McWhorter went down there the other day and noticed that it’s small.

Yes it is. Was there yesterday afternoon (Sunday 30 Oct) and it IS small. A whole city block, yes, but a small block. And crowded with tents. It’s large in the imagination, but physically small.

And jammed with people taking photos, shooting videos, and doing interviews. Which surely is the point, get in the media however possible.

orange_mesh2

The crowd, more diverse than some reports suggest, though it’s hard to tell the OWSers from the one-time visitors. Some folks, of course, visit time and again. I got an armband of orange mesh—just like the police use to corral people—from an older couple who were helping out. I also saw some seminary students offer a sympathetic ear as Pastors for Occupy Wall Street (something like that, I forget the exact banner they flew under). Yes, lots of young folks, but also middle aged and old. Women as well as men, and a child singer playing a pink guitar in one placer, a child drummer in another. Black white yellow, probably red too.

Will OWS Last?

But back to McWhorter and Loury. McWhorter thinks they’ll all disperse in a month or so when the weather gets really cold. Perhaps.

What McWhorter and Loury were wondering is whether or not THIS is the sort of thing that really stirs the passions so that the protest will last and last. And thus really get in people’s minds and under their skin.

Yes, the 1% vs. 99% message is clear enough, economic inequality. But you push beyond that, and what do you get? They feat that the enemy may be too abstract. Financial manipulation, derivatives, that’s a bit abstract. Cheating is not abstract, but is that cheating? How so?

I think they’ve got a point. How to bring the message home? Continue reading