Tag Archives: gross inequality

Changing Shape of US Income Distribution

20 Dec

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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

We Need a Politics of Jubilee

15 Feb

What I’m thinking is that the Occupy movement is the beginnings of a politics of Jubilee. But I’m getting ahead of myself. What is Jubilee?

Writing in Leviticus as Literature, the late Mary Douglas observes (p. 243): “Release of slaves and cancellation of debts incurred under the preceding regime were common practice for victorious conquerors, a magnanimity that cost them nothing while their rule was new and their power to enforce it recently demonstrated.” Continue reading