Generalized poverty in the midst of immense wealth

I remember a County Mayo philosophy professor, Fr. Brian Dunleavy, teaching a class on the subject of errors of reasoning, more formally calling logical fallacies.

He explained that we all tend to think in a way that supports the conclusions we want to come to. We are inclined to explain our lives in terms that reinforce our own position and prejudices. This convenient thought, a universal human tendency, is called rationalization.

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I thought of Dunleavy when I recently read a Pew Research study showing that most wealthy Americans think “the poor today have it easy because they can get government benefits for nothing. do in return ”. Now, there is not the slightest evidence to support this demeaning claim, but it does provide a practical rationale for ignoring the plight of the poor.

The Pew study highlights a real weakness in capitalist culture and in the American educational system. It highlights an unfortunate lack of depth where many people readily accept the lies and half-truths about how the poor fare from week to week. We frequently hear easy statements that mark them as lazy and unambitious.

The reality is quite different. The richest 85 people in the world hold more wealth than half the world’s population, or around 3.5 billion people. There is no doubt that they and their cohorts of the super rich believe that the dominant economic system is good and productive. Why not engage in convenient rationalization?

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The Red Queen knew all about running just to stay still.

They often justify their wealth by attacking the disasters of communism, pointing to Stalinist Russia and Mao’s China as horrific and tyrannical places, as if these oppressive regimes were the only option contrary to their brand of free enterprise.

In the United States, the richest 1% own 70% of the wealth, the poorest 90% owning only 27%. Pope Francis scoffs at the capitalist claim that the largesse created by a thriving economy spills over to the general population. Thomas Keneally, the famous Australian novelist, responded succinctly to this statement: “Money doesn’t flow, it actually does.”

The economy is now 12% larger than it was during the financial crisis. This massive dynamism has created more millionaires and billionaires than in any comparable historical period. The stock market is soaring, but the richest 10% own 80% of the shares, and half the population of the United States owns no shares of any company.

Who has benefited financially from booming productivity over the past fifty years? Corporate profits have doubled from around 5% of GDP in 1970 to around 10% today, and the richest 1 %’s share of pre-tax income has increased from 9% to 21%.

Nick Hanauer, in an insightful article in Atlantic magazine, points out that these two trends, corporate profitability and the enrichment of the rich, together represent a transfer of more than $ 2 trillion from the middle class to corporations and super -rich.

Thomas Keneally.

Thomas Keneally.

A Boston College study finds that three in four American workers do not have an employer-provided pension plan. Almost half of the elderly in the United States, the richest country in the world, depend entirely on their monthly Social Security check for their survival.

Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage has fallen by a third since the 1970s while, during the same period, worker productivity has increased by 150%. Union membership has fallen from around 25% of workers in the private sector to a dismal 6% today.

Despite a strong economy and booming corporate profits, workers’ wages have remained stagnant. It reminds me of a statement from the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland: “In my kingdom you have to run as fast as you can just to stay in one place.”

According to Forbes magazine, in April 2021, the number of billionaires increased by 30% from 2020, and they added trillions to their total net worth from the previous year.

Advocating for a strong capitalist economy, conservatives say that every citizen should have the opportunity to accumulate wealth, a claim almost all liberals and social democrats would assert. However, the dominant capitalist dogma only allows minimal consideration of the social wage which, of course, includes the wage, but also emphasizes family health coverage, vacation rights and pension benefits. Dealing seriously with these important issues requires union representation, a fact underlined by President Biden, who strongly encourages workers to organize.

The right to wealth from inheritance is also very important. Today, the descendants of the rich are made for a lifetime, thanks to the hard work and ingenuity of their parents or grandparents. We are talking about the growing number of wealthy idlers living on trusts created by former family members now in the grave.

Is it good for society and for the growing number of wealthy individuals involved that they never have to worry about getting a day’s work done? Their parents or grandparents bought them a lifestyle that does not include the daily character building struggles for a job.

It was a major point of debate among Conservatives in the past, but we rarely hear about it today. Should we have a privileged class of people who, due to birth accident and without any effort on their part, grow up with unearned millions in their accounts?

Over the next several decades, an estimated $ 68 trillion will be passed on from baby boomers to their heirs – by far the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in history.

More and more young people are realizing that the dice are stacked against them. In an interesting study on 18-34 year olds in America completed two years ago, 44% of respondents expressed a preference for a socialist system for their country, two points ahead of those favoring capitalism.

Laws passed in Congress are heavily influenced by the multiplicity of corporate lobbyists who meet in Washington every day. They distribute approximately $ 700,000 in political contributions for every $ 100,000 donated by social service groups to promote their program.

Tax laws are a big part of what the rich seek to influence. How effective are they at hijacking the system to their advantage? In “The Triumph of Injustice,” Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zuchman show that workers pay 25% of their income in federal, state and local taxes; the middle class pays 28% with those deemed to be upper middle class separating with a few percentage points more; the richest citizens lose only 23% in various government taxes.

According to the prestigious Tax Notes, transferring a hundred billion dollars to the IRS enforcement would bring in $ 1.4 trillion – almost all from very high incomes.

Why don’t regular employees, for example in warehouses and offices, rebel against such unjust abuses? This is a difficult question. Thomas Frank, in his famous book “Whatever Happened to Kansas”, has emphatically asserted that his fellow citizens in this state vote in election after election against their personal economic interests because of burning cultural issues, usually tinged with guns. or race.

Oliver Goldsmith’s powerful lines in “The Deserted Village” from Another Century still resonate today in a time of glaring poverty and inequality:

Gerry O’Shea blogs at

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