IT GOES without saying that capitalism causes economic inequality.
This is actually a point of pride for defenders of the system—they believe that the free market thrives because the deserving few are rewarded. The Marxist critique of capitalism takes the exact opposite position: The tiny few who live so well compared to the rest of us are completely undeserving of their immense wealth—they amassed their fortunes through systematic theft of the labor of the working majority in society.
But we also know that capitalism goes through periods in which economic inequality is more extreme and less so. So what kind of moment are we looking at now? What is the shape and contour of inequality in the U.S. today, six years after the recession that cratered in 2008?
… Since the 1970s, the productivity of U.S. workers has only increased while hourly compensation has remained more or less the same. This yawning gap between productivity and wages benefits the richest 1 percent, which owns 42 percent of the country’s financial wealth. The bottom 80 percent of the population, by contrast, owns barely 5 percent.
Taken together, these figures tell us that U.S. workers have worked harder and harder over decades, while gaining nothing more in wages—in fact, they have lost ground as a consequence of the Great Recession—nor in the financial wealth their labor produces.
This is not an accident—the increase in productivity alongside a stagnation in wages is a direct consequence of neoliberal policies having been implemented throughout the period.
It is a straight-up fabrication and an insult for political and business leaders to claim that the working-class majority or any section of it isn’t working, or isn’t working hard enough. The opposite is, in fact, the case. There is a historic robbery-in-progress undertaken by American business—the corporate boardrooms are the site of the real culture of freeloading.
… THESE ARE some of the stark facts about inequality in the richest country in the history of the world.
On the one hand, the U.S. does badly, particularly among industrialized countries, in terms of economic inequality, making it a terrible example for anyone interested in making the world a more equal and easier place to live. But precisely because of its staggering inequality, the U.S. ruling class provides a model to the rulers of the rest of the world for imposing the kind of policies that make inequality worse than ever.
This is not an abstract question. A recent study, funded in part by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, concludes that humanity is threatened not only by runaway climate change but the uneven distribution of wealth around the world.
It’s not enough to familiarize yourself with the enraging litany of statistics presented here. It’s not enough to know that the world’s main superpower is among the least equal society among its comparable peers. It’s not enough to understand how Corporate America and the U.S. political leaders who serve it export inequality around the world.
Instead, we need to organize for a different society that eliminates the vast gap between rich and poor by confronting the system that perpetuates the chasm: capitalism.