For Social Equality

Inequality and class in America

One of the basic tests of whether a society is moving forward or backward is whether it is becoming more equal or less equal. The levels of inequality that exist in the US are virtually without precedent in history.

The past four decades have seen a shocking growth of inequality. In the 1970s, the top 1 percent of the population took in about 8 to 9 percent of annual income. By 2007, its share had soared to 23.5 percent, a level not seen since the 1920s, on the eve of the Great Depression. During this same period, 58 percent of all income growth has gone to the top one percent of the population, and 35 percent to the top one-tenth of one percent. Income for the bottom 60 percent of the population declined by about 5 percent.

On a world scale, there are now more than one thousand billionaires, including more than 400 in the US. Collectively, this layer of the super-rich saw their wealth grow by 50 percent in 2009, to $3.6 trillion. This same layer has another $21 trillion hidden in offshore accounts. The wealth of this layer has grown amidst the greatest economic crisis in generations due to the policies of governments throughout the world, above all the Obama administration. The multi-trillion-dollar bailout of the financial system was accompanied by the rejection of any measures that would curb compensation for corporate executives and hedge fund managers.

The apologists for capitalism claim that inequality is not related to the economic crisis, as if the withdrawal of trillions of dollars from productive use has no economic impact. The continual and insatiable drive of the financial aristocracy for more and more money has bankrupted the country and fueled one speculative binge after another. The same corporate CEOs who say they have no money to pay decent wages and who carry out massive job cuts somehow manage to pay themselves and their top executives millions or even tens of millions of dollars every year.

Immediate measures must be taken to promote social equality and a radical redistribution of wealth, including a progressive income tax that places the burden of taxation on the rich, while lowering taxes for the vast majority of the population. Taxes on the profits of all major corporations must also be sharply increased.

The expropriation of the rich is justified not only economically and politically, but also morally and legally. Balzac’s adage that behind every great fortune stands a great crime is certainly true of today’s aristocracy. From Enron to the subprime mortgage racket, so much of this wealth has been garnered through methods that have been thoroughly destructive and outright criminal. Yet only an insignificant handful of these corporate criminals have been held accountable, and those most culpable get off scot-free. The SEP advocates the investigation and prosecution of those involved in speculative activities and criminal misappropriation of social and corporate resources.

The fight for social equality includes opposition to all forms of discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion, national origin and sexual orientation. However, genuine equality does not mean the rationing out of limited education and job opportunities on the basis of race or other categories. Such affirmative action policies benefit only a privileged few, while pitting white and minority workers and students against one another in a divisive struggle for jobs and college admission. We insist on full equality, within the framework of a massive social investment to guarantee all social needs, including free and open admission to universities. Only such a policy, based on the unity in struggle of all sections of working people, can create the conditions for a society in which all people can enjoy economic security and realize their full potential.

The New Gilded Age

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