Friday, February 19, 2010

Ronald Reagan Is Smiling

We're the party that wants to see an America in which
can still get rich--Ronald Reagan, May 4, 1982

Taking stock of us from his celestial saddle at Gipper’s Grove way out in Simi Valley, Reagan must be grinning. There’s never been a better or easier time to become ridiculously rich in America. Indeed, the planet has seldom seen such a piling of pelf. Bespoke-suited armies of traders, brokers and bankers have buried the myth that money comes from making stuff or doing things. They are instead proving daily that money can issue from nothing more than money. Or is it vice versa?
The stats on the concentration of wealth in America are mind-numbing. Rather than sending you instantly bye-bye by enumerating some of them, let me just observe that we are quickly approaching a time when the owners of the world can be comfortably entertained on the cocktail terrace of a Ritz Carlton Hotel--more likely one in Shanghai than in New York.
Our conservatives, who learned their economics from Monopoly where one player takes all and everyone else goes bust, see this concentration as the natural order of things. The rich should be rich, the poor poor and the middle class muddling. Anything else confuses the yahoos. So they treat any effort to bring up the penurious majority or restrain the profligate minority as “socialism.” It never occurs to them to ask why top-heavy economies tumble, or why more equitable ones enjoy peace and prosperity?
Not just Palinoids but lots of Americans have specific views on the in-gathering of gelt. Consider the following from the business section of the Feb. 19 NY Times on the decision by a fat cat health broker to raise rates in California by as much as 39 percent:
“But from a business perspective, Wellpoint, one of the nation’s largest insurers and the operator of commercial Blue Cross plans in more than a dozen states, may have few alternatives as a company accountable to shareholders demanding higher earnings” [i.e., higher than the $2.6 billion they raked in last year].
In decades past, business apologists invariably sketched shareholders as a pathetic huddle of widows and orphans dependent upon their paltry dividends for their daily crust of bread. Nowadays, of course, speed-of-light computer trading allows investors to buy and sell shares in fractions of a second--yes, a second. The days of Hettie Green are long past, and one sees few crones and waifs shivering at Broad and Wall. Still, the estimable Times tells us that the profits of these nanosec shareholders must and will come before the accident victim or the cancer sufferer.
If you linked to the Times story on the 400 highest earners you will also have noted, as April 15 approaches, that their average tax came to 16.6 percent. Would that bloggers be so favored