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Immunity and Impunity in Elite America

From TomDispatch [1]: How the legal system was deep-sixed and Occupy Wall Street swept the land 

By Glenn Greenwald | October 25, 2011

As intense protests spawned by Occupy Wall Street continue to grow, it is worth asking: Why now? The answer is not obvious. After all, severe income and wealth inequality have long plagued the United States. In fact, it could reasonably be claimed that this form of inequality is part of the design of the American founding — indeed, an integral part of it.

Income inequality has worsened over the past several years and is at its highest level since the Great Depression. This is not, however, a new trend. Income inequality has been growing at rapid rates for three decades. As journalist Tim Noah described [2] the process:

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“During the late 1980s and the late 1990s, the United States experienced two unprecedentedly long periods of sustained economic growth — the ‘seven fat years’ and the ‘long boom.’ Yet from 1980 to 2005, more than 80% of total increase in Americans’ income went to the top 1%. Economic growth was more sluggish in the aughts, but the decade saw productivity increase by about 20%. Yet virtually none of the increase translated into wage growth at middle and lower incomes, an outcome that left many economists scratching their heads.”

[3]The 2008 financial crisis exacerbated the trend [4], but not radically: the top 1% of earners in America have been feeding ever more greedily at the trough for decades.

In addition, substantial wealth inequality is so embedded in American political culture that, standing alone, it would not be sufficient to trigger citizen rage of the type we are finally witnessing. The American Founders were clear that they viewed inequality in wealth, power, and prestige as not merely inevitable, but desirable and, for some, even divinely ordained. Jefferson praised “the natural aristocracy” as “the most precious gift of nature” for the “government of society.” John Adams concurred: “It already appears, that there must be in every society of men superiors and inferiors, because God has laid in the… course of nature the foundation of the distinction.”

Not only have the overwhelming majority of Americans long acquiesced to vast income and wealth disparities, but some of those most oppressed by these outcomes have cheered it loudly. Americans have been inculcated not only to accept, but to revere those who are the greatest beneficiaries of this inequality.

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In the 1980s, this paradox — whereby even those most trampled upon come to cheer those responsible for their state — became more firmly entrenched. That’s because it found a folksy, friendly face, Ronald Reagan, adept at feeding the populace a slew of Orwellian clichés that induced them to defend the interests of the wealthiest. “A rising tide,” as President Reagan put it, “lifts all boats.” The sum of his wisdom being: it is in your interest when the rich get richer.

Implicit in this framework was the claim that inequality was justified and legitimate. The core propagandistic premise was that the rich were rich because they deserved to be. They innovated in industry, invented technologies, discovered cures, created jobs, took risks, and boldly found ways to improve our lives. In other words, they deserved to be enriched. Indeed, it was in our common interest to allow them to fly as high as possible because that would increase their motivation to produce more, bestowing on us ever greater life-improving gifts.

We should not, so the thinking went, begrudge the multimillionaire living behind his 15-foot walls for his success; we should admire him. Corporate bosses deserved not our resentment but our gratitude. It was in our own interest not to demand more in taxes from the wealthiest but less, as their enhanced wealth — their pocket change — would trickle down in various ways to all of us.

This is the mentality that enabled massive growth in income and wealth inequality over the past several decades without much at all in the way of citizen protest. And yet something has indeed changed. It’s not that Americans suddenly woke up one day and decided that substantial income and wealth inequality are themselves unfair or intolerable. What changed was the perception of how that wealth was gotten and so of the ensuing inequality aslegitimate.

Many Americans who once accepted or even cheered such inequality now see the gains of the richest as ill-gotten, as undeserved, as cheating. Most of all, the legal system that once served as the legitimizing anchor for outcome inequality, the rule of law — that most basic of American ideals, that a common set of rules are equally applied to all — has now become irrevocably corrupted and is seen as such.

While the Founders accepted outcome inequality, they emphasized — over and over — that its legitimacy hinged on subjecting everyone to the law’s mandates on an equal basis. Jefferson wrote that the essence of America would be that “the poorest laborer stood on equal ground with the wealthiest millionaire, and generally on a more favored one whenever their rights seem to jar.” Benjamin Franklin warned that creating a privileged legal class would produce “total separation of affections, interests, political obligations, and all manner of connections” between rulers and those they ruled. Tom Paine repeatedly railed against “counterfeit nobles,” those whose superior status was grounded not in merit but in unearned legal privilege.

After all, one of their principal grievances against the British King was his power to exempt his cronies from legal obligations. Almost every Founder repeatedly warned that a failure to apply the law equally to the politically powerful and the rich would ensure a warped and unjust society.  In many ways, that was their definition of tyranny.

Americans understand this implicitly. If you watch a competition among sprinters, you can accept that whoever crosses the finish line first is the superior runner. But only if all the competitors are bound by the same rules: everyone begins at the same starting line, is penalized for invading the lane of another runner, is barred from making physical contact or using performance-enhancing substances, and so on.

If some of the runners start ahead of others and have relationships with the judges that enable them to receive dispensation for violating the rules as they wish, then viewers understand that the outcome can no longer be considered legitimate. Once the process is seen as not only unfair but utterly corrupted, once it’s obvious that a common set of rules no longer binds all the competitors, the winner will be resented, not heralded.

That catches the mood of America in 2011. It may not explain the Occupy Wall Street movement, but it helps explain why it has spread like wildfire and why so many Americans [5] seem instantly to accept and support it. As was not true in recent decades, the American relationship with wealth inequality is in a state of rapid transformation.

It is now clearly understood that, rather than apply the law equally to all, Wall Street tycoons have engaged in egregious criminality — acts which destroyed the economic security of millions of people around the world — without experiencing the slightest legal repercussions. Giant financial institutions were caught red-handed [6] engaging in massive, systematic fraud to foreclose on people’s homes and the reaction of the political class, led by the Obama administration, was to shield them [7] from meaningful consequences. Rather than submit on an equal basis to the rules, through an oligarchical, democracy-subverting control of the political process, they now control the process of writing those rules and how they are applied.

Today, it is glaringly obvious to a wide range of Americans that the wealth of the top 1% is the byproduct not of risk-taking entrepreneurship, but of corrupted control of our legal and political systems. Thanks to this control, they can write laws that have no purpose than to abolish the few limits that still constrain them, as happened [8] during the Wall Street deregulation orgy of the 1990s. They can retroactively immunize themselves for crimes they deliberately committed for profit, as happened [9] when the 2008 Congress shielded the nation’s telecom giants for their role in Bush’s domestic warrantless eavesdropping program.

It is equally obvious that they are using that power not to lift the boats of ordinary Americans but to sink them. In short, Americans are now well aware of what the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Illinois’s Dick Durbin, blurted out [10] in 2009 about the body in which he serves: the banks “frankly own the place.”

If you were to assess the state of the union in 2011, you might sum it up this way: rather than being subjected to the rule of law, the nation’s most powerful oligarchs control the law and are so exempt from it; and increasing numbers of Americans understand that and are outraged. At exactly the same time that the nation’s elites enjoy legal immunity even for egregious crimes, ordinary Americans are being subjected to the world’s largest [11] and one of its harshest penal states [12], under which they are unable to secure competent legal counsel and are harshly punished with lengthy prison terms for even trivial infractions.

In lieu of the rule of law — the equal application of rules to everyone — what we have now is a two-tiered justice system in which the powerful are immunized while the powerless are punished with increasing mercilessness. As a guarantor of outcomes, the law has, by now, been so completely perverted that it is an incomparably potent weapon for entrenching inequality further, controlling the powerless, and ensuring corrupted outcomes.

The tide that was supposed to lift all ships has, in fact, left startling numbers of Americans underwater. In the process, we lost any sense that a common set of rules applies to everyone, and so there is no longer a legitimizing anchor for the vast income and wealth inequalities that plague the nation.

That is what has changed, and a growing recognition of what it means is fueling rising citizen anger and protest. The inequality under which so many suffer is not only vast, but illegitimate, rooted as it is in lawlessness and corruption. Obscuring that fact has long been the linchpin for inducing Americans to accept vast and growing inequalities. That fact is now too glaring to obscure any longer.

Glenn Greenwald is a former constitutional and civil rights litigator and a current contributing writer at Salon.com [13]. He is the author of two New York Times bestselling books on the Bush administration’s executive power and foreign policy abuses. His just-released book, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful [3] (Metropolitan Books), is a scathing indictment of America’s two-tiered system of justice.  He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

Copyright 2011 Glenn Greenwald

32 Comments (Open | Close)

32 Comments To "Immunity and Impunity in Elite America"

#1 Comment By Kim Margosein On October 25, 2011 @ 9:51 am

“The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine”

There are several versions of this bit of 18th century doggerel. It is still true today.

#2 Comment By Simon On October 25, 2011 @ 3:35 pm

There is an absurd irony in the American Conservative running a piece by the brilliant and homosexual Glenn Greenwald next to one by dinosaur Pat Buchanan about how our culture is collapsing because we allow things like gay marriage.

#3 Comment By JR On October 25, 2011 @ 3:38 pm

It’s not just how that wealth was gotten, it’s what they did with it. It’s that the wealth DIDN’T trickle down despite lowering all those taxes and regulations they repeatedly demanded. Instead they kept the wealth, sent the jobs overseas and attacked the unions and any other entity that allows the other 98% of America to do anything about it. People are pissed that the rich because their end of the social contract turned out to be a lie. And they expect us to thank them for it.

#4 Comment By tz On October 25, 2011 @ 3:53 pm

It wasn’t brainwashing or mere propaganda before the mid-1980s. America was the “land of opportunity”. Some of it might be accidental, but a lot of it was from building something. You might be the next Thomas Edison or Henry Ford. Or maybe the next hollywood star, inventor, or promoter. It was free will, perseverance, talent, as well as luck, but the “winners” won fairly. It was a competition, and you could be happy simply playing on their team, but you could also form your own.

But what happened – and I can’t draw a bright line, but maybe with the 1986 tax “reform” that started putting back a lot of the corruption, corporations learned that it was more profitable to compete for regulations. Squash your competition by having the EPA lock up their property. Evade taxes by getting a credit passed. Cut costs by managing trade. NAFTA was one of the most corrupt documents, and it wasn’t rich republicans in the white house pushing it.

Few income inequalities today are from winning in fair play. They come from bribing the referees and from changing the rule book as they go.

For all the apparent horror at rights violations in the other spheres, I think you are too quick to steal someone’s property without trial or other due process merely because you think he has too much. If he did not steal it, what give you the right to steal or rob him?

The tax system is the SOURCE of the corruption, not the solution. For you will not find living saints or angels to write or enforce the rules. If you want a 100,000+ page tax code, 99,900 pages will be exemptions for the rich. If you want a 100 page tax code and simple form (e.g. income/profits, subtract poverty level x 2.5, then send in 20%) you will avoid the corruption.

You wish to micromanage? Even worse. The regulated eventually capture the bureaucracy. You concentrate power, you concentrate corruption, as per Acton. Yet they do regulate – they prevent individuals from suing (only we can initiate investigations…). If the lawyers handling torts could sue wall street, a lot of this would not have happened and/or a lot of these places would be bankrupt and their management in jail. But we have a special fraud that only the OCC or SEC has authority to look at, and only the DoJ can file charges.

I thought liberals would shout “power to the people”. Or perhaps that what it means to be a “progressive”. Poor little person, you are too stupid to make your own choices, let big brother and nanny take care of you – and no, you can’t have anything which with you could defend yourself, that’s our job because we are nicer, smarter, more righteous, and incorruptible.

No, you’re not, at least not on average – there are as many incorruptible businessmen as there are politicians, or bureaucrats.

Ron Paul is the only one I can think of, but although he really does believe in the rule of law, would actually stop the wars, and close down Gitmo, he will also destroy the power centers you like.

You want a George W Bush of progressivism. Someone who use the same executive orders, but to push your agenda. Throw random CEOs into military prisons and give them the Padilla treatment, then convict them of equally vague laws against being not nice enough. To subject every mom and pop business to something worse than the TSA for economic security.

Power corrupts. Power is too centralized and concentrated. The only real solution is to disperse and destroy it, not swap which group gets to be corrupted. Banks should fear the thousands of individual investors, depositors, and debtors. Not some bureaucrat in shining armor with an S on his chest.

#5 Comment By Jack Tracey On October 25, 2011 @ 6:24 pm

Thanks, tz. I can’t usually stomach most of the long comments after online columns. Dr Paul is the only one who is correctly diagnosing the problem– central banking and centralized authority will inevitably lead to a small group of powerful people and a large group of easily-distracted, powerless people.

#6 Comment By EMPTY13 On October 25, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

the tax code (and regulation, entitlements etc) exists to keep anyone else from approaching the ranks of the super-rich. it is uncanny how all the little leftists want to blame everything and everyone “on wall street” but they always give big government a pass. always. none of this lunacy could happen without government doing it. businesses cant hold a gun to your head and make you do jack. the government can. and does.

#7 Comment By A.C. On October 25, 2011 @ 7:04 pm

I’d say the irony lies in the AC running a piece by a (more interesting than some but far from brilliant) leftist, Simon, and a leftist comments on how the identity politics of it all is upsetting him, because all gay people must be for gay marriage, Justin Raimondo notwithstanding.

#8 Comment By Shawn Mercer On October 25, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

This is the 2nd screed by a hard left journalist I’ve seen featured in the “The American … ” What was the rest of the title? I’m drawing a blank.

Guys, if you can’t find anyone within a lightyear of your purported spot on the ideological spectrum to reinforce your take on economics, it ought to prompt some serious introspection, or some serious re-thinking of your position. I for one am getting a little weary of a publication that identifies itself the same way I do hosting people whose goal is to make us into a second Eurozone!

#9 Comment By ferdigrofe On October 25, 2011 @ 7:33 pm

I am an attorney. There are laws about the duties of banks. If you ask them to fulfill their legal obligations, they say “sue me” or refuse to produce what they by law are required to.They assert the rawest kind of economc power.

#10 Comment By Welcome Mr. Greenwald On October 25, 2011 @ 8:26 pm

It is a pleasure to see Glenn Greenwald published here. I am a bred-in-the-bone American conservative who reads him regularly and appreciates his courageous, dogged research and writing. So far from being “an absurd irony”, as a reader opined above, I see his appearance here as a welcome sign that people of good will and integrity recognize that the country is in extreme and growing peril, and that alliances must be forged across the usual divides.

#11 Comment By SellOut On October 25, 2011 @ 9:17 pm

The rich no longer much care what we think. They wish we’d get out of the way so they can keep enriching themselves. They certainly no longer care about the meaning of citizenship, as witness this stunning piece of legislation from Wall Street’s man in the Senate, which completely fulfills the definition and moral implication of the term “sell-out”:

“The bill, co-sponsored by Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Mike Lee (R.-Utah) would grant a U.S. visa to international investors who agree to spend at least $500,000 on residential real estate here.” (from CNN Money).

#12 Comment By Nose Catechism On October 25, 2011 @ 10:56 pm

Alliances must be forged across the usual divides???!!

For what purpose? Redistributing the income of those who worked for it to those who won’t?

Shawn Mercer is right. TAC has jumped the shark and on economic issues is virtually indistinguishable from the Wellstonian Left.

#13 Comment By Adam_Smith On October 26, 2011 @ 2:14 am

If Mr. Greenwald wants to argue for wealth redistribution conservatives can argue with him when he actually makes such a case which, so far as I know, he never has. Meanwhile he has, as he often does, much to say about the rule of law and limited government which should be usefully reminding conservatives of their own basic principles lest they too, like the “progressives” succumb to the lure of wielding governmental power when it seems to serve cultural and life-style purposes of which they approve.

#14 Comment By valerie On October 26, 2011 @ 4:03 am

Judging by a couple of comments that have been posted it is apparent that ideology trumps reason. And that is EXACTLY WHY we are in the shape that we are in as a nation.
I am a conservative and even though I do not agree with the modern liberal, aka progressive view, when the truth is the truth it matters not who is saying it.

#15 Comment By Shawn Mercer On October 26, 2011 @ 5:17 am

As I see it, there’s only one circumstance that any “conservative” worthy of the title should be even considering the kind of class obsession that animates folks like Greenwald: If we ever reached a point where poor and middle class incomes are declining not just relative to whatever top slice of earners you want to compare them to – top 1%, top quintile, whatever – but declining in ABSOLUTE terms, in a persistent, secular trend. And by the latest CBO data, that isn’t happening.
[14]

Even from 1979 (the year before the Reagan darkness corrupted the American economy’s “fairness”) until 2007 (the height of Bush’s neo-Gilded Age), the poorest 20% of income earners saw their inflation-adjusted, after-tax incomes increase 18%. Sure, the top 20%’s income grew by 65%. But so what?? I’m less concerned about how the pie is divided than the more important fact of whether everyone’s piece is still growing, in real terms. If it is, then what’s the problem?

Is a magazine who at least pretends to care about government restraint so offended by this that it’s prepared to unleash the force of law with the kind of punitive taxes, union sops, and regulatory burdens to appease twits like Glenn Greenwald? If the answer to that is, “No,” why the hell are scribblers from Mother Jones and Salon being given platforms here? If the answer to that is,”Yes,” this publication needs a name change, and fast!

#16 Comment By Thank You American Conservative On October 26, 2011 @ 6:12 am

I read Glen Greenwald and the AC every day. One thing Glen writes about a lot is the corrupt and over-reaching power of the state. Isn’t that something true conservatives would agree with? The only thing that will save this country is indeed forging alliances across ideological divides where common enemies exist. If you think ad hominem attacks on gay people with an idea will prevent us from collapse, you are mistaken.

#17 Comment By Fata Morgana On October 26, 2011 @ 6:26 am

Nose Catechism wrote: “For what purpose? ”

For the purpose of sending criminals to prison and weeding out corruption and incompetence from both the public and private sectors, naturally.

Incidentally, today is a red letter day that should be noted by Left and Right alike: Mr. Rajat Gupta, former executive director of McKinsey and professional board sitter (Rockefeller, Gates etc), will be the first of the “big fish” to be criminally charged.

#18 Comment By Shawn Mercer On October 26, 2011 @ 8:40 am

Fata, you just answered your own question in referencing Mr. Gupta. Gupta is being charged with an actual CRIME. Madoff was charged with a CRIME. I generally get little more than blank stares when I ask people who insist we have multiple perp walks on Wall Street what their actual illegalities are.

Rapacious greed may be one of the least admirable human qualities, but it isn’t criminal. Coming up with complex derivatives and embedding them in a system was too interconnected and subject to risk may be reckless, but recklessness isn’t a crime. Taking a taxpayer funded bailout (then paying it back, with interest) in order prevent the global financial system from imploding, may be opportunistic, hypocritical, weaselly, or just plain shameful. But NONE of those things are ILLEGAL.

Now I know the old cliche, “The real crime is what IS legal.” Fine and good. But if we have a strain of folks on the right ready to hold kangaroo courts on people who haven’t broken any laws, I’d say it’s a sad day for conservatism.

#19 Comment By Eric On October 26, 2011 @ 8:51 am

I get so tired of hearing about wealth disparity. Not because of class warfare, envy or anything like that. I’m tired of it because I never seem to hear it from anyone who actually understands math.

$1,000 in 1970 is equal to $5,551 in 2010. Same value, different numbers.

Compare two men in 1970. One has $1,000 and one has $1,000,000,000. The poor man possesses 0.000001 as much wealth as the rich man.

The two men stick their money in a safe. No interest is being earned to skew the results.

In 2010 the poor man has $5,551 and the rich man has $5,551,340,366.

The poor man added about $4,500 to his stack. The rich man added about $4,500,000,000 to his. The RATIO remains the same, except that the poor man seems to have gained only a few thousand dollar while the rich man gained a few billion.

And if that’s as far as your thought process goes, you would think that the disparity grew by 100,000% and you would never think to ask whether the ratio of VALUE remains the same.

Normally I loath the saying; “Nuff said”, since it’s usually uttered by idiots who don’t actually have a logical thought process behind whatever they are trying to convince you of. However, in this case I think it fits.

#20 Comment By Matt On October 26, 2011 @ 8:53 am

The sad thing here is that I read this article hoping to get a description of “how the rich subverted the legal system.” and I received no such knowledge, instead getting some stuff about inequality and a reiteration of the premise. I guess Greenwald didn’t write the tagline, but my questions remain: who, what, when, where, and why? I don’t really care if I get info from a leftist, but I do want some info. I’d also prefer that he not toss Jefferson and Adams under the bus…at least try to feign some admiration for the men that created the republic.

#21 Comment By Chris On October 26, 2011 @ 10:14 am

I, too, have gotten to like Greenwald after initially resisting. Lew Rockwell’s site had his columns and he makes a lot of sense to me. I wish I had found his stuff sooner than 2009 though!

I have a couple of complaints about this piece, though. Using the starting line in a race is a bad analogy. We are not blank slates; our innate intelligence and family background put some of us far ahead of us others. We should all be equal before the law, no doubt – but when the law is selectively enforced (think immigration) or not at all (Obama’s alien relatives), or is patently unfair (disparate impact) it all erodes the system we believe in. To say this is a new phenomenon to the OWS crew does a great disservice to those who have seen it culturally for some time.

Secondly, lumping entrepreneurs in with the crony capitalist bankster elite seems short sighted. Even the OWS crew understood this – they aren’t protesting in Silicon Valley. But the main point missing from Greenwald’ piece: it reminds me of a Steve Sailer column on the elite’s lack of “Noblisse Oblige” ( [15]) that comes from the realization that you are lucky enough (genetically, family-wise, hard work, etc.) to be in a position of power and to use your power for good – to help your fellow man. When the masses feel that is no longer the case, there may not be a wall high enough that a peasant with a pitchfork won’t climb.

#22 Comment By Philosophe On October 26, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

How utterly refreshing this is. Thank you, TAC, for being a preserve of thoughtfulness. And thank you, @valerie, for saying so eloquently why it is so. Orthodoxy and groupthink are incompatible with genuine critical thinking, a fact too many other respondents here wish to ignore.

We in America have come to confuse the appearance of wealth with its moral foundations: merit and effort. It is appalling that Alan Greenspan, who CHOSE not to use the powers of enforcement he had (we must also stop confusing the evil of individuals in government with the very idea of government), claimed adherence to the ideas of Ayn Rand! Her defense of wealth was based on the notion of *desert*: people who work hard to deliver value only their minds can generate deserve reward. Too many of today’s wealthy have created nothing of value at all, unless one wishes to call the artificial conversion of bad debt into false wealth “creative.” These so-called investors have not taken risks with innovative technologies or revolutionary products – only with abstractions and the money put in millions of 401K accounts. This is certainly not true of all investors, thankfully. But to call this type “job creators” is disgusting.

#23 Comment By Chris On October 26, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

I wonder what Raj Rajaratnam thinks of the American system of justice.

[16]

(A: “By and large, I think it’s fair.”)

#24 Comment By Sean Gillhoolley On October 27, 2011 @ 8:07 am

Congratulations to the American Conservative for offering a balanced view. This is why I, one of those real lefty-left liberals, has been a regular reader for years. Pat Buchanan has his own opinions on things, and I don’t always agree with him, but I do find that he is consistent. That is something I appreciate. I have also been pestering him via email to join the occupation movement. I think his voice would be a welcome addition to help us craft the new world.

#25 Comment By JO On October 27, 2011 @ 8:58 am

I wouldn’t have a problem with TAC running this, or anything supposedly “lefty,” if it was actually a good piece. This article is a great example of the emotional resonation of an issue, bereft of facts. Greenwald cites 4 sources for his charge of “egregious criminality” against banks. Only one can be said to actually support the thesis that laws do not apply equally to banks – the pressure from the administration on the NY AG. All the rest are Greenwald’s, or the authors, arguments as to why certain laws should have been written. They may all be right 100%, in which case they support his statement that the banks own Congress, but they do not support his thesis that banks have broken the law.

#26 Comment By Gene Callahan On October 27, 2011 @ 7:01 pm

“If we ever reached a point where poor and middle class incomes are declining not just relative to whatever top slice of earners you want to compare them to – top 1%, top quintile, whatever – but declining in ABSOLUTE terms, in a persistent, secular trend. ”

Well, Shawn, that just shows that you that you are a neoliberal, and not a conservative, doesn’t it?

#27 Comment By Gene Callahan On October 27, 2011 @ 7:06 pm

@Eric: “The RATIO remains the same, except that the poor man seems to have gained only a few thousand dollar while the rich man gained a few billion.”

Well, Eric, since both Greenwald and Noah were talking in percentage of total income terms (i.e., ratios), who, exactly, are you complaining about? I must say that I have *never* seen anyone make the argument in the way you made it here. Can you cite a published instance of someone doing so?

#28 Comment By nathan On October 28, 2011 @ 5:23 am

The problem is not income disparity. I grew up in an industrial town. The steel plant went from 5,000 employees to 1,000 employees with the same output. The car plant closed and moved elsewhere. Paul Craig Roberts has it right. When Walmart is the biggest employer in the country, you have a problem. Those four thousand jobs at that steel plant becoming Walmart jobs represent a huge hit to the standard of living for those people. As Roberts says, when we look at the job creation numbers and see mostly service jobs with just a handful of tech or industrial jobs, we are being hollowed out and on our way to becoming a third world country. You can’t export high paying jobs and import low skilled immigrants which is exactly what we’re doing and expect to remain a major power for very long.

Free trade isn’t. We need to look at redefining how we view globalism. Boeing is a great example right? The much vaunted “Dreamliner” is American in virtually name only. Most of it is manufactured abroad, including the wings which are made in Japan, arguably the most critical technical component, and only assembled here.

In the 60’s when you had a husband, wife, and two kids, many husbands were the sole wage earner paying for the mortgage, the car, and two weeks of vacation in the summer. How many can do that today?

We are on the fast track to nowhere if we keep this up.

#29 Comment By Shawn Mercer On October 28, 2011 @ 7:26 am

Gene, pardon me, but my understanding of the term “conservative” in its modern use is one who embraces the “neoliberal” ideas of free enterprise, low taxes, and economic dynamism, and letting the results of that fall where they may. I did NOT think it to mean an ongoing obsession with the notion that high school educated have a “right” to earn $30 an hour turning screws and that everyone have roughly equal shares of stuff. Am I wrong?

I’d welcome it if you’d like to educate me otherwise.

#30 Comment By Greg On October 28, 2011 @ 7:47 am

A well writen essay by Mr. Greenwald , yet, his use of the word “inequality” (relating to wealth) , was excessive . I would agree however, with his later statements about inequality within the legal/judcial/political systems and recognize that often wealth manipulates others who control policy – it does seem that the framework is skewed and is not applied consistently.

After listening to ZBig’s interview last week and watching the “Meltdown” series on Canadian tv … I’m left with the feeling that the present problem may have been deliberately Created , the developing Reaction encouraged , all while the Solution is waiting in the wings .

#31 Comment By Stephen On October 28, 2011 @ 9:38 am

Simon
What you call an absurd irony is actually diversity of opinion.

#32 Comment By Rossbach On October 30, 2011 @ 9:05 pm

I’m glad that someone finally identified the Reagan administration as the turning point that moved America away from social contract capitalism and back to robber-baron capitalism. Although the Clinton adminstration was complicit in this treachery, it was the “conservative” Republican Party the got the ball rolling on turning back the clock on the American people and robbing them of the fruits of 100 years of struggle to ensure that, in this wealthiest of nations, ordinary working poeple were able to enjoy at least some of wealth that they helped to create.